The New York Times
May 7, 2004

Racketeering Charges Against Colombians in Huge Cocaine Case

WASHINGTON, May 6 Nine leaders of a violent Colombian drug cartel have been charged under racketeering statutes with smuggling more than 1.2 million pounds of cocaine worth $10 billion into the United States, federal officials said here on Thursday after an indictment was unsealed.

The officials described the cartel as the most powerful in Colombia and said it used a terrorist paramilitary organization to protect distribution routes, laboratories and cartel members and to kill people.

Attorney General John Ashcroft said at a news conference that the cartel was responsible for "30 to 60 percent" of the cocaine coming into the United States.

The indictment charges the cartel leaders with operating an organization whose members over the last 14 years engaged in murder, kidnapping, torture, drug trafficking, money laundering and bribery to import huge amounts of cocaine from Colombia through Mexico into the United States.

Additional charges were brought against five of the cartel leaders in two other indictments unsealed on Thursday in New York and Miami. The indictment unsealed in New York evolved from an investigation that began in 1997 in Queens, where federal agents raided small storefronts and uncovered a wire-transfer operation that led to senior cartel leaders in Colombia.

"Evidence from those raids seven years ago ultimately led to three of the major cartel players charged today," said Michael J. Garcia, a senior official with the Department of Homeland Security.

If convicted, the cartel leaders face sentences of up to life in prison. But only one, Arcangel Henao-Montoya, is in custody, officials said. Mr. Henao-Montoya was arrested five months ago in Panama and is in jail in New York.

The State Department is offering up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest of the others.