New U.S. Charges Link Drug Cartel to Killings
Four leaders of Colombia’s major cocaine cartel and an associate of Bahamas Prime Minister Lynden Pindling have been charged by a federal grand jury with cocaine smuggling and conducting a 15-year conspiracy that involved the assassination of a top Colombian official and the murder of a drug informant in Baton Rouge, La.
The indictment, unsealed Wednesday in Jacksonville, Fla., and also announced here, alleges that Pablo Escobar, a kingpin of the Medellin drug cartel, organized the 1984 assassination of Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla, who had led efforts against cocaine traffickers.
Escobar also is accused of joining Fabio Ochoa, another cartel boss, in ordering the 1986 retaliation murder in Baton Rouge of Adler Barrimore (Barry) Seal, a former drug-smuggling pilot who turned informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration after he was arrested in 1983.
The indictment says that Everette William Bannister of Nassau, Pindling’s associate, received bribes from the Colombians for allowing the cartel to use the Bahamas as a way station for cocaine shipments.
The charges, which name 30 defendants, grew out of the conviction last May in Jacksonville of Carlos Lehder, another cartel leader, who is serving a life sentence. The 70-page indictment is the most detailed legal chronicling of the Medellin cartel’s alleged far-reaching criminal activities here and abroad.
Robert W. Genzman, U. S. attorney in Jacksonville, said the United States would seek Bannister’s extradition from Nassau, but he would not answer questions about any involvement of Pindling.
None of the cartel leaders, all believed to be in Colombia, have been taken into custody. Genzman noted that the government worked for six years to bring Lehder to the United States.
“I am confident that at some point in time, we will be able to obtain custody of the others,” he told reporters in Jacksonville.
Tons of Cocaine
Authorities attribute to the Medellin cartel about 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the United States, and the indictment specifies smuggling and distribution of more than 22 tons of cocaine, valued at $1 billion.
The indictment gives few details of Bannister’s handling of the alleged payoffs, saying that he funneled bribes to unnamed “Bahamian officials.”
At Lehder’s trial, Bannister’s son, Gorman Bannister, described his father as an influence-peddler who accepted protection payments from drug traffickers and regularly supplied Pindling with funds.
In 1985, a royal commission of inquiry found drug corruption among some members of Pindling’s inner circle, but cleared the prime minister of wrongdoing. A State Department spokesman said Wednesday that the latest charges are “absolutely and totally a matter for the Department of Justice.”
Pindling, who was reelected in 1987, repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing.
Cartel Movement Traced
The indictment says that after the assassination of Lara, the cartel leaders fled Colombia and Lehder went to Nicaragua. Escobar, Fabio and Jorge Ochoa and Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez headed for Panama, but after a few weeks joined Lehder in Nicaragua, the charges state.
While in Nicaragua they brought approximately 1,400 kilograms of cocaine into the country, storing it at Los Brasiles Air Force Base, the grand jury charged. Most of the cocaine was later flown into the United States, and the Drug Enforcement Administration seized 665 kilograms of it from a plane piloted by Seal, it said.
A second flight carried cocaine over Cuba to Andros Island, Bahamas, and this shipment was successfully smuggled into the United States, the indictment said. It was Seal’s cooperation with the DEA on the 665-kilogram flight that led to his being shot to death, according to the indictment.
Genzman said the indictment contains “snapshots of a long-term drug conspiracy in action.”
Among the defendants charged with distributing cocaine in the United States for Lehder are five California residents: Richard James Barile of Manhattan Beach, Pat Passenheim of Redondo Beach, Donald Gary Podesto of San Rafael, and Thomas Howard Harrington and Edward Nathan Levine, both of San Jose.
Others charged with piloting cocaine flights are Jack Carlton Reed of San Pedro, who was convicted with Lehder and is serving a 15-year prison term, and Samuel Thomas Stewart of Anaheim.