- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

Two Colombian police officers have been extradited to the U.S. to face cocaine smuggling charges, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials said yesterday.

Leonidas Molina-Triana, a former major in the Colombian National Police (CNP), and Humberto Avila, a police officer, are named in a federal grand jury indictment on charges of conspiring to ship more than $50 million in cocaine through the El Dorado International Airport in Bogota to Mexico en route to the United States.

DEA Special Agent in Charge John P. Gilbride, who heads the agency’s New York field office, said Colombia’s infamous Norte Valle drug cartel recruited Colombian police officials responsible for airport security and employees of Avianca Airlines to facilitate the smuggling of cocaine to the United States.

“These extraditions are a warning to those individuals who smuggle drugs into the United States that the DEA and the U.S. attorney’s office will continue to vigorously investigate your organizations to ensure you are brought to justice,” Mr. Gilbride said.

“Leonidas Molina-Triana and Humberto Avila both worked for the Colombian National Police, and both betrayed the trust of the public and airline employees,” he said.

The indictment, handed up in U.S. District Court in New York, said that in October 2005, Maj. Molina-Triana, Officer Avila and Avianca Airlines employees permitted more than 800 pounds of cocaine with a street value of $10 million to pass through security at the Avianca Airlines cargo facility at El Dorado airport without detection.

It said Officer Avila, who was assigned to the airport, moved the cocaine through security and guarded the drugs for three days in the Avianca cargo facility. The cocaine was then put on an Avianca flight to Mexico City, where it was seized by Mexican law-enforcement personnel.

The indictment also said that in March and April, the Norte Valle cartel used Maj. Molina-Triana and Officer Avila to smuggle more than 3,500 pounds of cocaine valued at $40 million from Bogota to the United States via Mexico. Those drugs were seized by U.S. authorities.

DEA spokesman Garrison K. Courtney said the extraditions are part of “Operation Caso Dorado,” a joint investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York, the DEA in Bogota and New York, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and Colombian and Mexican law-enforcement authorities.

Mr. Courtney said both men have been ordered held pending trial. If convicted, they face life sentences and a mandatory minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment, although the U.S. government has assured Colombia that it will not seek life sentences for suspects extradited from Colombia.

The indictment also seeks the forfeiture of $50 million from the two men.

“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,” said U.S. Attorney Michael J. 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.”

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