Co-Defendants in Noriega Drug Trafficking Indictment Seek Separate Trials With AM-Panama, Bjt
MIAMI (AP) _ Two defendants named in the drug trafficking indictment that includes Manuel Antonio Noriega requested separate trials Wednesday, hours before the deposed Panamanian leader was arrested by U.S. drug agents in Panama.
Prior to Noriega’s arrest Wednesday night, a federal judge assigned to the case said he wouldn’t rule on the requests until later this month, and might hold off beginning the trials if Noriega is extradited to face charges in Miami.
″At present, we have four defendants, however if the situation in Panama should resolve itself in another week and if we have five defendants - and one of them is General Noriega - then the whole situation changes,″ said U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler.
Later Wednesday in Washington, President Bush announced the former dictator had turned himself in after nine days inside the Vatican embassy in Panama City and was arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents at Howard Air Force Base in Panama.
Noriega was put aboard a military transport plane bound for Homestead Air Force Base in Florida and will be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Miami on drug trafficking charges, the president said. If convicted on all charges, Noriega could be sentenced to 145 years in prison and fined $1.1 million.
The request for separate trials was made by William Saldarriaga, 45, and Brian Davidow, 28, who were among 16 people indicted in February 1988 by a federal grand jury in Miami.
Also Wednesday, a federal official in Miami who spoke on condition of anonymity said another co-defendant of Noriega has been arrested and would be flown to Homestead Air Force Base sometime Wednesday night.
The defendant, pilot Eduardo Pardo, allegedly flew a plane from Fort Lauderdale to Panama with $800,000 in drug profits on board, according to the indictment. Pardo faces five years in prison and $10,000 in fines if convicted.
Saldarriaga, a reputed Colombian drug trafficker, is being held without bond at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center south of Miami. Davidow is free on bond. Both men have pleaded innocent, and neither attended Wednesday’s court session.
Steven Kriesberg, attorney for Saldarriaga, said his client should have a separate trial because he is not charged with the principal racketeering and conspiracy counts in the indictment.
Davidow’s attorney, Richard Sharpstein, said that his client should be tried separately because of the publicity surrounding events in Panama before and after last month’s U.S. invasion that toppled Noriega’s government.
The indictment issued in Miami accuses Noriega of accepting millions of dollars in bribes from Colombia’s Medellin cartel in exchange for allowing drug traffickers to use Panama as a conduit for tons of cocaine smuggled into the United States.
Other defendants in custody are Lt. Col. Luis Del Cid, 46, alleged to be a principal advisor of Noriega’s, and Daniel Miranda, 36. Del Cid is being held pending a Jan. 16 hearing. Miranda is scheduled for a court hearing Friday.
Miranda on Tuesday refused to answer charges and an innocent plea was entered by a U.S. Magistrate.
An attorney for Del Cid, who hs pleaded innocent, said Wednesday they have no objections to moves by co-defendants for separate trials. Miranda’s attorney was not present in court.