A major Colombian drug trafficker who willingly sought extradition to the United States—even offering a $40 million bribe to officials in Brazil to send him to the US—apparently knew what he was doing. After being extradited and convicted in Federal Court in New York of felony drug charges that could have put him in jail for life, he disappeared.
His name is Juan Carlos Ramirez-Abadia (nickname: Lollipop). He's a figure in the recent scandal over the President of Costa Rica’s use of a drug plane belonging to Gabriel Morales Fallon, who was identified as one of his former lieutenants.
Juan Carlos Abadia's extradition to the US from Brazil in 2008 received major media coverage.The DEA was calling him the biggest drug cartel boss since Pablo Escobar. They say he led the world’s biggest drug cartel, exporting more than 500 tons of cocaine—worth in excess of $10 billion—just to the United States alone.
His name was in the news again several months later, when he asked (citing claustrophobia) to be placed in a bigger detention cell while awaiting trial in New York.
But when he pled guilty in March of 2010 to felony counts of drug trafficking and racketeering, not one newspaper in America carried the story. His conviction went completely unreported. The DEA didn't didn’t even issue a press release.
It was as if, when Pablo Escobar was gunned down in Colombia, the story didn't make the news.
Where is "My Boy Lollipop?"
Court documents indicate Abadia was sentenced to 25 years in Federal prison. But a search of the prisoner locater at the Federal Bureau of Prisons website does not list his name as among those currently incarcerated.
The Assistant US Attorney in charge of the Abadia case, Carolyn Pokorny, declined to comment on his whereabouts.
And that’s where the trail ends, at least for the moment.
Another anomaly: There is no record of his sentencing. Among the official court documents available through PACER is a transcript of a hearing held before the court accepted Abadia’s guilty plea, to ensure he understood his rights, and was pleading guilty voluntarily. There is a binding 9-page forfeiture agreement. Abadia agreed to forfeit $10 billion (that’s billion with a ‘b’) in currency and property to the US Government. There is also an order by District Judge Sandra Townes accepting his guilty plea.
But—more than two years later—there is no record of his being sentenced. Whether the discrepancy concerns missing documents, years-long deferred sentencing, or some other cause is unknown at this time.
"Almighty Latin Kings and Queens" Beware
The situation is more than puzzling. On what should have been a banner day for the DEA and the Department of Justice, Drug Kingpin Juan Carlos Ramirez-Abadia was well on his way to being erased from public memory.
As an organization, the DEA has shown that it excels at only one thing: shamelessly flogging its own dubious achievements. That, and putting the best face possible on the long-ago lost drug war.
So why did they pass up the chance to announce they'd bagged & tagged the biggest drug lord to walk the earth since Pablo Escobar fell off a roof?
A search of March 2010 press releases on the Department of Justice’s national website turned up . headlines announcing that a member of the “Almighty Latin King and Queens,” sentenced to 210 months for his role in a drug conspiracy; and a “Maryland Man,” convicted of sex trafficking, firearms and gun charges.
But nothing about Abadia's conviction.
One headline looked promising. It announced that a “Leader of Colombian Narco-Terrorist Organization” had been sentenced to more than 20 years for conspiring to import tons of cocaine into the U.S
Alas, the DEA, as is well-known, plays favorites, and the narco-terrorist kingpin fixin' to do time had been a leader of the gritty and perennially out-of-favor-in-Washington FARC. Abadia, on the other hand, had taken over the remnants of the "bandana-free" Cali Cartel, and turned it into the powerhouse North Valley Cartel.
A search of contemporaneous press releases on the US Attorney’s own website in Brooklyn showed they hadn’t even issued the standard boilerplate press release, thanking the DEA and the hard-working men and women of law enforcement etc., while trumpeting the significance of Ramirez-Abadia's conviction.
A check of that month’s press releases at the national Department of Justice's Eastern District of New York site turned up Bloods gang members indicted on murder and racketeering. There was a headline touting a “leader of violent drug crew” getting life in prison, while another, “leader of violent drug crew,” unconnected and slightly luckier than the first, was being dished out 27 years.
But not one word about the (local!) conviction of a man who’d just admitted to shipping 500 tons of cocaine to the US.
A lot of money changing hands
Authorities estimated that Abadia’s North Valley Cartel employed hundreds of people, and controlled 60 percent of the drugs leaving Colombia for the United States and Europe each year, a significantly higher percentage than the Medellin bad boys– who always lagged the Cali Cartel, never mind the DEA–controlled in its heyday.
His employees weren’t stringing up narco-banners over highways, or sharpening their machetes, cutting up corpses into pieces small enough to fit into 55-gallon drums or strapping bandoliers across their chests. They were international businessmen and women, manufacturing and transporting multi-ton loads of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, destined for the US market for Abadia’s Drug Division; or counting and then launderering money, or couriering it for the Money Laundering Division.
They doled out bribes to police, politicians and military officials in the cartel’s Corruption Division; or carried out murder, torture, kidnapping and violent drug debt collections for the "Office of the Sicarios."
Law enforcement officials have confiscated more than 24 tons of cocaine from Abadia’s cartel associates, seized hundreds of properties; and dozens of legitimate corporations: pharmaceutical distribution companies, major currency exchanges, even thoroughbred horse breeding farms.
The Silence of those on the lam
The level of secrecy in the Abadia case is reminiscent of what was recently reported here involving a key figure in the biggest drug seizure on an airplane in Mexican history, the 5.5 tons of cocaine on a DC-9 from St. Petersburg, Florida.
Tracing the money from that massive drug bust led directly to the forced sale in 2008 of Wachovia, then America's 4th largest bank.
When a key figure in that case pled guilty to unrelated drug charges two years ago in a Federal Court in Miami, it was a secret to journalists, as well as to probation officials preparing his Pre-Sentence Report (PSI). It was even a secret to the Federal judge. Court transcripts reveal she was unaware the man she was sentencing had been a key figure in a case that brought down America's 4th largest bank.
Another "only in Miami" moment? Or something more?
(Another is upcoming in two weeks, when men associated with the Gambino Family go on trail for the murder of Gus Boulis, more than seven years after their arrest in 2006.)
But now its happened in Brooklyn, too.
Are there similarities between events in Miami and Brooklyn?
One stands out: the Asst. US Attorney's in each case specializes in major drug traffickers. In Miami, Asst US Attorney Hoffman handles everything involving Colombians. When asked to comment on the false identity under which she prosecuted a key figure in the 5.5 ton DC-9 story, she declined.
In Brooklyn, Asst US Attorney Carolyn Pokorny handles "all the big Colombian cases." Regarding the current whereabouts of the man she two years ago helped send to Federal prison for 25 years, she offered to put us in touch with the Court's Public Information Specialist.
Might the reason both appear so tight-lipped be that they’ve been “read into” a sensitive and highly classified US operation involving drug trafficking which has been ongoing for decades now, and whose survival demands that the rest of America remain ignorant?
Are these two well-placed Asst US Attorneys privy to information which indicates that US drug policy differentiates between drug traffickers who smuggle drugs for US interests… and everybody else?