As new death threats circulated in the United States, an extradited suspect in Medellin cocaine cartel money-laundering was ordered held without bail today until arraignment Monday.
Eduardo Martinez Romero, who is accused of helping the drug cartel launder at least $15 million, arrived in the United States early today under heavy guard at a tiny suburban airport. He is the first person extradited from Colombia in its recent drug crackdown.
Martinez appeared with a lawyer at a preliminary federal court hearing, telling Magistrate Joel M. Feldman through an interpreter that he speaks only Spanish and does not fully understand the charges against him.
Held Without Bail
Feldman postponed arraignment until Monday and ordered Martinez held without bail until then. Prosecutors said they would ask that he be denied bail then. They would not disclose where Martinez was being held.
Federal agents are "on an increased state of alert" for any retaliation from the Medellin cartel, said Weldon Kennedy, agent in charge of the FBI in Atlanta.
"We're very concerned because of the events transpiring and because of the violence that has occurred in Colombia," Kennedy said.
Cocaine gangs in Colombia have threatened to kill five U.S. citizens and 10 judges for every Colombian extradited to the United States.
Authorities today said security has been tightened around some New York City judges after a death threat from a caller claiming to be a member of a Colombian drug cartel.
The anonymous call was made at 2 a.m. Saturday to the FBI in New York City.
Threatened to Kill a Judge
Alfred Lerner, administrative judge of the Supreme Court in the city's borough of Queens, said the caller threatened to kill a judge in Kew Gardens, a Queens neighborhood. He said he called a meeting in the court's Kew Gardens branch and told 25 judges about the threat after learning of it Wednesday.
"I don't know if it's a crank call, but I think (the judges) have a right to know," Lerner said.
Martinez appeared in court without handcuffs or leg irons. Additional officers were in the courtroom and security appeared higher, but not extraordinarily so.
Martinez was arrested the first weekend after Colombian President Virgilio Barco Vargas launched a crackdown on drug traffickers triggered by the Aug. 18 assassination of leading presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan, an outspoken foe of the drug trade.
Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh said in a statement late Wednesday, "I applaud the extraordinary courage and resolve of President Virgilio Barco and the government of Colombia in their efforts to restore the rule of law to Colombia."
In the emergency measures imposed by Barco was a reinstitution of the extradition agreement with the United States that had been thrown out by the Colombian Supreme Court in 1987.
Martinez, 36, was indicted in March in Atlanta as a result of an investigation code-named Operation Polar Cap that federal officials said revealed an operation that laundered billions of dollars in cocaine profits through U.S. and foreign banks.