MIAMI – Fabio Ochoa (search), once a feared leader of Colombia's deadly Medellin drug cartel (search), was sentenced Tuesday to more than 30 years in prison for returning to the drug trade after winning amnesty at home.
Ochoa, who helped transform cocaine smuggling into a tightly run, billion-dollar business in the 1980s, was sent to prison for joining a network capable of moving 30 tons a month from 1997 to 1999.
Prosecutors recommended a 30-year sentence even though the defense insisted a sentence longer than 12 years would violate conditions of Ochoa's extradition.
"It shows the bad faith of the U.S. government," said defense attorney Roy Black. "The U.S. government, despite its arrogance in refusing to follow international agreements, must be held responsible for making promises to the government of Colombia."
But lead prosecutor Ed Ryan said officials "are totally confident in our assertion that we have honored our agreement."
The final sentence was 30 years and five months. The charges had carried a possible life sentence.
Ochoa, 46, was convicted in May of joining a smuggling network run by one of his former cartel underlings after serving a five-year Colombian prison sentence and getting amnesty for his cartel days.
The defense claimed at trial that Ochoa socialized with members of a network uniting Colombian suppliers and Mexican distributors but abandoned the drug world for good in 1990.
"We are completely surprised. The ruling does not correspond to the crime for which he was being judged," Ochoa's sister, Martha Nieves Ochoa, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press in Bogota, Colombia. "They weren't judging him for the crimes on which he was extradited."
The defense had claimed that points made in an affidavit when the goverment sought extradition were not the basis for the eventual trial. The prosecution denied wrongdoing.
By treaty, Ochoa could not be prosecuted for crimes before Colombia and the United States renewed extradition in 1997. He is one of the biggest Colombian drug defendants brought to U.S. justice.
Evidence against Ochoa included testimony by ringleader Alejandro Bernal and video and audio tapes of meetings at his Bogota office, which prosecutors dubbed "the Wal-Mart (search) of drug trafficking." A police microphone was hidden in the wall behind Bernal's desk.
Ochoa attended key meetings at the office, was set to receive some of the profits on two multiton cocaine shipments and suggested air drops as a safe way of getting drug profits back to Colombia, according to trial testimony.
"In this world of narcotrafficking and what it did to this country, the defendant is one of four or five people who literally changed the world as we knew it at the time," Ryan said.
He was extradited in 2001 and has been held in solitary confinement. Since the extradition, the United States has pumped nearly $2.5 billion in aid into Colombia.
The defunct Medellin cartel was one of the most powerful and feared drug networks of the 1980s. Its campaign of bombings and assassinations was intended in part to keep Colombians from being shipped to the United States for trial.