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Cali Cartel Kingpin Sentenced

March 28, 1998

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) _ A judge sentenced Cali cartel kingpin Helmer Herrera to six years and eight months in prison for drug trafficking and ordered him to pay a $1 million fine.

A ``faceless″ judge handed down the sentence Friday, said the judges’ regional offices in Cali, 185 miles southwest of the capital, Bogota. In Colombia, the identities of judges are withheld for security reasons.

Herrera, 47, who played a key role in the Cali drug traffickers’ fierce rivalry with the rival Medellin drug gang, was the last of its top leaders to be taken into custody. He surrendered in Cali on September 1, 1996, after dodging hundreds of police raids.

Herrera is believed to have been involved in a 1988 car bomb attack on a building in Medellin where the family of Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar was living. The family escaped.

The sentence is not likely to please officials in the United States, where Herrera and other kingpins face life sentences if convicted. Although Colombia passed a law last year to re-authorize the extradition of its citizens, the law applies only to crimes committed after it was enacted, when Herrera and the other kingpins were already in jail.

Herrera, who is held at the maximum-security jail in Palmira, just north of Cali, can earn time off for good behavior and leave prison by 2000.

The Cali cartel’s top leaders, the brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, were sentenced to 10 1/2 years and 22 years in jail, respectively.

Despite the arrests and frequent large drug raids, cocaine and heroin continue to flow out of Colombia largely unabated.

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