Carlos Lehder Rivas, the biggest foreign drug dealer ever brought to trial in this country, was found guilty Thursday of running a smuggling operation that shipped tons of cocaine from Colombia to the United States.
The verdict against the reputed leader of Colombia's violent Medellin drug cartel came just after 11 a.m. following seven days of deliberation.Lehder, 38, and co-defendant Jack Carlton Reed, 57, were convicted of conspiring to smuggle 3.3 tons of cocaine, using Norman's Cay in the Bahamas, from 1978 to 1980.
Lehder was found guilty on all counts: conspiracy, two counts of importation of cocaine, seven counts of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute and one charge of engaging in a continuing criminal enteprise.
He looked down, then stared straight ahead as the court clerk read the verdicts. Two jurors cried, with one sobbing and burying her face in her hands, as the seven-month trial came to an end.
Lehder now faces life plus 150 years in prison and up to $350,000 in fines and possible forfeiture of millions of dollars in real estate.
Reed, of San Pedro, Calif., was convicted on a single conspiracy count and faces up to 15 years in prison and $25,000 in fines.
Prosecutors and government witnesses had described Lehder as a one-time New York street hood who put together a vast cocaine-smuggling empire after he was deported to his homeland.
Authorities said the Medellin Cartel, named for a city in Colombia, was believed to be responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States.
Prosecutors called Lehder the biggest foreign drug smuggler ever brought to trial in the United States. U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle called him the Henry Ford of drug trafficking, pioneering mass shipments of cocaine by air from Colombia to the United States.
A forfeiture hearing was scheduled for later Thursday, and attorneys refused to comment until after the proceedings.
Jurors' names have not been revealed for security reasons, and U.S. District Judge Howell W. Melton had the foreman sign the verdict form only with his number.
Lehder allegedly paid Bahamian Prime Minister Lynden O. Pindling to look the other way while his smuggling operation took over the small island of Norman's Cay, a short hop from the Florida coastline.