February 9, 2018 / 5:47 PM / 8 months ago

U.S. Homeland Security agent gets prison for Colombia drug lord bribes

(Reuters) - A former U.S. Homeland Security special agent was sentenced on Friday to three years in prison for taking bribes in exchange for getting an indicted Colombian drug kingpin dismissed from a case against the once-powerful Cali cartel, court records showed.

Christopher Ciccione, 52, a veteran of the Navy and Army National Guard, pleaded guilty in Miami federal court in November to conspiracy to defraud the United States, two months after his arrest.

Ciccione traveled to Bogota in December 2010 to meet with Jose Bayron Piedrahita, an indicted drug lord with the Cali cartel, U.S. prosecutors said.

Piedrahita plied Ciccione with prostitutes, food, drinks and around $20,000 in cash at the Marriott Bogota, according to court documents.

In return, Ciccione altered official records to report Piedrahita was a “former,” not “current,” suspect in the investigation; falsely told U.S. prosecutors that Piedrahita had never been positively identified; and sent Piedrahita the names of confidential informants cooperating against him.

A federal judge dismissed the original charges against Piedrahita in October 2011.

Juan Carlos Velasco, a Colombian national who functioned as a go-between, also pleaded guilty in the case and was sentenced last month to more than two years in prison. Piedrahita remains at large.

Brothers Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, both now serving prison terms in the United States, founded the Cali cartel in the Colombian city of that name and admitted shipping hundreds of tons of cocaine to the United States from 1990 through 2002.

U.S. authorities have said their underground empire once controlled 80 percent of the world’s cocaine supply.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Tom Brown

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