By CHRIS HAWLEY; Associated Press
NEW YORK – A Colombian drug trafficker who prosecutors say tried to buy a DC-8 jetliner and other large aircraft to smuggle cocaine was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Tuesday by a federal judge in New York.
Francisco Gonzalez Uribe, 44, was arrested in 2009 during a sting in the Dominican Republic and pleaded guilty to trafficking charges in June.
"In the international drug trafficking underworld, Gonzalez Uribe was almost peerless," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a written statement.
Gonzalez Uribe smuggled tons of cocaine to Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, where the drugs were then taken to the United States and Europe, prosecutors say. Some of the cocaine was hidden in phony tubes of Colgate toothpaste, according to court documents.
U.S. District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan sentenced Gonzalez Uribe to 30 years in prison, five years of probation and a $10,000 fine, despite letters from Gonzalez Uribe's relatives begging for a shorter sentence.
"He is a role model for me and my children and for all the people around him," wrote Margarita Gonzalez, Gonzalez Uribe's sister.
Gonzalez Uribe's lawyers had also asked for leniency, saying he was a "manager" of drug traffickers but not an "organizer" and that prosecutors had exaggerated the amount of cocaine involved.
Anti-drug agents said they had secretly recorded Gonzalez Uribe as he negotiated the purchase of a DC-8, a four-engine jetliner.
Law enforcement agencies have become increasingly concerned about smugglers who are buying large cargo aircraft to carry cocaine and heroin on nonstop flights from South America to Africa. From there the drugs are taken to Europe.
In July, a federal judge sentenced trafficker Jesus Eduardo Valencia-Arbalaez to 17 1/2 years in prison after he and accomplices bought a $2 million plane to run monthly flights between Venezuela and Guinea. The group claimed to have six aircraft already flying.
A separate group of traffickers based in Colombia and Liberia was arrested after one of their planes was seized in May with 2 tons of cocaine as it prepared to leave Venezuela, prosecutors say. Drug Enforcement Administration agents say the group was planning to fly shipments across the Atlantic twice a month.
Three other men from Sierra Leone face charges that they scouted out airstrips and arranged for a 4-ton flight of cocaine from South America in March.
In a fifth case filed in the federal court in Manhattan, U.S. prosecutors have accused Venezuelan Walid Makled-Garcia of operating airstrips for drug flights. They say Makled-Garcia was behind the DC-9 jetliner that landed in Mexico in 2006 with more than 12,300 pounds of cocaine on board.
Colombian authorities arrested Makled-Garcia in August. The United States has requested his extradition, but the Colombian government says it will hand him over to Venezuela to face drug charges there first.