MIAMI — A pilot in the narcotics trafficking enterprise allegedly headed by Manuel A. Noriega has agreed to plead guilty, significantly strengthening the U.S. government's case against the deposed Panamanian strongman, it was learned Wednesday.
Eduardo Pardo, one of five co-defendants who were scheduled to be tried with Noriega, will enter his guilty plea this morning before U.S. Dist. Judge William M. Hoeveler, knowledgeable sources said.
In return for an expected recommendation for leniency from the U.S. attorney's office, he will cooperate with the government in its prosecution of Noriega on 11 drug-related counts, the sources said.
While Pardo is considered a relatively low-level figure in the Noriega case, his plea bargain puts pressure on other co-defendants to follow suit. It also will provide a key witness who can corroborate important parts of the testimony of Floyd Carlton-Caceres, the prosecution's star witness, who was a confidant of Noriega and directed Pardo's activities.
"He is Domino No. 1," a source connected with the case said, referring to Pardo. "Some of the others are bound to fall."
Most of the co-defendants already have asked Hoeveler to sever them from the main drug conspiracy case and to grant them a separate trial from Noriega, on grounds they would be unfairly tainted by prejudicial publicity that has surrounded the deposed dictator.
Hoeveler has said he will rule on their severance motions within the next three weeks.
Pardo, 44, has been represented by William A. Meadows, a former U.S. attorney in Miami who is highly regarded by the current federal prosecutors. Meadows could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
According to charges returned by a federal grand jury here two years ago, Pardo worked for Carlton and for Cesar Rodriguez, a one-time business partner of Noriega who died under mysterious circumstances.
The indictment charged that Pardo and Daniel Miranda, another defendant, together flew $800,000 in U.S. currency from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to Panama City in May, 1983. Carlton declared in U.S. Senate testimony in 1988 that the cash was taken to Lt. Col. Luis A. del Cid, a top aide of Noriega, for delivery to the general.
The money allegedly represented the proceeds of cocaine sales in the United States by Colombia's Medellin cartel. The cartel had agreed to pay Noriega for allowing it to use Panama as a transshipment point in its drug smuggling, the grand jury charged.
It was understood that Pardo has no first-hand knowledge of Del Cid's involvement in the conspiracy.
Staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow in Washington contributed to this report.