Two alleged kingpins of a major South American cocaine ring were arraigned in federal court Tuesday, but prosecutors backed off from an earlier claim that the organization was responsible for smuggling as much as 25% of all the cocaine brought into the United States.
San Diego County residents Michael Jay Sullivan, 27, and Frank Len Jackson, 37, pleaded innocent Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Irma Gonzalez.
U.S. Atty. Peter K. Nunez said Monday that the two are major American distributors of cocaine smuggled into this country by a ring headed by Peruvians Augustin Fernando Maurtua, 26, and Jose Antonio Ledgard, 27. Maurtua, a resident of Carlsbad, and Ledgard, a resident of Miami, also were arrested last week.
According to an affidavit and 291-page indictment listing the charges against 81 alleged members of the ring, Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI agents relied on a drug informant and wiretaps to crack the ring. The affidavit signed by FBI agent Joseph H. Rosen says the informant bought 150 kilograms (330 pounds) of cocaine from ring members in 1984. Federal officials began investigating the ring in December, 1983.
Aside from the 150 kilograms allegedly purchased by the informant in 1984, the affidavit lists 67 kilograms (147 pounds) of cocaine purchased from alleged ring members by federal agents during the 18-month investigation. Nunez suggested Monday that the ring was responsible for smuggling between 12 1/2 and 15 metric tons of cocaine annually into the United States.
Cocaine purchases were made by federal agents at several public places. The indictment lists one purchase made on Dec. 9, 1983 at Andersen Pea Soup restaurant in Carlsbad, when FBI agent Michael Smith bought an ounce "sample" of cocaine for $1,700. The drug was delivered the following day in the parking lot of the Hotel del Coronado.
The indictment alleges that Smith negotiated the purchase of a pound of cocaine during the parking lot meeting. But the indictment does not say whether the drug was ever delivered.
In February, 1984, Sullivan is alleged to have negotiated for the "delivery of 10 kilograms of cocaine for seven days at $10,000 each, 10 kilograms for two weeks at $17,000 each and 10 kilograms for nine months at $24,000 each."
The indictment does not say whom Sullivan negotiated with or where, nor whether the drug was delivered.
Defense attorneys responded angrily Tuesday to the initial claim that their clients were responsible for smuggling as much as 25% of all the cocaine used in the United States. One attorney called the charge "the biggest lie that the U.S. attorney has come up with to date."
Los Angeles attorney Victor Sherman, who is representing Maurtua, called the charges reckless and said that Nunez's allegations have led to warfare with the defense bar.
"They have inspired us to warfare. They have started warfare with their absurd estimate of the drugs involved in this case. They've used it to prejudice the defendants so they can't get a fair trial," Sherman said. "They've seized more cocaine in one single bust numerous times than they got from this investigation."
Assistant U.S. Atty. Maria Arroyo-Tabin appeared at Sullivan's and Jackson's arraignment on Tuesday and repeated the charge that the ring was responsible for smuggling as much as 25% of all the cocaine purchased in this country. She used the charge to argue for the pair's continued detention without bail. Magistrate Gonzalez scheduled a detention hearing for Monday.
But after repeated telephone inquiries to Nunez's office, the FBI and the DEA, the three offices put out a joint statement in the afternoon modifying their estimate of the ring's smuggling capacity. The statement said, "The 20% to 25% figure was based on an old, unreliable report and should not have been included in a press release. But the case stands on its own merit. It's a significant case. We believe the cartel is responsible for a significant amount of cocaine brought into the country."
Although federal officials called the amount of cocaine smuggled "significant," they were unable to say how much of the drug was brought into the United States by the ring nor how the cocaine was transported here.
The FBI said Monday the ring had been under investigation since 1970. However, Maurtua was 11 years old and Ledgard was 12 in 1970.