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Matta Guilty of Running Drug Ring in Two States

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A wealthy Honduran businessman, whom federal prosecutors consider one of the world’s leading drug traffickers, was convicted by a federal court jury Tuesday of running a major cocaine syndicate in California and Arizona. The conviction carries a mandatory life sentence.

Juan Ramon Matta Ballesteros, 45, was found guilty on 11 felony counts, including conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to distribute cocaine and engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise.

It was the third major conviction against Matta in the Los Angeles federal courthouse in the past 16 months.

In September, 1989, a jury found him guilty of running another major drug ring. In that case, federal authorities confiscated 114 pounds of cocaine and $1.9 million in cash at a Van Nuys apartment complex in 1981.

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Last January, Matta was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole by U.S. District Judge Pamela A. Rymer. An appeal is pending.

Last July, Matta was found guilty of conspiracy, kidnaping and violent crimes in aid of racketeering, stemming from the February, 1985, kidnapping and murder of Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena in Guadalajara, Mexico. Sentencing is pending in that case.

Tuesday’s verdicts stemmed from a lengthy investigation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service. Federal agents seized about one ton of cocaine during 1984 raids in Arizona and California and about $7.8 million in cash.

U.S. District Judge William J. Rea set sentencing for March 11.

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Matta’s defense lawyers, Martin R. Stolar and Michael J. Burns of New York, said they were “very disappointed” with Tuesday’s verdict and would file an appeal.

Six men were indicted in the case. Miguel Felix Angel Gallardo, a major Mexican drug lord, is in prison in that country on unrelated drug charges. The other four men, who are Colombian nationals, remain fugitives.


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