Lehder Cocaine Smuggling Case Goes to Jury

Associated Press

A federal jury began deciding Friday whether Carlos Lehder led efforts to flood the United States with Colombian cocaine or was simply a businessman duped by American smugglers.

After a seven-month trial, jurors began deliberating on 11 charges against Lehder and one against co-defendant Jack Carlton Reed. They heard 22 weeks of testimony from 115 government witnesses and saw piles of documents and carts of packaged cocaine.

The defense called no witnesses, relying on closing arguments.

Lehder, 38, reputed to be a leader of Colombia's violent Medellin cartel, has been called one of the most important foreign drug smugglers to face trial in the United States, a man who pioneered the idea of mass shipments of cocaine.

Wrapping up his prosecution, U.S. Atty. Robert W. Merkle told the jury: "You either convict him of everything in this case or convict him of nothing in the case."

In his closing statement, chief defense attorney Edward R. Shohat argued that Lehder was simply a businessman who wanted to develop the Bahamian island of Norman's Cay as a tourist resort but was victimized by a conspiring group of Americans who told the jury "a litany of lies."

Shohat said that group's leader was Ed Ward, a convicted drug smuggler who served six years of a 20-year sentence and now lives under a new identity in the federal witness protection program.

Shohat charged that Ward, a former Jacksonville area salesman and insurance agent, was "given the break of a lifetime." By agreeing to cooperate against Lehder, Ward reduced a possible 215-year plus life sentence to less than six years in prison, Shohat said.

If convicted, Lehder faces up to life plus 150 years in prison, $250,000 in fines and forfeiture of his assets in the Bahamas.

Lehder, 38, was specifically charged with one count of conspiracy to import cocaine, two counts of importation of cocaine and seven counts of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He also was accused of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise.

Reed faced one charge of conspiracy with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.

The indictment said Lehder and Reed conspired to smuggle about 3.3 tons of cocaine into the United States from Colombia via Norman's Cay from 1978 to 1980.

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