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Former Colombian Legislator Convicted on U.S. Cocaine Charges
Washington -- A former member of the Colombian Senate has been convicted of charges that he unlawfully imported cocaine into the United States, the U.S. Justice Department has announced. In a June 29 statement, the Justice Department said a Washington jury found Samuel Santander Lopesierra guilty of leading a drug organization that smuggled shipments of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into the United States, and for laundering the proceeds so they could be transferred through Puerto Rico, New York and Miami back to Colombia. Lopesierra faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and fines of up to $4 million. The jury verdict was returned June 27, and came after a seven-week trial. Sentencing has been scheduled for October 27.
The jury was unable to reach a verdict on Lopesierra's co-defendant, Dolcey Padilla Padilla, also a Colombian national, and the U.S. judge declared a mistrial in that defendant's case. The Justice Department said that as a member of the Colombian Senate, Lopesierra represented the department (province) of La Guajira from 1993 to 1996. He was also a partner in a family business that imported cigarettes and whiskey into Colombia. The defendants were indicted in September 2002, along with 12 other Colombian nationals, following a two-year investigation conducted by the Colombian national police with the assistance of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. That investigation, titled "Operation Conquista," resulted in the seizure of more than 650 kilograms of cocaine and more than $1.5 million in currency. The investigation disrupted one of the largest drug trafficking groups operating along Colombia's north coast, said the Justice Department.
Alice Fisher, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's criminal division, said the United States and Colombia "will continue to work together, transcending borders to bring to justice those who target Americans with illegal drugs." Lopesierra's conviction comes less than a year after the U.S. prosecution and conviction of William Martinez, a former congressman in El Salvador. The Justice Department said the convictions are part of the U.S. government's ongoing initiative to identify, investigate, indict and extradite for trial those international drug traffickers who import illegal controlled substances into the United States. The State Department said in its 2006 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report, released March 1, that Colombia is the source of more than 90 percent of the cocaine entering the United States and a significant source of heroin. It is also a leading user of precursor chemicals and the focus of significant money laundering activity. The section of the report pertaining to Colombia is available on the State Department Web site.
Plea Bargaining - a process whereby the prosecutor and defense attorney negotiate
Process whereby the prosecutor and defense attorney negotiate a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case. The court and the defendant must approve of any settlements. For example, a guilty plea may be exchanged for a lesser charge or a sentencing recommendation, or for dismissal of one or more of the charges in a multi-count information, or for dismissal of another case.
The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects every person against unreasonable search and seizure by government officials.
Among other rights, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees that a person cannot be compelled to present self-incriminating testimony in a criminal (or juvenile) proceeding.
The fraudulent appropriation by a person to his own use or benefit of property or money entrusted to him by another.
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