Pilot Says Noriega Got $100,000 a Load in Drug Flight Payoffs
Manuel A. Noriega demanded a payoff of at least $100,000 for every planeload of Colombian cocaine passing through Panama, saying it would have been “crazy” for him to take less, the deposed dictator’s former personal pilot testified Thursday.
Floyd Carlton-Caceres, who said he piloted four drug flights into Panama with Noriega’s approval, told a federal court jury he delivered $600,000 in cash-filled envelopes to the military leader in 1982 and 1983, giving them to an intermediary at Noriega’s instructions.
Coming on the heels of earlier testimony by a former trusted aide who said he handed two of the bulky envelopes to Noriega without checking their contents, Carlton’s sworn account marked the prosecution’s heaviest blow against Noriega so far in the first two weeks of testimony.
U.S. District Judge William M. Hoeveler recessed the trial until Monday, when Carlton will be cross-examined by defense attorney Frank Rubino.
Carlton, 42, said Noriega became “exceedingly upset” when Carlton told him in 1982 that Medellin drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar had suggested he talk to Noriega about allowing cocaine flights to pass through Panama en route to the United States.
But he said a week or two later Noriega mellowed, indicating he would entertain the idea. However, Noriega hotly rejected Escobar’s proposal that the cartel pay him $30,000 to $50,000 per flight, the witness said.
“Noriega told me either they were crazy or I was crazy,” Carlton testified. “He would not allow that to happen for less than $100,000.”
Identifying photographs of two planes he used to ferry drugs from Colombia to Panama, Carlton said he made four flights in 1982 and 1983. He said he gave Noriega the first $100,000 in an envelope picked up by Lt. Col. Luis Del Cid, the general’s top aide. Del Cid earlier testified to that transaction but did not know the amount.
Like Del Cid, Carlton is a confessed drug smuggler who is cooperating with prosecutors in return for leniency.
By late 1983, he said, Noriega was becoming unhappy with the arrangement and said he would allow a final flight for $200,000, which Carlton testified was paid to him.