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″French Connection” Links to Biggest U.S. Heroin Lab Bust

May 30, 1986

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ Two men with links to the infamous ″French Connection″ heroin ring were among nine people named in a federal complaint detailing a U.S. processing lab that produced $250 million worth of the drug.

Five Americans and four foreigners were charged in federal court Thursday with participating in the ring, the first known operation to have refined finished heroin in this country in commercial quantities, prosecutors said.

Michael C. Maneri, 39, of West Palm Beach, and French chemist Francois Scapula, 40, were among those named as major conspirators in the 34-page complaint filed Thursday in federal court.

Maneri, who owns a computer retailing company in Palm Beach County, was convicted in absentia on June 5, 1982, by the French government of heroin trafficking.

His co-defendant in that case, Jean Jahan, was as a major player in the ″French Connection,″ The Post of West Palm Beach reported today.

A DEA official in Paris told The Post that Scapula also was a figure in that ring, a multimillion dollar smuggling operation based in Marseilles, France, that was smashed in the mid-1970s.

The ″French Connection″ case was the subject of a best-selling book and a movie.

Scapula, described as a heroin chemist, was arrested in Thailand in 1980 and in Switzerland in 1985 on heroin charges. He is in jail in Switzerland awaiting trial on the 1985 case.

At a press conference in New York, U.S. Attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani said the drug arrived in this country in a single shipment in the spring of 1984. It originated with opium poppies grown somewhere in the Middle East. From there, the 660 pounds of morphine base were transported to the Bahamas and on to West Palm Beach.

The base then was shipped by car to heroin manufacturing labs in Chandler, Ariz., where it was converted to 325 pounds of heroin, which was then transported to New York City and sold on the street.

An affidavit lists the street value as $250 million.

Giuliani said members of the drug ring apparently found it too expensive to have the raw opium refined into heroin in Europe, which is how the heroin trade traditionally has operated.

Maneri, accused of being the head of the smuggling operation, was not apprehended.

Ernest A. Benevento, 58, and his nephew Ernesto Benevento, 39, were arrested at their West Palm Beach homes Thursday.

Also named in the complaint were:

- Earl Admiral Keller, 42, of Greenacres City, who is being held in Palm Beach County Jail on a Jan. 31 arrest for drug charges and violation of parole. Keller was arrested in June 1984 in New Mexico carrying 91 pounds of morphine base, the complaint said.

- Carmine Loiacono, 40, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; arrested Thursday in Acapulco, Mexico.

- Charles Altieri, 28, of France, arrested in Switzerland with Scapula and is facing the same charges.

- Guido Rendel, 50, of Australia; arrested in Barcelona, Spain, in December 1985 and charged with narcotics violations in France. In 1975, he was convicted of smuggling narcotics into the United States.

- Fatima dos Santos Nobre, 35, of Portugal.

Federal agents tracked members of the group for more than two years and were aided by at least one informant who worked inside the drug ring, Giuliani said.

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