Not so fast: US against release of Colombian cocaine kingpin
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Federal prosecutors oppose a bid for early prison release by former Medellin cocaine cartel kingpin Fabio Ochoa, contending that his request far underplays the vast amount of drugs he helped smuggle into the U.S. over two decades.
The lawyer for Ochoa argues that new retroactive sentencing guidelines should shave about five years from his 30-year prison sentence. This is based on a relatively small amount of cocaine that could be directly attributed to Ochoa during his 2003 trial in Miami, according to Ochoa's attorney.
That amount is about 150 kilograms (330 pounds). But Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro argues that trial evidence showed Ochoa had some type of involvement in at least 19 tons (19,000 kilograms) of cocaine smuggled into the U.S. — and that was after he had been a senior member of the Medellin cartel once led by Pablo Escobar.
“The incapacitation of unrepentant major criminals like Ochoa is one of the goals of the sentencing law and guidelines,” Del Toro wrote. “Since the time he was a teenager and continuously into his 40s, Ochoa has refused to turn away from criminal misconduct.”
U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore had directed prosecutors to respond to Ochoa's early release request by Friday. There was no immediate indication when Moore would rule.
Ochoa, who turns 63 on Saturday, was initially arrested in 1990 in Colombia under a government program promising drug kingpins would not be extradited to the U.S. At the time, he was on the U.S. list of the “Dozen Most Wanted” Colombia drug lords and officials say he essentially ran the cartel at the time with his brothers Jorge Luis and Juan David.
In those years, the Ochoa brothers were listed as billionaires by Forbes magazine. Fabio Ochoa also was portrayed by an actor in the Netflix series “Narcos” that chronicles the Escobar empire.
Almost a decade later, Ochoa was arrested again in Colombia and extradited to the U.S. in 2001 as part of a drug trafficking indictment in Miami naming more than 40 people. Of those, Ochoa was the only one who went to trial, resulting in his conviction and the 30-year sentence. The other defendants got much lighter prison terms because most of them cooperated with the government.
One of those cooperators, Alejandro Bernal, was shot and killed shortly after his return to Colombia in 2012. Del Toro said in his filing this shows the danger someone like Ochoa could still pose.
“While there is no specific evidence that Ochoa was involved in the killing (other than the obvious motive), this event illustrates the magnitude of the stakes in this case, and contrasts Ochoa’s mendaciousness with the sacrifice of his cooperating co-defendants,” the prosecutor wrote.
“He is worthy of no leniency,” he added.
Ochoa has a wife and three grown children in Colombia, court records show. He served about eight years in a Colombian prison after his initial arrest related to the Medellin cartel operations, focusing after his release on breeding horses until he was extradited to the U.S. on the later indictment.