Ochoa Convicted in Miami Drug Cartel Trial

For those of you following the Miami trial of Fabio Ochoa, charged with rejoining the Medellin drug cartel after leaving prison and receiving amnesty, the jury found him guilty today.

A leader of a mighty 1980s Colombian cocaine cartel was convicted Wednesday of charges he rejoined a smuggling network after he was released from prison in his homeland and given amnesty.

Fabio Ochoa faces a possible life prison sentence on two federal drug conspiracy charges alleging he joined a 30-ton-a-month smuggling network from 1997 to 1999. Sentencing was set for Aug. 19. Ochoa, 46, made a sign of the cross, closed his eyes and dropped to his knees in the courtroom after the verdict was read. Jurors reached their verdict after spending five hours on deliberations over two days. The defense said an appeal was planned.

....''The government was able to spend half of the trial on the exploits of the Medellin cartel,'' Black said after the verdict. The jury found Ochoa ''guilty by history or association or something other than what he was charged with.''

Here's a wrap-up of the case:

During the 3½-week trial, prosecutors had little evidence connecting Ochoa to the Bogota-based network led by Alejandro Bernal. In a case with 1,500 hours of Colombian police tapes, Ochoa's voice was caught on only one three-hour segment in Bernal's bugged office June 16, 1999.

The defense said Ochoa socialized with traffickers but insisted he did not return to the life he abandoned in 1990 by joining the Colombian amnesty program. They said it was not Ochoa's voice on the tapes from Bernal's office, and taps on two of Ochoa's phones produced no evidence for trial.

The strongest evidence against Ochoa came from Bernal and three other co-defendants, who cooperated with prosecutors in hopes of getting lighter sentences.

They said Ochoa attended key meetings at what prosecutors said was ''the Wal-Mart of drug trafficking,'' and was set to receive profits on two cocaine shipments, suggesting air drops as a safe way of getting drug profits back to Colombia.

Defense attorney Roy Black maintained the government was desperate to get its hands on a man it blames for smuggling tons of cocaine into the United States in the 1970s and 1980s.

Black begged jurors in closing arguments not to convict Ochoa for his past, saying: ''He's paid the price for that. He should not be convicted again for something he's already been convicted of, punished for and put in prison.''

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