SEATTLE (Reuters) - A federal jury convicted three Colombian men of drug trafficking and money laundering as affiliates of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, or FARC, a paramilitary group that controls South American cocaine trade.
After a day of deliberations capping a two-week trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts late on Tuesday on all charges against the three men, who were arrested in Colombia in February 2009 and extradited to the United States over the following two years.
The defendants — Miguel Antonio Jimenez Torres, 40, Hector Fabio Zapata Alvarez, 30, and Nivaldo Riascos Renteria, 41 — were accused of arranging to smuggle 10 tons of cocaine concealed in ballast tanks of cargo vessels, prosecutors said on Wednesday.
The case stems from the wiring of more than $491,000 from a FARC-affiliated cartel to a U.S. undercover agent in Seattle as a down payment for the shipment, which was to have been routed into the southwestern United States through Ecuador and Mexico.
The three defendants were convicted of arranging for the payments and transport of the drugs, none of which ever made it to the United States, said Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney in Seattle.
“Ten tons of cocaine has a street value of about $100 million or an equivalent of 10 million user doses,” she said.
Trial testimony revealed that the planned cocaine shipment was disrupted in early 2008 by a Colombian army raid on a FARC campsite near Ecuador in which the FARC leader Paul Reyes was killed.
U.S. authorities had sought to extradite a total of five men in connection with the case, but two were killed in Colombia before they could be arrested.
Jimenez and Zapata face a 10-year minimum prison sentence, and Riascos faces at least 20 years in prison because of a prior drug trafficking conviction in eastern New York state.
Sentencing was set for August 8.
Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan