Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Human Resources and Drug Policy
May 13, 1999
Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.
Chairman Mica and Members of the Subcommittee: I appreciate the opportunity to appear today at this hearing on "International Law: The Importance of Extradition". I would first like to thank the Subcommittee for your continued support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and your overall support of drug law enforcement. My testimony will provide you with an objective assessment of the law enforcement issues involving international organized criminal groups and describe the role that the DEA plays in identifying and combating these groups. The DEA recognizes that our success will continue to be limited until the leaders of these criminal organizations are brought to justice either in their native country or through the extradition process. We also recognize that extradition is vitally important in the short term, as an effective tool that can be utilized to achieve success in our overall drug control strategy.
While the mechanics of the extradition process are not in the purview of the DEA's area of responsibility, we have seen time and again, that the international drug traffickers that we are charged with investigating, fear extradition to the U.S. For that reason extradition has, many times, been a powerful tool in our counter-drug strategy. The traffickers fear extradition to the United States because they cannot obtain acquittal through violence, intimidation or bribery, buy preferential treatment in our criminal justice system, nor can they easily escape from U.S. prisons. DEA's primary mission is to target the command and control structure of the highest levels of the international drug trafficking organizations operating today. The DEA's investigative objectives, as well as our joint investigations with our state and local counterparts, are a very important part of our global strategy to combat international drug trafficking organizations. By using a global strategy, we also gather vital intelligence which assists our interdiction counterparts, and are able to build sound cases against the leadership of these organizations, which may enable us to indict and extradite those individuals who reside outside of the United States.
International Organized Crime
It is important to demonstrate at the outset why the threat posed by international drug syndicates is so ominous. The United States must be able to attack the command and control functions of the international syndicates which are directing the flow of drugs into this country. Focusing the attention of law enforcement on the criminals who direct these organizations is the key to combating international drug trafficking. Accordingly, the DEA directs its resources against the leaders of these criminal organizations, seeking to have them located, arrested, extradited, prosecuted, and given sentences commensurate with the heinous nature of their crimes.
The complex and sophisticated international drug trafficking groups operating out of Colombia and Mexico, are vicious, destructive entities which operate on a global scale. Trafficking organizations from Cali, and the four largest drug trafficking organizations in Mexico --- operating out of Guadalajara, Juarez, Mexicali, Tijuana, Sonora, and the Gulf region --- are simply organized crime groups. The organizational leaders --- the Rodriguez-Orejuela brothers in Colombia and Vincente Carrillo-Fuentes, Jesus Amezcua, Miguel Caro-Quintero, and Ramon and Benjamin Arellano-Felix from Mexico---are simply the 1990's versions of the mob leaders U.S. law enforcement has fought since shortly after the turn of this century. These international organized crime leaders are far more dangerous, far more influential and have a greater impact on our day-to-day lives than did their domestic predecessors. The drugs and the attendant violence which accompanies the drug trade, has reached virtually every community in the United States.
These international trafficking groups make operational decisions from places like Cali, Colombia, Sonora, Mexico and other locations outside the U.S. borders, which dilute American quality of life and directly impact drug-related crime in places such as Orlando, Florida, Yakima, Washington, and Charlotte, North Carolina. It has become evident that these groups have reached new levels of sophistication and have become a threat not only to the United States and Europe, but their own nations, and other Latin American nations as well. Their power and influence is being witnessed on an unprecedented scale, and unless innovative, flexible, multi-faceted responses are crafted, these drug trafficking organizations threaten to grow even more powerful in the years ahead.
International criminal organizations who currently control the drug trade from its source, through the Caribbean and Mexico, and on into the United States are to a large degree, intertwined. We cannot discuss the trafficking situation today without looking at the evolution of the groups from Colombia, and how the groups from Mexico have learned from them, which has created the situation we are facing today.
Colombian Trafficking Organizations
During the late 1980's and early 1990's the major traffickers from Medellin, Colombia, were investigated, arrested and prosecuted by the Colombian National Police (CNP) and the DEA. This began with the important return of Carlos Lehder to face drug charges in the United States, and ended with the death of Pablo Escobar at the hands of the CNP. As the Medellin traffickers disintegrated, the Cali traffickers quietly coalesced and assumed power equal to that of their predecessors. The drug traffickers from Cali were far more sophisticated than the Medellin group and eventually became deeply involved in all aspects of the cocaine trade, including production, transportation, wholesale distribution and money laundering. Whereas the Medellin traffickers seemed to revel in the terror and violence that became their trademark--and ultimately contributed to their downfall--the Cali traffickers attempted to avoid indiscriminate violence, further contributing to their image as legitimate businessmen. However, when the Cali traffickers employed violence to attain their goals--and they frequently did--it was precise and exacting. The Cali leaders --- the Rodriguez-Orejuela brothers, Jose Santacruz Londono, Helmer "Pacho" Herrera-Buitrago--- amassed fortunes and ran their multi-billion dollar cocaine businesses from high-rises and ranches in Colombia. Miguel Rodriguez-Orejuela and his associates composed what was, until then, the most powerful international organized crime group in history. They employed commercial aircraft to ship metric ton quantities of cocaine into Mexico. Using landing strips in Mexico, they were able to evade U.S. law enforcement and made important transportation alliances with the traffickers in Mexico. Once the cocaine was safely delivered to traffickers in Mexico, independent Mexico-based transportation groups subcontracted by the Colombian trafficking organizations arranged for the delivery of the cocaine to contacts within the U.S.
