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Smuggler Testifies He Paid Bahamian Prime Minister

February 12, 1988

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ An admitted marijuana smuggler testified Thursday in a drug trafficking trial that he paid protection money to Bahamian Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling.

Earlier, Norman Saunders, the former chief minister of the Turks and Caicos Islands, took the stand but said he could not positively identify defendant Carlos Lehder Rivas as the man who gave him a $20,000 campaign contribution from fugitive U.S. financier Robert Vesco.

Lehder, 38, and co-defendant Jack Carlton Reed, 57, are charged in a 1981 indictment alleging they conspired to import some 3.3 tons of cocaine into the United States from Colombia via Norman’s Cay in the Bahamas.

George William ″Bill″ Baron III, of Fort Lauderdale, told the court about smuggling marijuana from Colombia in 20- to 30-ton loads aboard a 87-foot shrimp boat. He said he would take the marijuana to the Bahamas and unload it into high-speed boats for smuggling into South Florida.

After being arrested for smuggling, Baron said, he made arrangements through Nassau attorney Nigel Bowe to pay $10 per pound of marijuana to prevent his arrest by Bahamian officials and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Attending a meeting with him in Bowe’s office was Lawrence Major, head of the Bahamian Defense Force, he testified.

When asked if he knew Bahamian Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling, Baron replied, ″Yes, I do. I paid him money.″

A Bahamian commission which investigated allegations of drug-smuggling and payoffs cleared Pindling of any wrongdoing.

Baron testified he met Lehder through Bowe in 1980, but initially declined to join up with him.

″We had our own thing going and it was more than we could handle,″ said Baron, who added he feared the stiff sentences and violence involved in cocaine smuggling.

Baron testified he saw Vesco with Lehder on the island in 1980. Baron said he had dated Vesco’s daughter Dawn for several months.

Previous testimony indicated Vesco introduced Lehder to Cuban President Fidel Castro and that Vesco instructed Lehder on money laundering techniques.

Saunders, testifying for a second day, said there were four men in the courtroom - Lehder, a defense attorney and two federal marshals - who resembled ″Joe,″ who gave him the contribution from Vesco.

Saunders said he received the money the same day his customs agents seized some $300,000 from a Lehder pilot in 1980.

″It was the only contribution we got for the 1980 campaign,″ he said.

At the time, Saunders was in the opposition party in the legislative assembly, but was elected chief minister in 1980 and served in that position for five years. He later served 42 months in federal prison on charges of violations of the U.S. travel act stemming from a drug case.

Lehder is charged with conspiracy, possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, importation of cocaine and operating a continuing criminal enterprise.

In a separate Miami indictment, Lehder is charged with being one of the members of the violent Colombian Medellin Cartel, which is said to be responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine shipped into the United States. He also is named in a sealed Los Angeles indictment.

Reed, of San Pedro, Calif., is charged only with conspiracy.

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