Colombian drug czar Carlos Lehder was sentenced to life without parole plus 135 years in prison and $350,000 in fines Wednesday for drug smuggling, conspiracy and other offenses in operating one of the world's largest cocaine empires.
Besides the life sentence without parole, Lehder was given 10 separate sentences of 15 years in prison on various counts, with only one of those 15-year sentences to run concurrently.When he sentenced the 38-year-old reputed billionaire, U.S. District Judge Howell Melton said the penalty should send a message that the United States will not tolerate "greedy men like yourself who will take advantage of the plague.
"You have shown no remorse for the overwhelming amounts of cocaine that you smuggled into the United States, and burned a path of despair from Colombia throughout the United States," the judge said. "Your sole motivation was to make money. Greed was the sum and substance of your actions."
"I see no reason for you to ever be out of prison because you will simply return to crime," Melton said.
Lehder was a leader of the murderous Medellin cartel - named for the Colombian city where it is based - which is said to be responsible for up to 80 percent of the cocaine that reaches the United States. Lehder's specialty was smuggling the drug into the United States, and prosecutors said his skill made him the "Henry Ford" of the cocaine business.
As Melton read the sentence, Lehder, who has said he will appeal, showed no emotion.
In a 30-minute speech before the sentencing, Lehder, who did not testify during the seven-month trial, accused the government of racism and of kidnapping him when he was captured Feb. 4, 1987, in Colombia and extradited to the United States.
Lehder claimed former U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle used his case as a springboard into politics. Merkle quit his prosecutor's job last month to seek the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.
"I think Mr. Merkle is a corrupt prosecutor and he is sending danger signals that the United States is prejudiced against Latin governments and Latin people," Lehder said. "He gives the impression that the Colombian government is corrupt, the police are corrupt, the women are prostitutes."