LOCAL : Prosecution Rests Case in Trial of Accused Van Nuys Drug Dealer

From Times staff and wire service reports

Federal prosecutors rested their case this morning in the drug-trafficking trial of a Honduran charged with operating a massive cocaine distribution network out of Van Nuys.

U.S. District Judge Pamela Rymer denied a defense motion to dismiss the case against Juan Ramon Matta, 44, after the prosecution completed its case in the trial that has lasted 15 days in the U.S. Courthouse downtown.

Matta is accused of running a network that in a seven-month period moved more than a ton of cocaine into the United States. According to Matta's indictment, officials confiscated 114 pounds of the drug and $1.9 million in cash at a Van Nuys apartment on Sept. 21, 1981. At the time, it was the largest combined seizure of cocaine and cash in California history.

Federal investigators used documents seized during the raid to lead them to Matta, who was known in the network as "El Negro," prosecutors said. The government's case also has relied on convicted drug dealer Hector Barona, who testified that he arranged the shipment of cocaine for Matta from Colombia to Florida and then to Van Nuys.

Matta was arrested while aboard a U.S.-bound plane in April, 1988, after he was whisked out of Honduras and taken to the Dominican Republic by Honduran officials.

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