With intense law enforcement pressure focused on the Cali leadership by the brave men and women in the CNP during 1995 and 1996, all of the top trafficking leaders from Cali are either in jail or dead. During this same time frame, U.S. law enforcement agencies were effectively attacking Colombian cells operating within the United States. With the Cali leaders' imprisonment in Colombia and the attacks on their U.S. cells, traffickers from Mexico took on greater prominence. This alliance between the Colombian traffickers and the organizations from Mexico benefited both sides. Traffickers from Mexico had long been involved in smuggling marijuana, heroin, and cocaine across the U.S.-Mexico border using solid distribution routes to deliver drugs throughout the United States. The Mexico-based organizations' emergence as major methamphetamine producers and traffickers all contributed to making them a major force in international drug trafficking. The Mexican traffickers, who were previously paid financially by the Colombian traffickers for their services, would now routinely receive up to one-half of the shipment of cocaine as payment. This led to Mexican traffickers having access to multi-ton quantities of cocaine allowing them to expand their markets and influence in the United States, and making them formidable cocaine traffickers in their own right.
Traffickers from Mexico Rise to Prominence
Recent events highlight the ever-changing nature of drug law enforcement efforts against international drug traffickers. The Mexican-Central American corridor has been the primary smuggling corridor for cocaine destined for the United States since the 1980's. Events in Mexico and along the border bring emphasis to the fact that trafficking groups from Mexico are a significant force in international organized crime. These organizations are no longer simply middlemen in the cocaine transportation business. With the disruption of the Cali syndicate, groups such as the Amado Carrillo-Fuentes organization, the Arellano-Felix cartel, the Amezcua-Contreras brothers, and the Caro-Quintero group have consolidated their power and now dominate drug trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border and in many U.S. cities. These organizations reach into the very elements of the Mexican government which are intended to fight drugs, as the traffickers continue a reign of terror and violence along the border with the United States.
The violence that is an essential part of these ruthless and powerful organizations impacts innocent citizens who live in the United States. The traffickers' willingness to murder and intimidate witnesses and public officials has allowed these organizations to develop into the present day threat they are to the citizens of the United States and Mexico. Drug traffickers continue their brazen attacks against both U.S. and Mexican law enforcement officials and their sources of information. These traffickers have long had the ability to corrupt and intimidate public officials and institutions throughout the world.
The battle against corruption in Mexico is a long-term endeavor that requires constant vigilance. The ability of any government to attack powerful criminal organizations is dependent upon the existence of honest, dedicated law enforcement professionals. To attain this goal, meaningful anti-corruption initiatives which lead to sound criminal investigations and prosecutions of corrupt officials must be aggressively pursued. Only when implementation of these measures results in widespread behavioral changes can success be realized by an honest cadre of law enforcement officials against these organizations. Part of this process must be grounded in bringing the individuals responsible for facilitating large-scale drug trafficking to justice. Only through ensuring that these international traffickers face monetary sanctions as well as serve prison sentences commensurate with their crimes, can we expect significant success.
In many cases, particularly in Colombia, we have seen that the traffickers that are arrested and jailed continue to wield influence from their prison cells. They continue to have access to their wealth that allows them to buy preferential treatment, the ability to communicate with surrogate employees, and gives them the ability to continue to intimidate, corrupt and threaten the very institutions responsible for their incarceration. This became blatantly evident in Colombia when Pablo Escobar surrendered to Colombian authorities and was incarcerated in Envigado prison. As part of Escobar's surrender agreement, security would be the Army's and Escobar's handpicked bodyguards responsibility. The prison was quickly transformed into a veritable mansion, with lavish penthouse and furnishings. While incarcerated he continued to run his drug trafficking enterprise. His downfall began when he ordered the murder of two of his top lieutenants who had been summoned to Envigado by Escobar. Pending a transfer to a more secure facility, Escobar escaped and became the target of the largest manhunt in Colombia's history. If sentences and prison accommodations in these countries are not meaningful, then extradition to the U.S. must be a tool in our arsenal to ensure that traffickers account for their crimes in the country whose laws they violated, prosecution takes place in a jurisdiction where the evidence and witnesses are located and we can be sensitive to the victims adversely affected by their criminal conduct.
