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Colombian drug lord gets life in prison following joint law enforcement investigation

TAMPA, Fla. - A high ranking member of a Colombian drug cartel was sentenced here to life in prison Monday following a multi-agency investigation comprised of several federal agencies including U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Ivan Gonzalez-Bejarano, 48, linked to the Cali Cartel, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Steven D. Merryday to a term of life imprisonment for conspiracy to import and distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.

The joint federal investigation, that spanned several years, yielded information revealing that Gonzalez-Bejarano had been trafficking cocaine into the U.S. for at least 20 years.

Gonzalez-Bejarano, also known as Flaco, Omar, Marino, Don Ruben, and El Vincino, was found guilty Friday, Oct. 17, 2008, following a two-week jury trial.

Gonzalez-Bejarano was high ranking member of the Cali Cartel, an organization responsible for smuggling more than 30 metric tons of cocaine.

The sentencing was the culmination of a multi-year investigation by the Panama Express South Strike Force, a federally approved Organized Crime Drug Enforcement task force consisting of ICE, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); the Coast Guard; the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); the FBI and Joint Interagency Task Force South.

Operation Panama Express targets Colombian maritime smuggling organizations responsible for cocaine trafficking throughout the Easter Pacific to the U.S. and elsewhere for distribution.

The case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Walter E. Furr, III.