Carlos Lehder Wants to Go Home

Carlos Lehder has written a letter to Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos, asking him to intervene with U.S. authorities so he go come home to Colombia to die. (Apparently he is not ill, he is just thinking of death since he is "close to 70." He's about to turn 66.) He ends his letter with (via google translate):

"With humility and the hope of the paisa arriero, expelled from Colombia, I have remained and survived 28 years in captivity... I am getting close to 70 years of age and deserve to die in Colombia."

Lehder was the first of the Medellin cartel leaders to be extradited to the U.S. In 1987, he was arrested, whisked onto a plane and brought to the U.S. At that time his net worth was estimated to be $2.5 billion. His trial lasted 7 months, he was convicted and sentenced to life without parole plus 135 years. (Here is the court opinion affirming his conviction and sentence. [More...]

In 1991, he entered a cooperation agreement with the U.S. to testify against Gen. Manuel Noriega of Panama. He was promised his sentence would be reduced to 30 years, and he would in no event serve more time than Noriega. He testified, and then went into the witness protection program (as an incarcerated witness.) His sentence was only reduced to 55 years. He fully exhausted his available legal remedies, see here and here.

The U.S. attorney in Tampa, where Noriega was prosecuted, was interviewed in a 1996 article as saying he was opposed to the deal and later said Washington forced it on him. He didn't think Lehder deserves any more of a break.

Merkle, U.S. attorney in Tampa at the time, is appalled by the Lehder case. "I never contemplated any kind of deal with Carlos Lehder," he said. "It never entered my head to even think about it." But Merkle was overruled by his Justice Department bosses in Washington intent on putting away Noriega.

Merkle said the deal was a "travesty" and Noriega would have been convicted without Lehder. Also, Lehder was ratting down -- he was much bigger than Noriega.

"First of all, Lehder's testimony was entirely gratuitous and unnecessary for a conviction of Noriega. Secondly, they gave a deal to the guy who was directing the bad activities to convict someone who was following directions.

That 1996 article also says the witness protection program was not Lehder's idea. Three years after Noriega's trial, he wrote to the judge complaining the U.S. had double-crossed him.

Ernst D. Mueller, a former federal prosecutor who tried the Lehder case with Merkle, said Lehder has already got more than he deserved.
"He has gotten everything we promised, and then some. There were no other deals that I'm aware of," Mueller said.

Mueller said a case could be made that Lehder didn't hold up his end of the deal. While Lehder professed to have large amounts of information about corrupt governments throughout Central and South America and in the Caribbean, he has testified only in the Noriega matter. When Mueller made that point to Lehder, the Colombian offered nothing more.

Three years later, Lehder wrote his letter of complaint to the judge. Within weeks of sending that letter last fall, Lehder was whisked away into the night, several protected witnesses at the Mesa Unit in Arizona say. No one has heard from him since.

Lehder was a bizarre character -- he admired both Hitler and the left wing Farc rebels. Even in his new letter to President Santos, he refers to himself and his Medellin partners as "visionaries."

Lehder told the President that he is part of a "group of visionaries smugglers paisas" who achieved what "for millennia the alchemists failed: convert a kilo of leaves refined in a kilo of pure gold".

My view: Let Carlos Lehder go home. 28 years is more than enough for a drug crime. He never got a hearing on extradition in Colombia. Two years after he was extradited, the treaty was changed to provide for a 30 year maximum sentence. He was extradited for a crime that had no parallel in Colombia (continuing criminal enterprise.) He did what the Government asked of him and testified against Noriega. Noriega was convicted.

Here's a Dan Rather report on his original trial and conviction.


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