Drugs at The Source
The international drug syndicates discussed above maintain control over both the sources and the flow of drugs into the United States. The cocaine entering the United States continues to come from the source countries of Colombia, Bolivia, and Peru. According to DEA's Heroin Signature Program, which provides a chemical analysis of domestic heroin seizures and purchases to determine the geographic sources of origin, South American heroin comprised 75 percent of all heroin seized in the United States in 1997 and heroin from Mexico now represents 14% of the heroin seized in the United States. In addition, a current study being conducted by DEA indicates that as much as 29% of the heroin being used in the U.S. is being smuggled in by the Mexico-based organized crime groups.
For nearly two decades, crime groups from Colombia have ruled the drug trade by utilizing a tight organizational structure. The traffickers from Colombia, from Medellin then Cali, depended upon the acquisition of tons of raw coca from Bolivia and Peru. This coca was then converted to cocaine hydrochloride (HCl), generally in Colombia. These groups then used ingenious methods to deliver tons of cocaine to the U.S. and Europe, refining trafficking routes and techniques as necessary. Their vast responsibilities and their intricate distribution networks in the United States necessitated that they rely on a sophisticated system which ensured maximum security with minimum risk.
Colombian traffickers continue to dominate the movement of cocaine from the jungles of Bolivia and Peru to the large cocaine HCl conversion laboratories in Southern Colombia. An estimated thirty-five percent of the world's coca leaf is grown in Colombia and the vast majority of the cocaine base and cocaine HCl is produced in these laboratories throughout Colombia. Many of these activities take place in the southern rain forests and eastern lowlands of Colombia. Most of the coca cultivation in Colombia occurs in the Departments of Guaviare, Caqueta, and Putumayo. Also, cultivation occurs in areas of high insurgency that are effectively beyond the control of the Colombian Government.
As reported in The Miami Herald on May 6, 1999, the CNP raided May 5, 1999, what are being touted as the "most sophisticated cocaine-processing complexes in Colombia's history". This laboratory complex was spread over seven square miles and was capable of producing massive quantities of cocaine. Cocaine conversion laboratories range from smaller "family" operations to much larger facilities, employing dozens of workers. It is estimated that this compound had sleeping quarters that could accommodate approximately 200 workers. Three hundred officers raided the laboratory site, which culminated in the seizure of precursor chemicals, cocaine HCl, processing equipment and documentary evidence. In this type of laboratory environment, once the cocaine HCl is manufactured, it is either shipped via maritime or aircraft to traffickers in Mexico, or shipped through the Caribbean corridor, including the Bahamas Island Chain, to U.S. entry points in Puerto Rico, Miami, and New York, or shipped directly to the United States.
Drug trafficking in the Caribbean (Puerto Rico, Haiti, Dominican Republic and the Bahamas) is overwhelmingly influenced by Colombian organized criminal groups. Over the years, the Caribbean has been a favorite smuggling route used by the Medellin and Cali crime groups to smuggle thousands of tons of cocaine to the United States. During the late l970's and the l980's, Colombia-based traffickers established a labyrinth of smuggling routes throughout the central Caribbean, including Haiti, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas Island chain to South Florida, using a variety of techniques to transfer cocaine to U.S. markets. Past smuggling scenarios included airdrops of 500-700 kilograms in the Bahamian Island chain and off the coast of Puerto Rico, mid-ocean boat-to-boat transfers of 500 to 2,000 kilograms, and the commercial shipment of multi-tons of cocaine through the port of Miami.
DEA has identified four major organizations based on the northern coast of Colombia that have deployed command and control cells in the Caribbean Basin to funnel tons of cocaine to the United States each year. Colombian cell managers, who have been dispatched to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, operate these cells and are responsible for overseeing drug trafficking in the region. These groups are also directing networks of transporters that oversee the importation, storage, exportation, and wholesale distribution of cocaine destined for the Continental United States.
The Law Enforcement Response
America's long experience with countering organized criminal activity has necessitated the development and execution of an aggressive strategy to identify, target, arrest and incapacitate the leadership of these organizations. DEA's role in addressing the drug problem is to continue to attack the leadership of these international criminal organizations. With a strategy consisting of mounting strategic strikes on the organizational command and control, the DEA is able to degrade the ability of the organizations to conduct business and impede their efforts to import drugs into the United States. Each time we demolish an organization as part of this strategy, we further facilitate the intelligence collection process which is critical to the interdiction of drugs. DEA gains vital intelligence about an organization to use both to further additional investigative efforts and in increasing the accuracy of intelligence information provided to interdiction operations conducted by other agencies. The domestic and international aspects of trafficking organizations are inextricably woven together. Therefore, DEA believes that the United States must be able to attack the command and control functions of the international syndicates on all fronts which are directing the flow of drugs into this country.
