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Drug kingpin pleads guilty to trafficking

A Colombian drug kingpin, reputed to be one of the largest cocaine traffickers in the world, has forfeited more than $15 million in assets  and pleaded guilty to trafficking charges, according to a plea agreement.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Colombian drug kingpin reputed to be one of the largest cocaine traffickers in the world has forfeited more than $15 million in assets, including an island and other properties in Miami and Latin America, and pleaded guilty to trafficking charges, according to a plea agreement filed Wednesday.

Fabio Enrique Ochoa-Vasco entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Tampa, 20 years after he was first indicted in Florida on drug trafficking charges. Authorities have described him as the head of one of the most powerful Medellin-based drug trafficking organizations, and he remained a fugitive until his surrender earlier this year.

"The pursuit of Ochoa-Vasco spanned nearly two decades and sends a message to drug trafficking organizations that their leaders cannot insulate themselves from prosecution because the United States will not stop its pursuit until the very heads of the organization are put in prison," U.S. Attorney A. Brian Albritton said in a statement.

According to the 31-page agreement, Ochoa-Vasco, 48, has been involved in trafficking cocaine into the United States from South America since at least 1978. He became the leader of his own trafficking organization 10 years later, transporting cocaine in go-fast and fishing boats through the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean to Central America.

From there, the drugs were brought into the United States.

The court records state that the organization had contacts with Colombian political and law enforcement and were able to obtain favors to assist them in the cocaine smuggling venture.

He was first indicted in Miami on federal drug trafficking charges in 1989 and again in a separate case one year later. In 2004, he was indicted by a grand jury in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

Authorities offered a $5 million award for his capture and negotiated his surrender in 2009.

Ochoa-Vasco pleaded guilty to conspiring to import five or more kilograms of cocaine into the United States and faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum penalty of life in prison for the crime.

Ochoa-Vasco's attorney, Roy Kahn, did not immediately return a message left by The Associated Press.

The approximate $15 million in assets include the rights to Colombian soccer player Sebastian Hernandez, valued at about $200,000; an island off Colombia's northern coast valued at $1 million; four apartments in Medellin, worth $800,000; and a hotel in Girardot, Colombia, valued at about $350,000.

Also forfeited are two properties in Miami, worth $230,000 combined; 10 apartments in Cancun, valued at $800,000; an aircraft in Venezuela and corporate assets from dozens of businesses, largely owned by Ochoa-Vasco and his co-defendants.

As part of the agreement, Ochoa-Vasco agreed to cooperate fully with the United States in its investigation and prosecution of other individuals and to testify in federal court.