Leaders of a Colombian drug cartel bribed Nicaraguan officials for use of a military base as a way station for 3,000 pounds of cocaine before smuggling it into this country, according to a federal indictment.
Leaders of the Medellin cartel masterminded the slayings of the Colombian justice minister and a U.S. drug informant, according to the federal District Court indictment unsealed Wednesday.The indictment accuses 30 people, including an associate of the Bahamian prime minister, of participating in a ring that imported 22 tons of cocaine - $1 billion worth - into the United States.
"This is an encompassing indictment that talks about the whole system of importing cocaine from Colombia through the Bahamas to the United States beginning in about 1974 and continuing into 1989," said Jack Hook, a DEA spokesman.
Those indicted are tied to Carlos Lehder Rivas, the Colombian drug kingpin who was convicted in Jacksonville last year of smuggling cocaine into the United States.
"This prosecution will further dismantle the Medellin cartel and its distribution network in the United States," U.S. Attorney Robert W. Genzman said of the latest indictments.
The cartel, named for the Colombian city where it is based, is considered the world's largest cocaine trafficking ring. It's said to be responsible for up to 80 percent of the cocaine imported into the United States.
The indictment accuses reputed cartel leader Pablo Escobar Gaviria of organizing the 1984 assassination of Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla. Escobar and Fabio Ochoa Vasquez also directed the 1986 slaying of former Drug Enforcement Administration informant Barry Seal, the indictment charges.
After the minister's slaying, cartel leaders fled the South American country and eventually traveled to Nicaragua, the indictment said. They stored 3,000 pounds of cocaine at Los Brasiles Air Force Base in the leftist-ruled country before flying it into the United States, the indictment said.
In May 1984, Lehder and other cartel leaders arranged to pay Nicaraguan officials large sums of money to allow them to remain in the Central American nation and to use it as a base for smuggling cocaine to the United States, the indictment said. In addition, in July 1984, a Piper Navajo owned by Lehder was given to the Nicaraguan government as a gift, the indictment said.
Also indicted was Everette Bannister, a close associate of Bahamian Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling. Bannister was accused of taking money from the cartel to allow the island nation off Florida's shores to be used as a way station for drug imports.
Bannister's telephone in Nassau was busy during repeated calls from The Associated Press. Bill Kalis, a spokesman for Pindling's office, said the Bahamian government would have no comment on Bannister's indictment.
NBC News, citing unidentified federal law enforcement officials, reported that an early draft of the indictment said Bannister shared the alleged payoffs with Pindling and other Bahamian officials.