COCAINE SMUGGLER SENTENCED TO LIFE

AP Published: July 21, 1988

leatherJACKSONVILLE, Fla., July 20— A federal judge Wednesday sentenced convicted cocaine smuggler, Carlos Lehder Rivas, to the maximum possible term of life without parole plus 135 years, saying the sentence was a sign of society’s determination to expunge ”this cancer.”

The judge, Howell W. Melton, brushed aside Mr. Lehder’s contention that he was a political prisoner. Prosecutors called him a key figure in a huge network of drug rings centered in Medellin, Colombia.

Mr. Lehder, who prosecutors said was responsible for 80 percent of the Colombian cocaine coming into the United States, was convicted in May of importing 3.3 tons of the drug into the country from the headquarters of his smuggling operation on an island in the Bahamas.

Judge Melton imposed the harshest penalty possible for the crime under Federal law over defense objections that it exceeded the maximum allowable under the U.S.-Colombia extradition treaty.

The sentence is ”a message, a signal to our society that it will do everything it can to rid itself of this cancer,” Judge Melton said. During a 25-minute speech to the court before he was sentenced, Mr. Lehder, who is 38 years old, portrayed himself as a victim of the political ambitions of United States Attorney Robert Merkle, a candidate for the Republican nomination for a United States Senate seat.

”I have been Mr. Merkle’s hostage,” said Lehder. ”I’m a political prisoner. My arrest is illegal.” But Judge Melton said politics was not at the root of the case. Earlier Wednesday, he sentenced Lehder’s co-defendant Jack Carlton Reed, 58 years old, to 15 years in prison on a single court of conspiracy.

”You were not convicted because of your political beliefs, because you are a Colombian,” the judge said to Mr. Lehder. He said the the smuggling was done for ”money” and ”greed.”

Prosecutors had asked for life without parole on the charge of running a continuing criminal enterprise, plus 15 years each of 10 drug smuggling charges. But the law requires that sentence for one drug-smuggling sentence run at the same time as the sentence, resulting in 135-year total.

Mr. Lehder was also ordered to pay $350,000 in fines.

Mr. Merkle’s replacement, United States Attorney Joe Magri, who attended the sentencing as a spectator, called Lehder ”a cocaine narco-terrorist” and applauded the sentence. ”The judge fairly, justly and appropriately socked it to a hoodlum,” said Magri.

Edward Shohat and Jose Quinon, defense attorneys, argued earlier in a memorandum to the court that Mr. Lehder’s prison time was limited under the extradition agreement under which he was brought to this country and that he should be eligible for parole after 15 years.

Testimony in the seven-month trial included allegations that Bahamian officials, including Sir Lynden O. Pindling, the Prime Minister, helped Mr. Lehder and his smuggling organization run more than 20 tons of cocaine from Colombia through Norman’s Cay into deserted airstrips in Florida and Georgia.

Sir Lynden and his aides have repeatedly denied the allegations.