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Agents Seize Guns, Bombs Aimed At Cocaine Cartel Assassination

June 10, 1989

MIAMI (AP) _ Drug agents seized an arsenal of heavy machine guns, high explosives and automatic weapons intended for the assassination of the Medellin drug cartel’s top trafficker, federal officials said Friday.

Two men allegedly connected with the Cali cartel, a rival Colombian cocaine-smuggling operation, were arrested in West Palm Beach on Friday, said Patrick O’Brien, agent in charge of the Customs Service in South Florida.

The plot included the planned purchase of a small drone aircraft to be flown over Medellin cartel leader Pablo Escobar Gaviria’s hideout and exploded, O’Brien said. Escobar’s Medellin cartel is responsible for up to 80 percent of U.S. cocaine imports, drug agents say.

″The weapons were being purchased by the Cali cartel and shipped to Colombia in what they considered a last-ditch effort to assassinate Pablo Escobar,″ O’Brien said. ″They had shot down Escobar’s helicopter and they had him cornered, and they wanted to finish him off.″

The weapons were intercepted on Florida’s Turnpike as the two suspects were to pick them up from illegal arms dealers, O’Brien said.

″This was not a sting, and we expect to charge the dealers as well,″ he added.

Customs and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents confiscated five fully automatic M-60 machine guns, 100 pounds of C-4 explosives, 25 MAC-11 machine guns, 20 AR-15 assault rifles, and $104,000 in cash, along with a plane and a van.

The M-60 machine guns were to be mounted on helicopters for an attack on Escobar’s hideout, Customs officials said.

The men arrested on weapons charges were identified as David Candiotti, 27, of Miami Beach, and Carlos Enrique Gil, 25, of Miami. They told undercover agents their orders were coming from ″Don Pacho,″ a leader of the Cali cartel.

Also arrested Friday on drug trafficking charges were two leaders of the Cali Cartel identified as Luis Santacruz Echeverri and Guillermo Penagos, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The Medellin and Cali cartels have worked together in the past on some drug shipments, drug agents say. O’Brien said he did not know why the Cali smugglers had decided to kill Escobar.

A six-month investigation, which originated with an undercover penetration of a South American drug organization, also uncovered previous shipments to Colombia, he said.

The five flights to a clandestine strip in Cali carried automatic weapons, plastic explosives, silencers, machine pistols, night-vision equipment and sniper rifles, O’Brien said.

The weapons ″were to be used by rival political factions in Colombia for use in protection and political assassinations,″ he said.

In addition, the Cali cartel had a shopping list that included grenade launchers and armor-penetrating weapons systems, Customs officials said.

Drug agents seized $104,000 the suspects had intended to use to buy some of the weapons. The suspects also asked agents to launder $10 million in drug profits at a later date.

″But the weapons came first, so we decided to move right away,″ O’Brien said.

He said the investigation into the case was continuing.

Although the agents were pleased with the bust, there were some regrets, Miami Customs spokesman Michael Sheehan said.

″Legally, we were obligated to arrest the individuals and seize the weapons,″ Sheehan said, ″but realistically many of us would have been happy to see them used against cartel leaders.″

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