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Koch Believed Target of Cartel Reprisal

Times Staff Writer

Mayor Edward I. Koch expressed concern Wednesday about intelligence reports that three Colombians taken into custody late last week in Manhattan may have been hit men sent by the powerful Medellin drug cartel to assassinate him and the head of the New York office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

When the men were seized by federal agents last Thursday in midtown Manhattan, no explosives were found, but detonators and transmitters were discovered in the trunk of their car. Police officials told the mayor the three men had been named as assassins by DEA informers within Colombian drug rings.

Because the evidence was insufficient and the devices could also have legitimate uses, one of the men was released and the other two were held only on charges of violating immigration laws.

Targeted by Cartel

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Robert Strang, a DEA spokesman, said the mayor and Robert Stutman, the DEA’s regional director, were targeted because of inroads being made against the Medellin cartel, a major importer of drugs to New York City.

Intelligence information provided the DEA said that Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, one of the Medellin cartel’s leaders, apparently had become enraged when Stutman displayed Gacha’s picture during a news conference announcing one of the cocaine seizures. Gacha lives in Colombia and diplomats do not expect him to be extradited to the United States despite indictments in New York and Miami.

“My reaction?” Koch said, when asked at a City Hall news conference Wednesday. “Obviously, it’s not exactly the dream of your life to be told you’re the subject of death threats.”

The mayor said, however, he would in no way curtail his schedule. He said that over the years he had instructed his police bodyguards not to tell him about security measures, but to be sure the precautions taken were adequate.

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“You can’t think about these things,” Koch added. “If you think about them and worry about them, you can’t do your job.”

Law enforcement sources said Wednesday that closer inspection of the confiscated devices showed them not to be very sophisticated equipment. And there were indications that the two Colombians being held would soon be deported.


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