Florida convicts leader of Colombian "narco sub" gang

MIAMI Thu Aug 23, 2012 3:54pm EDT

Members of the Colombian Navy guard a seized submarine built by drug smugglers in a makeshift shipyard in Timbiqui, department of Cauca February 14, 2011. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

Members of the Colombian Navy guard a seized submarine built by drug smugglers in a makeshift shipyard in Timbiqui, department of Cauca February 14, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jaime Saldarriaga

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MIAMI (Reuters) - The No. 2 figure in a Colombian drug gang that specialized in surreptitiously sending cocaine-laden "narco submarines" out of the South American country has been convicted of three drug conspiracy charges in Florida, authorities said on Thursday.

Laureano Angulo Riascos, 54, faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment after a federal jury in Tampa found him guilty on Wednesday, according to U.S. Attorney Robert O'Neill of the Middle District of Florida.

Riascos was second-in-command of the Morfi drug trafficking in Colombia, the world's top cocaine producer.

He was responsible for trafficking cocaine valued at more than $1 billion out of an area along the country's Pacific coast controlled by the Marxist-led Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia rebel group, O'Neill said in statement.

The Morfi "pioneered the design and construction of self-propelled semi-submersible (SPSS) vessels, and used them to smuggle multi-ton loads out of Colombia," the statement said.

It did not elaborate, but drug-trafficking organizations have increasingly been smuggling massive amounts of cocaine out of Colombia by way of the SPSS vessels.

The subs were first detected by U.S. drug enforcement officials in 2006. They generally make their way to Mexico or drop-off points in Central America, for subsequent overland shipment of cocaine intended for the lucrative U.S. market.

Sentencing of Riascos has been set for November 9. He was extradited from Colombia in April.

O'Neill said Jose Samir Renteria-Cuero, the alleged ringleader of the Morfi gang, was currently in custody in Colombia pending extradition to the Middle District of Florida. Renteria-Cuero is known by the alias "Jose Morfi," he said.

(Reporting By Tom Brown and M.D. Golan)

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