A Colombian cocaine ring made such enormous profits that it created its own courier service to move the cash, a convicted money launderer told Congress Wednesday.
"Basically, there is no effective interdiction for money," Ramon Milian Rodriguez told a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee. "The problem the launderer faces is security, not an authority per se."Rodriguez, a Cuban-born accountant, is serving a 43-year prison term for money laundering. He has admitted serving as a chief U.S. money launderer for the Medillin cartel, the drug ring named after the Colombian city where it is based.
Rodriguez said he was handling up to $2 billion a year for the cartel.
He showed the subcommittee boxes he said were used by the cartel for shipping cash. They were inscribed with the name "Consolidated Courier Services."
The boxes were designed specifically to carry the cash and were loaded onto pallets to be lifted aboard airplanes and flown from the United States to Central America, Rodriguez told the subcommittee.
His testimony came a day after the committee was told that a top Haitian military officer offered to sell high-quality cocaine for shipment to the United States, flying the drugs from a lighted, 8,400-foot private airstrip at his ranch.
Miami businessman Osvaldo Quintana described the lavish lifestyle of Haitian Col. Jean-Claude Paul, the influence Paul wielded and the fear he evoked in Haitian citizens with whom he came in contact. Quintana said the cocaine deal was discussed at the Dessaline Barracks in Port-au-Prince, headquarters of an elite military unit Paul commands.
Paul is under indictment in Miami on charges of conspiring to import cocaine but apparently is out of the reach of U.S. authorities because he cannot be extradited. Quintana's life has been threatened by Haitian drug figures and he is under protection by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
When Quintana and an associate told Paul they needed a sample of cocaine, which tested at about 90 percent pure, to take back to the United States, the colonel personally carried it past customs officials in his holster for them, Quintana testified.
He testified Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations narcotics subcommittee, which is holding a series of hearings on the drug trade in Latin America. The panel planned to call other witnesses Wednesday to describe money laundering and to spell out how the State Department used at least one alleged drug trafficker to ferry supplies to the U.S.-backed Contra rebels in Nicaragua.
In federal court in Washington on Tuesday, the committee obtained limited immunity from prosecution for future testimony from Michael B. Palmer, who faces drug charges in Michigan. Palmer, as an official of the Miami aircraft leasing firm Vortex, had a contract in early 1986 with the State Department's Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Organization, which funneled humanitarian aid to the Contras.
Michael P. Vogel, another witness before the panel on Tuesday who now is serving a 121/2-year sentence on marijuana charges, said Palmer had been arrested along with himself on identical charges, but was dropped from the indictment in March of 1986 while under contract to the State Department.
"It is unusual. It is strange," Vogel said.
He acknowledged he once had felt bitterness about what he saw as Palmer's preferential treatment, but said he now was more concerned about the corrupting influence of drugs.
"You can't use drug smugglers for other tasks by the government," Vogel said.