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Drug Kingpin Sentenced to Life in Prison Without Parole With PM-Money Laundering, Bjt

January 17, 1990

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A drug kingpin whose arrest in Honduras sparked anti-American riots was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole, closing one of the West Coast’s largest cocaine trafficking cases.

Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, 45, was sentenced Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Pamela Ann Rymer, ending an odyssey that began in 1988 when Honduran police raided his Tegucigalpa home at dawn and swiftly extradited him to the United States.

″Matta is considered one of the godfathers who established the Colombian cocaine connection,″ said John Zienter, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Los Angeles.

″His sentencing sends a message to the primary individuals involved that no matter how high up they are - and believe me, Matta was among the highest - they are not safe from dedicated law enforcement officers.″

Matta was in the custody of U.S. marshals, who were expected to transport him to a maximum-security prison, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Manuel Medrano.

Prosecutors said Matta headed a powerful cocaine cartel based in Cali, Colombia, which funneled tons of cocaine through Mexico to the United States.

Matta moved almost 600 pounds of cocaine with a street value of more than $73 million through Arizona and Southern California, prosecutors said.

In a presentencing memorandum filed last month, Medrano described Matta as ″perhaps the most significant trafficker in custody in the world to date.″

Matta’s lawyer, Martin Stolar, portrayed his client as a legitimate businessman and one of Honduras’ largest private employers.

Stolar has 10 days to notify the court if he intends to appeal the sentence.

Matta’s extradition from Honduras triggered deadly riots in his homeland. Some 2,000 Hondurans burned the U.S. Embassy annex, and five people were killed in the week-long disturbances.

Attorneys for Matta said he was kidnaped from Honduras, which has no extradition treaty with the United States.

But federal courts have upheld extraditions, Medrano said.

Matta was convicted in September on seven criminal counts that included conspiracy, possession and distribution of narcotics and running a criminal enterprise.

The case centered on a September 1981 DEA raid at a suburban Van Nuys apartment that netted $1.9 million in cash and 114 pounds of cocaine, at that time the largest seizure of the drug in state history.

Coded ledgers that were seized in the raid were traced back to a shadowy figure called ″El Negro,″ who was identified as Matta by Hector Barona Becerra, an admitted drug trafficker-turned-government witness.

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