- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Seven drug-smuggling suspects, including five Colombian police officers and an airline employee, have been arrested in Bogota in connection with the shipment of more than $10 million in cocaine to the United States, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said yesterday.

An indictment handed up in the case and unsealed yesterday accused the seven of smuggling the cocaine through the El Dorado International Airport in Bogota for importation into the United States, said DEA Special Agent-in-Charge John P. Gilbride.

“Narcoterrorism is a real threat to the security of the United States, and we must never let our guard down,” Mr. Gilbride said.

“This operation sends a strong signal to traffickers worldwide that the international drug-enforcement community will continue to aggressively pursue any potential compromise to airport security.”

DEA spokesman Rusty Payne in Washington said the arrests were part of Operation Caso Dorado, a joint undercover investigation by DEA agents in New York and Bogota, the U.S. attorney’s office in New York, agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Colombian and Mexican law-enforcement authorities.

“More than ever, the public must be able to rely on the integrity of the law-enforcement and airline personnel responsible for the safety of airline passengers and shipments,” said U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia in New York.

“When such officials allow smuggling of contraband destined for the United States, they violate our criminal laws and endanger our national security, and they will face justice in an American courtroom.”

Named in the indictment were Leonidas Molina-Triana, a former major in the Colombian National Police (CNP); Juan Carlos Cardona, a former CNP captain; Jaime Enrique-Padilla, a former CNP lieutenant; Jorge Plazas-Silva, a CNP patrolman; Humberto Avila, a CNP patrolmen; Maria Christina Marin-Castro, an employee of Avianca Airlines; and Henry Ferro-Varon.

They were accused of conspiracy to distribute cocaine shipments through El Dorado Airport en route to the United States.

If convicted, the seven face a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

According to the indictment, representatives of Colombia’s notorious Norte Valle drug cartel, including former high-ranking Colombian police officials, recruited active members of the Colombian police responsible for El Dorado Airport security operations and Avianca Airlines employees at El Dorado Airport’s cargo facility to permit the smuggling of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately into the United States.

The indictment said that in October, corrupt Colombian police officials and Avianca Airlines employees permitted 900 pounds of cocaine worth more than $10 million on the streets of New York City to pass through security at the Avianca Airlines cargo facility at El Dorado Airport without detection.

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