Nine Indicted in Largest Cocaine Ring
MIAMI (AP) _ A Sandinista official and eight other men indicted on murder and racketeering charges were part of the world’s No. 1 cocaine cartel, a ring that had private armies and drug labs in Nicaragua, authorities say.
The nine members of the ″Medellin Cartel″ named in a 50-page federal indictment disclosed Tuesday include a former Colombian senator who authorities say once tried to bar U.S. agents from his country and a fugitive drug lord.
The cartel has brought 58 tons of cocaine into the United States, the largest amount ever mentioned in a federal indictment, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Billy Yout said Tuesday.
It ″not only mentions the largest cocaine seizure ever in the world, but the No. 1 traffickers in the world as we know them,″ Yout said.
The indictment was returned Aug. 25, but was kept secret to give Colombian officials time to arrest the nine, he said. All remain at large.
Catching them ″depends greatly upon the cooperation of our neighbors in South and Central America,″ said Dick Gregorie, chief narcotics prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in south Florida.
U.S. authorities hoped that unsealing the indictment would push Colombia to catch the men, who have been sighted frequently in South America, he said.
The cartel members are charged with racketeering, drug offenses and two murders, the machine-gun slaying of federal informant Adler ″Barry″ Seal in Baton Rouge, La., and a Dec. 25, 1978, murder in Dade County.
The cartel is named for Medellin, the Colombian mountain city from where it operates, but prosecutors say Miami is its North American headquarters.
″Miami is ... where most of the business returns to, whether it be the narcotics itself or the money,″ Gregorie said. Testifying before the President’s Commission on Organized Crime in 1984, DEA agent Herb Williams characterized the cartel as a collection of criminal billionaires with private armies and a predilection for machine-gun assassins who ride motorcycles. ″A human life means absolutely nothing to these ruthless killers,″ Williams said.
One of those indicted is Jorge Ochoa-Vasquez of Colombia. The United States had sought his extradition from Spain on drug charges, but he was extradited to his native country where officials said he bribed a prison guard and escaped.
Seal had been expected to testify against Ochoa.
Also indicted was Federico Vaughan, an assistant to Tomas Borge, Nicaragua’s minister of the interior, authorities said. Vaughan used his official position to help the cartel set up cocaine conversion laboratories and distribution facilities in Nicaragua, according to the indictment.
The operations in Nicaragua began after a 1984 Colombian crackdown ordered following the assassination of Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara-Bonilla. Vaughan also was indicted in 1984 on drug trafficking charges.
The DEA has said it has no information linking other members of Nicaragua’s leftist government to Vaughan’s smuggling operation.
Carlos Lehder, a former Colombian senator accused of using a Bahamian island for a drug way station and who once introduced a bill to ban U.S. DEA agents, also was named in the indictment.
Others indicted were Ochoa’s brothers, Fabio and Juan David, and Pablo Escobar-Gaviria, Gonzalo Rodriguez-Gacha, Rafael Cardona-Salazar and an unidentified ″John Doe.″
The Ochoas, Lehder and Escobar are believed to be in Colombia, said Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Ana Barnett. The whereabouts of the others are unknown.
The indictment alleges that the nine committed racketeering through acts of murder, narcotics violations, travel, and use of communications facilities, and that at least four - the Ochoa brothers and Escobar - led a continuing criminal enterprise. That charge carries up to life in prison without parole.
The remaining defendants face maximum sentences upon conviction of at least 100 years, and fines of more than $1 million each.
The indictment alleges that Cardona killed Antonio Arles-Vargas on Dec. 25, 1978, in Dade County.
Gregorie said the ring set up an elaborate nationwide distribution scheme with unsuspicious vans making deliveries to pleasant middle-class homes where hired ″sitters″ await drug loads. The sitters were warned how to blend in with their neighbors to avoid detection.
In Colombia, and increasingly in surrounding nations, the ring set up elaborate laboratories with carefully kept records, said Gregorie. The airstrips kept elaborate accounts of incoming flights bringing in raw coca paste from Peru and Bolivia and outgoing flights taking the finished product to Colombian ″distribution centers.″