The first accused drug money-launderer ever extradited to the United States from Switzerland was found guilty by a Los Angeles federal jury Friday in a smuggling scheme involving the deposit of almost $25 million in cocaine proceeds in Swiss and British banks.
Oscar Fernando Cuevas, 34, a Colombian, was returned to the United States earlier this year in what government prosecutors termed a "test case" to determine if the Swiss would include drug money-launders in a 1972 extradition treaty covering a variety of fiscal crimes.
At a news conference following the verdict, U.S. Atty. Robert C. Bonner called the Cuevas affair "one of the largest money-laundering cases" in recent years. He identified Cuevas as being "highly connected" with Colombian cocaine cartels.
'High Level of Cooperation'
"The high level of cooperation this investigation received from Swiss and British authorities represents a frank recognition that the war against drugs and the laundering of illicit proceeds transcends national boundaries," Bonner said.
The jury reached its decision after a two-week trial before Chief U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real that disclosed an elaborate system of couriers flying from Miami to England, Switzerland and other countries.
Real set sentencing for Oct. 20. The maximum sentence for various violations of federal narcotics law and currency reporting requirements is 90 years in prison and a fine of $2.55 million.
Joining Bonner at his news conference were U.S. Customs officials, who spearheaded the investigation, and Gordon A. Greenberg and David Nimmer, assistant U.S. attorneys who prosecuted the case.
Greenberg said Cuevas frequently sent couriers to London and Zurich with suitcases containing more than $500,000. He said the money was usually transferred back to the United States within in a day, ultimately ending up in South America.
According to Greenberg and Nimmer, Cuevas began his operation in June, 1983, using various corporate names and identities and employing others to obtain the drug money and then move it out of the country.
2 Associates Arrested
Two of his associates were arrested Nov. 30, 1984, at Los Angeles International Airport for attempting to illegally export $516,000 in drug money to London. The next day, they said, Cuevas flew from London to Los Angeles to attempt to recover more than $1 million stored in a Marina del Rey apartment.
Customs and Drug Enforcement Administration agents beat Cuevas to the apartment, however, seizing $1,083,000 in currency that was packed for subsequent shipment outside the country.
Cuevas is the fifth defendant found guilty in the case. Four other Colombians have been convicted and sentenced to prison terms of two to five years.