- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Drug kingpin Fabio Ochoa Vasquez, one of the most feared leaders of the infamous Medellin cocaine cartel in Colombia, was sentenced yesterday to 30 years in prison after reneging on a promise not to return to the drug-trafficking business.

U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore in Miami sentenced Ochoa to 30 years and five months in federal prison, plus five months probation — an upward departure from sentencing guidelines — after he had been granted amnesty in Colombia after the completion in 1996 of a five-year sentence in that country on drug charges.

DEA Administrator Karen Tandy said she was “extremely pleased” by the sentence, describing Ochoa as a founding member of the Medellin cartel, which she called “one of the most ruthless and violent criminal organizations the world has ever known.”

Law enforcement authorities here said Ochoa, 46, had agreed to stay out of the drug-trafficking business after completing the five-year term, but had been observed by drug agents meeting with leaders of a new narcotics-trafficking network in Bogota after his release from a Colombian prison.

The authorities said he was involved in the shipment of about 30 tons of cocaine a month to the United States between 1997 to 1999.

Ochoa was extradited to the United States in 2001 after a joint U.S.-Colombian investigation known as “Operation Millennium,” which shut down a massive cocaine-trafficking ring and resulted in the arrest of 31 drug dealers.

The operation was described at the time by the Drug Enforcement Administration as the single largest blow to Colombian traffickers since the 1995 capture of the leaders of the infamous Cali cartel.

The DEA said the amount of cocaine the Colombian-based organizations headed by Ochoa and others moved into the United States each month was equivalent to 500 million doses, with a street value of $5 billion a month or $60 billion a year.

A grand jury indictment in the case handed up in U.S. District Court in Miami covered only crimes committed after Dec. 17, 1997, when Colombia agreed to resume extraditing suspects to the United States after a long hiatus.

The arrests in Operation Millennium culminated a one-year probe designed to dismantle a Colombian-based smuggling ring believed responsible for supplying 30 tons of cocaine per month to the United States and Europe.

It involved the unprecedented cooperative effort of the DEA, Colombian National Police, Colombian prosecutors, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami, and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

As part of the raid, DEA agents and Colombian authorities arrested 14 persons in Bogota, one in Cali, and 15 in Medellin.

Ochoa was the first major Colombian trafficker to surrender in return for a promise that he would not be extradited. But U.S. prosecutors seeking his extradition said he broke the agreement when he resumed trafficking cocaine after leaving his Colombian prison in 1996.

The Medellin cartel was led by Pablo Escobar, who waged a war of bombings and assassinations in the 1980s and early 1990s in order to avoid trial in the United States. Escobar was killed in 1993. Under the Medellin cartel’s pressure, extradition was declared unconstitutional in 1991. Colombia reinstated extradition in December 1997 at the request of the United States.

The baby-faced youngest son of a prominent Medellin horse-breeding clan, Ochoa joined Escobar’s drug empire along with two older brothers.

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