Carlos Lehder is a victim of America's war against drugs and the scapegoat of the real smugglers, his lawyer said Thursday as he wound up his closing arguments at the seven-month trial.
Defense attorney Edward Shohat said that smugglers felt Lehder was the type of person who would be easy to blame for their operation if they got caught. He said they felt they could make a deal with authorities, trading erroneous information about Lehder for their freedom."Mr. Lehder was a confrontational man, and none of these people ever believed they would have to testify. Just talk," Shohat said. "Just tell, and you'll get your deal."
The case was expected to go to the jury Friday. All that remained Thursday was a rebuttal by U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle.
Lehder faces 11 counts in a federal indictment that charges him with being a ringleader in the infamous Medellin drug cartel believed responsible for about 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States and the murders of top government officials, journalists and judges in Colombia.
If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and millions of dollars worth of fines and property forfeitures.
Co-defendant Jack Carlton Reed, 57, faces a conspiracy charge and 15 years in jail and a $25,000 fine.
Shohat claims the government's case stems from its passion to win the drug war rather than focusing on Lehder's indictment.
He said U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle spared no expense to get Lehder, who was extradited to the United States from Colombia. Among the examples he cited was a grant of immunity given to convicted drug smuggler Levit Francis for his testimony.
Under his original plea, Francis was also given immunity from federal income taxes. As the trial drew near, the government apparently decided it would not look good for such an agreement to be in the records, Shohat said.
On three different occasions he was allowed to file amended tax returns, "while everyone looked the other way," he said.
"Have you ever heard of such a thing in your life?" he asked. "And, if that wasn't enough, Francis paid the taxes by selling more cocaine.
"These people have one thing in common," he said. "A piece of paper that says they're not supposed to do something; it don't mean nothing to these people."
Shohat argued that Lehder went to Norman's Cay in the Bahamas to develop a resort island, but his plan was thwarted by a group of drug smugglers there led by Ed Ward, who also testified against Lehder.
Shohat said Lehder was an easy target for the smugglers because he was a "flamboyant, loudmouth, confrontational Colombian.
"Here was a Colombian in his 20s and in many ways he was his worst enemy," he said. "He did some absurd things. . . . He made plenty of dumb mistakes."
Earlier Wednesday, Merkle concluded his closing arguments by saying Lehder had been running a race with the Drug Enforcement Administration and finally got caught.
"He has reached a point in his life that he has had coming for a long time," Merkle said. "He cannot buy, he cannot charm, or he cannot force his way out of a just verdict in this case."
Lehder is charged with smuggling cocaine into the United States in 1979 and 1980. Although the indictment involves 3.3 tons of cocaine, Merkle has attempted to link Lehder to more than 18 tons between 1976 and 1985.