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Narcotics
09/02/2011

FARC leader found guilty of conspiring to import cocaine into the US

NEW YORK – A leader of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC – Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) was found guilty on Thursday of conspiring to import thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States. The guilty plea was the result of a joint investigation between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (ICE) and the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force.

Ignacio Leal Garcia, 41, was convicted after a three-week trial. Leal Garcia was extradited from Colombia to the United States in July 2010. He is the fifth member of the FARC to be extradited on an indictment, filed in the District of Colombia, which charged 50 of the top leaders of the FARC, a group that has been designated by the U.S. Department of State as a foreign terrorist organization.

According to the indictment, other documents filed in the case and statements made during related court proceedings, the FARC, which occupies large swaths of territory in Colombia, is a hierarchical organization comprised of 12,000 to 18,000 members. The FARC, led by a central leadership group, is made up of a number of distinct military units, called Fronts, organized by geographical location. These Fronts are grouped into seven "blocs." As the world's leading cocaine manufacturer, the FARC is responsible for the production of more than half of the world's supply of cocaine and nearly two-thirds of the cocaine imported into the United States.

Before his capture on April 8, 2009, Leal Garcia was a leader of the FARC's 10th Front, in the Eastern Bloc. Specifically, Leal Garcia controlled all cocaine production and cocaine trafficking in Arauca, an area that stretches over 9,000 square miles near Colombia's border with Venezuela.

To exercise this control, Leal Garcia organized regular meetings in the various municipalities in Arauca, where he threatened death or exile for anyone who failed to cooperate with the FARC's control of coca farming, cocaine production and cocaine trafficking in the region. Before his capture, Leal Garcia orchestrated the manufacture and distribution of thousands of tons of cocaine in Colombia intended for importation into the United States, the proceeds of which were used to fund the FARC.

Through this funding, Leal Garcia arranged for the purchase of weapons, explosives and other supplies utilized by hundreds of guerillas in the FARC's Eastern Bloc.

At various meetings, the FARC leadership has voted unanimously to expand its operations. Recognizing that the FARC could not survive without its cocaine revenue, the indicted members of the FARC leadership directed its members to attack and disrupt coca eradication fumigation efforts.

FARC leaders also ordered FARC members to kidnap and murder U.S. citizens in an effort to dissuade the United States from continuing to contribute to coca eradication. Leal Garcia faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and maximum sentence of life in prison.

In connection with its request for extradition, the United States has assured the Government of Colombia that it will not seek a life sentence for Leal Garcia. Leal Garcia is scheduled to be sentenced on Nov. 17, 2011.

Co-defendants Gerardo Aguilar Ramirez, Jorge Enrique Rodriguez Mendieta, Erminso Cuevas Cabrera and Juan Jose Martinez Vega were previously extradited on the same indictment, and were all convicted.

The State Department has offered $75 million in rewards for information leading to the arrest of the highest-ranking FARC leaders who remain fugitives.