JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Accused drug baron Carlos Lehder, charged with conspiring to smuggle more than three tons of cocaine from Colombia into the United States, has offered to cooperate with U.S. drug investigators, a prosecutor revealed today.
Lehder made the offer in a letter to Vice President George Bush, who heads a special anti-drug Florida Joint Task Force, U.S. Atty. Robert Merkle said in a federal court hearing.
The revelation came because Lehder's attorneys are asking to move him to Miami. They argued that keeping him under a pseudonym in an Atlanta federal prison made him appear to be an informant.
Merkle responded that Lehder himself was responsible for the impression that he was an informant or potential informant, and revealed the existence of the letter. He did not give further details.
Prosecutors say Lehder, 37, was among the world's leading and most dangerous cocaine traffickers, whose Medellin Cartel was responsible for 80% of the cocaine brought into this country, before his arrest Feb. 4 after a shoot-out in Colombia. Merkle called him "the personal embodiment of a narco-terrorist" and said he has admitted to "unprecedented violence."
Lehder faces trial Sept. 8 on charges of conspiring to help ship about 3.3 tons of cocaine into the United States from Colombia.
He is charged in an 11-count federal indictment in Jacksonville with conspiracy to import cocaine, distribution of cocaine and operating a continuing criminal enterprise. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life, plus 165 years.
Lehder is charged in a separate federal indictment handed up in Miami with being one of the leaders of the Medellin Cartel.
Atlanta prison warden Joe Petrovsky also testified at today's hearing about the prisoner's living conditions, which Lehder's lawyers have called "inhumane."
In Lehder's cell, a bed and locker are standard, he said. A table and a chair have been added, and Petrovsky says Lehder now has access to lawbooks, magazines and other reading material.
Lehder's attorneys have asked U.S. Magistrate Harvey E. Schlesinger to move Lehder to Miami's Metropolitan Correctional Center so he can help them prepare for his trial.
The motion alleges that Lehder's solitary confinement represents cruel and unusual punishment and has deprived him of a reasonable opportunity to consult with his attorneys.