Suspected Colombian drug kingpin pleads not guilty in U.S. court

NEW YORK Wed Jul 10, 2013 3:00pm EDT

Police escort Colombian drug trafficker Daniel 'El Loco' Barrera (C) as he is brought before the media, before being extradited to the U.S., at an airport in an anti-narcotics base in Bogota July 9, 2013. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

Police escort Colombian drug trafficker Daniel 'El Loco' Barrera (C) as he is brought before the media, before being extradited to the U.S., at an airport in an anti-narcotics base in Bogota July 9, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/John Vizcaino

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Alleged Colombian drug kingpin Daniel Barrera made his first appearance in a U.S. court on Wednesday and pleaded not guilty to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States.

Prosecutors accuse Barrera, 44, of manufacturing upwards of 400 tons of cocaine annually in Colombia and trafficking it worldwide.

He conspired with others to distribute cocaine "knowing and intending" that some would be imported into the United States, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jenna Dabbs said at the hearing in Manhattan federal court.

Barrera, with a light beard and wearing jeans and a black-and-white golf shirt, spoke briefly in Spanish at the hearing, confirming his attorney and that he understood the proceedings. Nicknamed "Loco," or crazy, he sat back in a chair and listened to an interpreter through earphones.

Ruben Oliva, his lawyer, said Barrera would demand a trial by jury.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said Barrera would remain in detention. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Barrera arrived in the United States on Tuesday after being extradited from Colombia.

He is accused of buying raw cocaine paste from the leftist rebel group FARC and processing it in laboratories in areas controlled by the now-demobilized paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.

The AUC collected monthly taxes from Barrera, according to the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's indictment.

Evidence against Barrera includes photographs and other documents related to the seizures of cocaine shipments off the coasts of Venezuela and Florida, Dabbs told Hellerstein.

In 2000 Barrera provided 1.4 tons of cocaine to an unnamed co-conspirator in Guatemala via a "go-fast boat," according to the indictment.

He also provided cocaine to the same co-conspirator to be hidden in a container of scrap metal that was being transported to Mexico from Panama in 2004, the indictment said.

Barrera was arrested in Venezuela last September with the help of authorities there as well as British and U.S. intelligence agencies.

Colombian authorities had been closing in on his organization in the weeks before his arrest, detaining 36 suspected members and seizing five tons of cocaine.

Barrera's next appearance in Manhattan federal court is set for September 4. He also faces charges in federal court in Brooklyn and Miami.

(Reporting by Bernard Vaughan; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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