NEW YORK (AP) – A Colombian described as one of history's biggest cocaine dealers was sentenced to 35 years in prison Monday by a Manhattan judge who called the scope of his crimes "staggering."
Known as El Loco, Daniel Barrera Barrera, 48, was sentenced by Judge Gregory Woods, who rejected a defense lawyer's request for leniency on the grounds that his client tried to cooperate, urged others to surrender and had rescued victims of kidnappings. The sentence included a $10 million forfeiture and a $10 million fine.
"The scope of the offenses here is staggering," Woods said as he imposed a sentence requested by the U.S. government. "He is dangerous. ... Too short a sentence would provide him the opportunity to commit additional crimes."
The judge said evidence demonstrated that Barrera, who once regularly carried an automatic weapon, used to threaten or kill individuals who owed his drug organization money or who posed a threat to his business.
Prosecutors said he shipped at least 720 tons of cocaine from Colombia to the United States as part of a massive drug dealing operation that sent drugs to four continents and utilized a submersible vehicle to transport drugs. Barrera had admitted distributing 400 tons of cocaine annually from 1998 to 2011 with an organization backed by lethal drug cartels and terrorist groups.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Fels urged Woods to reject Barrera's lawyer's attempt to portray him as a victim of a culture of violence in an area of Colombia overrun by cocaine networks and militias, including terrorist organizations.
"He wasn't forced to expand to become one of the largest drug dealers the world has ever known," Fels said, noting that Colombia's president personally announced in a speech the night Barrera was captured in Venezuela in 2012. Barrera was extradited to the U.S. in 2013. He pleaded guilty a year later.
Ruben Oliva, Barrera's Miami-based lawyer, urged the judge to give his client a sentence less than 35 years, saying Barrera had hoped to surrender and cooperate with U.S. authorities but he was rejected. Oliva said Barrera tried to offer information to help U.S. authorities find a bomb maker and top member of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel group known as the FARC. He said federal authorities declined the offer.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Surratt angrily refuted the implication that the U.S. ignored valuable intelligence, saying the FBI had developed information independently about the bomb maker and investigated fully.
Prior to sentencing, Barrera told the judge he hoped to someday again to enjoy and see his grandchildren.
"I ask for my family's forgiveness for all the suffering I have caused them," he said.
Miami U.S. Attorney Wilfredo Ferrer said Barrera's reach worldwide was unprecedented.
"Today's sentencing closes the chapter on Barrera's reign as of one of the largest cocaine traffickers in history," he said.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: "The man Colombian authorities have called 'the last of the great kingpins,' now stands convicted and sentenced in an American court of law."