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Reputed Colombian Drug Lords Indicted in Florida

March 22, 1989|From Reuters

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Four reputed Colombian cocaine kingpins and a close associate of Bahamas Prime Minister Lynden Pindling were indicted today on charges of taking part in an operation that smuggled more than $1 billion in cocaine into the United States.

A 12-count federal indictment accuses the alleged leaders of Colombia's feared Medellin cocaine cartel of bribing officials of Nicaragua's Sandinista government in 1984 to allow them to use air force bases and other airstrips as drug transshipment points.

The indictment also alleges that one of the defendants, reputed cocaine baron Pablo Escobar Garivia, arranged the 1984 assassination of Colombian Justice Minister Lara Bonilla.

Thirty defendants were charged in the indictment, which was handed up by a Jacksonville federal grand jury and was based substantially on testimony from the 1988 trial of Colombian cocaine baron Carlos Lehder Rivas, who was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

U.S. Atty. Robert Genzman said the alleged cartel leaders were responsible for shipping 20,000 kilograms, or about 22 tons, of cocaine into the United States from 1974 through last February. He told reporters the shipments were worth more than $1 billion.

Among those named in the indictment were four alleged chiefs of the Medellin cartel, Escobar, Jorge Ochoa, Fabio Ochoa and Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha.

Also charged was Bahamian businessman Everette Bannister, a close associate of the prime minister.

Bannister was accused of accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from drug smugglers operating in the island nation and of funneling the money to what the indictment referred to as unidentified "Bahamian officials."

Witnesses at Lehder's trial testified that Bannister acted as a middleman passing on bribes to Pindling and other Bahamian government officials from drug traffickers seeking protection for their smuggling operations.

A 1985 royal commission of inquiry found drug corruption among members of Pindling's inner circle but cleared the prime minister of any wrongdoing. Pindling, who is serving his sixth term, has repeatedly denied taking money from drug smugglers.

Genzman said the United States will seek extradition of Bannister. As for the cartel leaders, he noted it had taken six years to get Lehder to the United States and expressed belief the others will eventually be brought to justice.

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