Six Suspects in Custody; Questions Remain
NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Six people have been arrested in connection with the killing of a drug smuggler who became an important informant but refused protection from federal marshals, officials said.
A seventh person was arrested over the weekend and booked as a material witness.
U.S. Attorney Stanford Bardwell of Baton Rouge, where Barry Seal lived and was killed Wednesday night, said his office did all it could to protect the high-rolling former pilot.
Bardwell said Seal refused to assume a new identity under the federal witness protection program, or to have federal marshals serve as bodyguards. He said Seal preferred having his own bodyguards.
Bardwell said Seal, 45, also rejected an offer to serve time in Florida and New York, because those alternatives would have meant 24-hour supervision.
There were no bodyguards present when Seal pulled up in his Cadillac at a Salvation Army Community Treatment Center where he worked as part of a six- month sentence for narcotics and bank fraud charges. Two men sprayed him with machine-gunfire, police said.
Police have refused to comment on the Saturday night arrest of a Baton Rouge man whose address was listed as the Salvation Army center. He was booked as a material witness, police said.
Seal’s undercover work for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration resulted in charges against 23 alleged major smugglers in Miami and Las Vegas, officials said.
″There was a contract out on him and everybody knew it,″ said Billy Yout, a DEA spokesman in Miami. ″He was a crucial witness in the biggest case in DEA history.″
Thomas Sclafani, Seal’s Miami attorney, said the contract was worth $1 million if Seal were captured alive and taken back to Colombia and $500,000 if he were killed.
Authorities had planned to use Seal as a star witness in the federal drug trial of Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez, who prosecutors say is the leader of the world’s biggest cocaine cartel. Ochoa currently is in custody in Spain, fighting extradition to Miami.
Six people, all illegal aliens from Latin America, have been arrested in Seal’s death. They have been charged with obstruction of justice and as illegal aliens, but Bardwell said authorities believe two fired the shots.
FBI spokesman Cliff Anderson said three Colombians were apprehended in simultaneous raids Friday night in New Orleans suburbs.
He identified them as Bernardo Antonio Vasquez, 32, John Jairo Cardona- Garcia , 22, and Luis Carlos Quintero-Cruz, 33.
Anderson said the raids yielded machine guns like those used to kill Seal, a rented red 1986 Cadillac believed to have been a getaway car, and an undisclosed amount of cocaine.
The day before, three others were apprehended. Two of them have been identified as Miguel Velez, 36, and Eliberto Sanchez, 27. Federal officials have refused to identify the third person.