NEW YORK — A man described as the top assassin for the Medellin drug cartel could face a number of serious U.S. charges. So far, he has been charged only with lying about his name when DEA agents arrested him at a telephone booth in Queens.
Speculation about whom Dandeny Munoz Mosquera might have been sent to kill in the United States ranged from witnesses in the drug trial of former Panama leader Manuel A. Noriega to the sons of a rival cartel leader.
Other speculation focused on President Bush, who was in New York just before Munoz was arrested Wednesday, and Colombian President Cesar Gaviria, who canceled a speech here.
Munoz, 26, characterized as one of the top assassins in the world and who reputedly has murdered at least 40 people in Colombia, remained in custody without bail.
Munoz is due in court next Wednesday before U.S. Magistrate A. Simon Chrein for a hearing on whether he will be granted bail, Assistant U.S. Atty. Cheryl Pollak said.
Pollak said the matter of whether Munoz will be extradited to Colombia or face U.S. charges could come up then.
Munoz is wanted in Colombia on murder, robbery and escape charges.
"There are a number of potential charges that we could bring here. We picked him up on a rather technical charge, quite candidly, because we weren't going to allow him to walk around loose," U.S. Atty. Andrew J. Maloney said.
The charge of lying to a federal law enforcer is punishable by up to five years in prison. Maloney said Munoz could be charged with immigration violations, counterfeiting violations and "conspiracy that he was here to murder somebody."
Munoz frequently used false identities, and his name and age were a matter of confusion after his capture. Munoz claimed to be Esteban Restrepo-Echavarria when he was arrested. At his arraignment Thursday, he said he was Luis Fernando Hernandez Hernandez.
"I could really care less, as long as we've got him by the neck," DEA spokesman John Dowd said. He said fingerprint checks here and in Colombia left no doubt that the man in custody is Munoz, allegedly the chief hit man of Medellin cartel boss Pablo Escobar.
Colombian police, quoted anonymously Friday in the El Tiempo newspaper of Bogota, said Munoz had talked on the telephone to someone in Boston. They said the sons of Gilberto Rodriguez, the boss of the Cali drug cartel, live in Boston. El Tiempo said Munoz may have been assigned to kill the sons of the rival drug lord.
Munoz may also have come north to put the Medellin cartel back in control of the cocaine market in New York, where Cali dominates, the newspaper said.
Another theory of the national police was that Munoz was going to murder six Colombian witnesses in the Noriega trial in Miami to keep them from implicating Escobar, the newspaper said.
Munoz came to New York on Saturday after spending time in Los Angeles. El Tiempo noted that Colombia's consul general in Los Angeles is Miguel Maza Jr., whose father was a former police general hated by the cartel for his unrelenting war on drug trafficking.