Veteran Colombian Senator Convicted In Cocaine-Trafficking Case
WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) _ A Colombian senator faces up to 270 years in prison and more than $4 million in fines after being convicted by a jury on drug-trafficking charges.
The U.S. District Court jury deliberated about 3 1/2 hours Thursday before convicting Samuel Alberto Escruceria-Delgado, a 24-year veteran of the Colombian National Congress, on charges of conspiracy to import cocaine, possession and distribution of drugs and interstate travel in aid to racketeering between May 1983 and October 1984.
No sentencing date has been set.
The verdict marked the second time in three years a federal jury in Wilmington has convicted an official of a foreign country on drug charges.
In 1985, a cabinet official of the small Central American country of Belize, Elijio Briceno, was convicted of drug trafficking. The former Belize minister of energy and communications was sentenced to seven years in prison and fined $50,000. His conviction was recently upheld by a federal appeals court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Swaim said Thursday’s verdict should send a message to drug traffickers.
″Even people of immense political power are not safe from the long arm of the law,″ said Swaim. ″Anyone can be brought down.″
The senator, who smiled and waved to his weeping wife and grandchildren as he was led away after the verdict, was described by the prosecution as the ″godfather of the Escruceria crime family,″ an international drug organization said to be responsible for importing millions of dollars worth of illegal drugs into this country.
Defense attorney Jerrell Breslin argued that the government’s entire case was based on the testimony of convicted drug dealers, and particularly that of Jose Gutierrez, who headed a Wilmington drug network and identified the senator before a grand jury as a drug ring participant.
Gutierrez, a former Carolina Power & Light Co. engineer, pleaded guilty to a drug charge for which he could receive a 20-year prison term.