One of biggest drug dealers 'world has ever known' gets 35 years

2016-07-26 10:40

New York – A Colombian described as one of history's biggest cocaine dealers was sentenced to 35 years in prison on Monday by a Manhattan judge who called the scope of his crimes "staggering".

Known as El Loco, Daniel Barrera Barrera, 48, was sentenced by Judge Gregory Woods, who rejected a defence lawyer's request for leniency on the grounds that his client tried to co-operate, urged others to surrender and had rescued victims of kidnappings. The sentence included a $10m forfeiture and a $10m fine.

Daniel Barrera escorted by police
Daniel Barrera (centre) is escorted by police to a waiting car prior to his extradition to the US in 2013 from the counter-narcotics base in Bogota, Colombia. (Fernando Vergara, File/AP Photo)

"The scope of the offences here is staggering," Woods said as he imposed a sentence requested by the US government. "He is dangerous. ... Too short a sentence would provide him the opportunity to commit additional crimes."

The judge said evidence demonstrated that Barrera, who once regularly carried an automatic weapon, used to threaten or kill individuals who owed his drug organisation money, or posed a threat to his business.

Prosecutors said he shipped at least 720 tons of cocaine from Colombia to the United States as part of a massive drug dealing operation that sent drugs to four continents and utilised a submersible vehicle to transport drugs.

Barrera had admitted distributing 400 tons of cocaine annually from 1998 to 2011 with an organisation backed by lethal drug cartels and terrorist groups.

Assistant US Attorney Adam Fels urged Woods to reject Barrera's lawyer's attempt to portray him as a victim of a culture of violence in an area of Colombia overrun by cocaine networks and militias, including terrorist organisations.

'Last of the great kingpins'

"He wasn't forced to expand to become one of the largest drug dealers the world has ever known," Fels said, noting that Colombia's president personally announced in a speech the night Barrera was captured in Venezuela in 2012. Barrera was extradited to the US in 2013. He pleaded guilty a year later.

Ruben Oliva, Barrera's Miami-based lawyer, urged the judge to give his client a sentence less than 35 years, saying Barrera had hoped to surrender and co-operate with US authorities but he was rejected.

Oliva said Barrera tried to offer information to help US authorities find a bomb maker and top member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel group known as the FARC. He said federal authorities declined the offer.

Assistant US Attorney Andrea Surratt angrily refuted the implication that the US ignored valuable intelligence, saying the FBI had developed information independently about the bomb maker and investigated fully.

Prior to sentencing, Barrera told the judge he hoped to someday again enjoy and see his grandchildren. "I ask for my family's forgiveness for all the suffering I have caused them," he said.

Miami US Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer said Barrera's reach worldwide was unprecedented. "Today's sentencing closes the chapter on Barrera's reign as of one of the largest cocaine traffickers in history," he said.

Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said: "The man Colombian authorities have called 'the last of the great kingpins,' now stands convicted and sentenced in an American court of law."

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