Six members of an international drug ring that linked major Colombian drug lords to Los Angeles street gangs and distributed 1,000 kilograms of crack cocaine a week in the United States were convicted Friday in federal court here.
The U.S. attorney's office called the case one of its "most significant drug prosecutions." The case spanned more than three years of investigation, more than four months of trial and a week of jury deliberations.
"It's very significant because it's one of the first to establish a connection between Colombian cartels bringing enormous amounts of cocaine into this country and black gangs," Assistant U.S. Atty. Dean G. Dunlavey said.
All six defendants were found guilty of conspiring to possess thousands of kilograms of cocaine with the intent to distribute the drug. Each was also convicted of possessing nearly 1,000 kilograms of cocaine.
In addition, two of the accused--Mario Ernesto Villabona-Alvarado, 29, reputed to be a high-ranking member of the Cali, Colombia, cocaine cartel, and Brian (Waterhead Bo) Bennett, 25, a South-Central Los Angeles drug dealer--were convicted of being key figures in a continuing criminal enterprise.
Under the so-called "drug kingpin statute," the two men face mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole. The remaining defendants, Maria Cecilia Fatima Barona, Luz Janneth Martinez, Michael Harris and Michael Dubarry McCarver, face 10 years to life in prison.
Dunlavey, who prosecuted the case along with Assistant U.S. Atty. Russell Hayman, estimated that between December, 1987, and November, 1988, the ring distributed more than five tons of cocaine to drug-trafficking networks in Los Angeles, Detroit and San Francisco.
Investigators arrested Villabona at his Malibu home on Nov. 19, 1988, the same day that Bennett was taken into custody at a $500,000 home he had recently purchased in Tempe, Ariz.
After the two were arrested, federal officials claimed that they had severed a major link forged by Villabona and Bennett to move cocaine from Colombia and distribute it through street gangs.
Commenting on the jury's sentence, defense lawyer David Kenner said, "If the government gets it wish, (Bennett) will die in jail."
Another defense attorney, David Chesnoff, called the trial a "three-ring circus."
"If the Justice Department and American people think this conviction will do one thing in the war on drugs, they're wrong," Chesnoff told reporters. "It's a fraud."
The government said that during the course of the investigation more than $12 million in U.S. currency and 500 kilograms of cocaine were seized, along with numerous residences and automobiles.
Seven other lower-level members of the ring, originally indicted in Los Angeles along with the six convicted Friday, entered guilty pleas earlier and were sentenced to prison.
Five of them, Michael D. Robinson, David Paz, Jairo Sanchez, Miguel Rodriguez and Joseph Gough, were arrested at a motel in a Detroit suburb by federal agents who seized $5.4 million.