January 4th, 2007 14:49 EST
DEA Extradites Two Corrupt Colombian Police Officers
JOHN P. GILBRIDE, Special Agent in Charge
of the Drug Enforcement Administration and MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced the extradition of two corrupt Colombian police officers charged with smuggling more than $50 million worth of cocaine for importation into the United States. The Indictment charges LEONIDAS MOLINA-TRIANA, a/k/a "Sofoco," a/k/a "Don Oscar," a former Major in the Colombian National Police ("CNP") and HUMBERTO AVILA, an active CNP patrolman, and others, with conspiracy to facilitate cocaine shipments through the El Dorado International Airport, in Bogota, Colombia, to Mexico en route to the United States.
SAC GILBRIDE stated, “These extraditions are a warning to those individuals who smuggle drugs into the United States that the DEA and the US Attorney’s Office will continue to vigorously investigate your organizations to ensure you are brought to justice. Leonidas Molina-Triana and Humberto Avila - both worked for the Colombian National Police and both betrayed the trust of the public and airline employees. Due to the diligence of DEA and our law enforcement partners – both are facing the consequences of their illegal actions.”
According to the Indictment, from approximately August 2005 until April 2006, representatives of Colombia’s notorious Norte Valle Cartel, including former high-ranking Colombian police officials like MOLINA-TRIANA, recruited active members of the Colombian police responsible for El Dorado Airport security operations and employees of Avianca Airlines at El Dorado Airport’s cargo facility to facilitate the smuggling of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately into the United States. The Indictment alleges that between October 14 and 17, 2005 these corrupt Colombian police officials and Avianca Airlines employees permitted 409 kilograms of cocaine, with a wholesale value of more than $10 million, to pass through security at the Avianca Airlines cargo facility at El Dorado Airport without detection. AVILA, an active CNP patrolman stationed at El Dorado Airport, passed the cocaine through security and guarded the shipment of drugs for three days in the Avianca cargo facility until the drugs were sent to Mexico City. On October 17, 2005, the 409 kilograms of cocaine were allegedly transported aboard an Avianca flight to Mexico City, Mexico, where they were seized by Mexican law enforcement personnel. A photograph of the seized 409 kilograms of cocaine is attached.
The Indictment further alleges that in March and April 2006, the Norte Valle Cartel used the corrupt officials and others to attempt to smuggle approximately 1,752 kilograms of cocaine, with a wholesale value of more than $40 million, from Bogota, Colombia, to the United States via Mexico. 552 kilograms of the cocaine was seized on April 3, 2006 (photograph attached), and the remainder, approximately 1,200 kilograms of cocaine, was seized on April 4, 2006.
The extraditions announced today were part of "Operation Caso Dorado," a joint investigation conducted by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (the "Office"), the DEA in Bogota, Colombia, and New York, with the cooperation of ICE and Colombian and Mexican law enforcement authorities. Operation Caso Dorado represents a continuation of the Office’s emphasis on stamping out narcotics-smuggling activities on airlines operating from Colombia and complements the Office’s agreement with Avianca Airlines, announced in October 2004, concerning the monitoring of all Avianca flights to the United States.
MOLINA-TRIANA was presented on Friday, December 29, 2006, before Magistrate Judge ANDREW PECK, and was ordered detained pending trial. AVILA was presented today before Magistrate Judge JAMES C. FRANCIS, and was also ordered detained pending trial.
If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment, although the United States provides assurances to Colombia that it will not seek life sentences for defendants extradited from Colombia. The Indictment also seeks the forfeiture of $50 million from the defendants based on their roles in conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.
Mr. GARCIA praised the cooperative investigative efforts of the DEA, ICE, and Colombian and Mexican law enforcement officers.
"Today, more than ever, the integrity of the law enforcement and airline personnel responsible for the safety of airline passengers and cargo is of critical importance," stated Mr. GARCIA. "When such officials facilitate the smuggling of contraband destined for the United States, they not only violate our criminal laws but also threaten our national security. They will be brought to justice in a United States courtroom."
The prosecution is being handled by the International Narcotics Trafficking Unit of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. MARC P. BERGER and KEVIN R. PUVALOWSKI are in charge of the prosecution.
The charges and allegations contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.