Jury Fails To Convict Two Lawyers for Colombia's Cali Cocaine Cartel on Charges They Crossed Line and Took Part in Drug Trade

In a major defeat for the U.S. government, the lawyers were acquitted on the most serious charge of racketeering, and the jury deadlocked on the four other charges.

Michael Abbell, a former Justice Department extradition expert who lives in Bethesda, Md., and William Moran of Miami had been charged with funneling hush money to defendants, relaying threats from the cartel chiefs and preparing false affidavits to exonerate the Colombian bosses of the cartel.

Jurors, who heard a daunting amount of testimony throughout the summer on the roles of the lawyers in representing cartel members, returned the verdict after deliberating for 10 days over three weeks. The charges carried sentences of 10 years to life.

The case had been closely watched in legal circles because of the federal government's use of a bold prosecution strategy _ charging lawyers with the same crimes as their clients under racketeering and conspiracy counts.

The government called 60 witnesses in painting an intricate picture of an organization accused of smuggling 200 tons of cocaine into this country over the last decade.

Prosecutors charged the cartel employed a network of lawyers to keep abreast of the latest legal developments in the United States, defend smugglers caught in this country and take an undercover criminal role.

Abbell, who served 17 years with the Justice Department, was head of the criminal division's international affairs office, which handles extraditions from foreign countries, before he left in 1984. Abbell's expertise was crucial in influencing Colombian lawmakers to shield drug lords from extradition, the government charged. His lawyers tried to show that he was doing legitimate legal work.

Moran testified he never conspired to smuggle drugs.