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Accused Drug Lord Gets Public Defender : Colombian Claims He's Broke After 4 Years of Hiding in Jungle

February 09, 1987|United Press International

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Colombian drug lord said today he has no money for an attorney because "I have lived in the jungle the last four years" and was ordered held without bond at a hearing held under heavy security.

Federal agents with machine guns guarded the federal courthouse before the arrival of Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas, alleged to be a leader of the cartel that supplies 80% of the cocaine in the United States.

U.S. Magistrate Harvey Schlesinger ordered him held without bond for a March 23 trial on an 11-count drug conspiracy indictment. He also ordered a public defender for Lehder.

When Schlesinger asked him if he could afford an attorney, Lehder, dressed in a suit and tie but appearing bedraggled and sleepless, said, "I have no cash and no money in the bank.

"I have been hunted by the Colombian army for the last four years," he said. "I have lived in the jungle the last four years and have been disconnected from society the last four years."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Ernst Mueller said he and his staff spent the weekend preparing the case against Lehder and said security will be a priority.

"Security is going to be extra, extra tight until this thing is over," Mueller said. "He has made generic threats, not naming anyone in particular, but he said he would kill a federal judge a week until he is freed."

Lehder has denied making the threats.

Lehder, 37, was arrested by Colombian police Wednesday after a gun battle at a remote ranch near Medellin. He was turned over to U.S. Drug Enforcement agents, who flew him with unusual swiftness to Tampa aboard an Air Force jet.

He was arrested under a federal indictment filed in Jacksonville in 1981 charging him with importing 3,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States.

Lehder is thought to be one of four bosses of the notorious Medellin cartel that U.S. authorities claim processes, ships and distributes more than 80% of the cocaine consumed in the United States.

The cartel has killed nearly 30 judges, a Cabinet minister, an influential newspaper editor and hundreds of police officers and informants in Colombia, according to published reports based on court documents and government intelligence sources.

Lehder and three other men--Pablo Escobar Gaviria, Jorge Luis Ochoa Vasquez and Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha--allegedly ran a drug empire that appeared invulnerable until Lehder's capture.

"There isn't a cop that will arrest them," the Miami Herald quoted a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent in Bogota as saying shortly before Lehder was apprehended.

"There isn't a judge that will try them; there isn't a jail that will hold them.

"They make the Mafia look like Sunday school kids," said DEA agent Michael Vigil, recently transferred to Miami after five years in Colombia.

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