Despite our many efforts to often repeatedly indict the leadership of these organizations, the current situation on many occasions, is that these drug lords are not apprehended by our international host country counterparts. Even if they are arrested, they are seldom, if ever, extradited back to the United States to face justice and serve sufficient prison sentences. The obstacles facing law enforcement in Mexico and Colombia are enormous. The traffickers are used to operating in an environment free from the fear of extradition, where drug traffickers intimidate, bribe, corrupt, and violently retaliate against the law enforcement and judicial systems. In order for the DEA and our international counterparts to be successful in our efforts, aggressive law enforcement principles, extradition treaties and the restructuring of judicial and governmental institutions must be applied or we will continue to be limited in success.
Our international cooperative efforts have proven to be successful in other parts of the world. For example, in 1994, the DEA and the Royal Thai Police initiated Operation Tiger Trap, designed to disrupt the heroin trafficking capabilities of the Shan United Army (SUA), the principal producer of Southeast Asian heroin. As a result of Operation Tiger Trap and other influences, the SUA warlord Chang Chi-fu, aka Khun Sa, surrendered to the Burmese authorities and remains under house arrest. The initial phase of Operation Tiger Trap resulted in the arrest and extradition of thirteen heroin traffickers, to include Kao Chang Pin, a top level heroin broker in the SUA. This coordinated law enforcement effort severely hampered heroin production in Shan-controlled areas.
The Role of Extradition: Colombia
From a historical standpoint, Colombia has experienced decades of narco-terrorism, some of which escalated over constitutional amendments allowing for the extradition of Colombian nationals to the United States. Earlier in my testimony I described a number of acts of terrorism carried out by the Medellin trafficking organizations, which were used to intimidate rival traffickers, government officials, and informants. During this time frame, a degree of this violence was also used as a tool to thwart extradition requests by the United States Government. During the rise of the Medellin traffickers in the 1980's, the violence reached unprecedented levels as the CNP became increasingly more aggressive in their counter-drug efforts, and high level traffickers were in danger of facing extradition. One of the most prominent Medellin traffickers at that time, returned to the United States in 1987, was Carlos Lehder. He was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. To illustrate the vehemence in which Colombia traffickers resisted and feared extradition, Carlos Lehder was instrumental in forming a political debate over the merits of extradition and publicly faced off against Colombia's Justice Minister, Rodrigo Lara-Bonilla. In 1984, when Bonilla was suddenly murdered, traffickers from Medellin, hidden behind the pseudonym "The Extraditables" were suspected.
In response to fear and the threat of extradition, the traffickers from Medellin continued to utilize violence and intimidation to rule their criminal enterprises. This violence was also used as a threat to the government to guard against extradition. Armed security forces were employed to enact terrorist activities and assassinations against rival traffickers, organizational employees, hundreds of Colombian police officials, judges, journalists, and innocent bystanders. These attacks included the murder of a Justice Minister and a Presidential candidate. The Medellin traffickers bombed an Avianca Jetliner in 1989, which killed 110 people, and also bombed the Department of Administrative Security headquarters in December 1989, killing an additional 50 and wounding another 200 individuals. As evidenced by these examples of extreme violence, calculated intimidation, and terrorism, it is easy to understand that our host country government's judicial systems would be ineffective in countering these attacks.
This wave of violence contributed to the abolishment of extradition in Colombia in 1991, and soon after, the Ochoa brothers and Pablo Escobar surrendered to the Colombian Government to take advantage of lenient prison sentences. Escobar continued to run his organization from prison until his escape in 1993, and his death shortly thereafter, following a shootout with the CNP.
More recently, the traffickers from Cali reacted violently upon the arrests of their leadership in 1995. Cali assassins killed more than a dozen suspected government informants and during 1992 in Queens, NY, journalist Manuel de Dios Unanue, who was an outspoken critic of the Cali traffickers, was murdered. Jose Santacruz Londono was later implicated during a criminal proceeding in NY, as having ordered de Dios' murder.
In spite of the abolition of extradition from Colombia in 1991, the United States Government has continued to work with the Government of Colombia on reinstating the extradition amendment. As a result, Colombia passed a constitutional amendment on December 17, 1997, which would allow for the extradition of Colombian nationals. President Andres Pastrana released Colombia's Drug Control Strategy in October 1998 and made a specific reference to using extradition as a tool against international drug trafficking. Since that time, the United States Government has requested the provisional arrest and extradition of four Colombian nationals, one of which is Diomedes Sevillano, who remains at large. Our requests for extradition of these individuals are based on two significant investigations conducted in cooperation with Colombian law enforcement authorities. Four pending extradition matters are currently under review by the Colombian Supreme Courts.
Although the Colombian Government has been supportive of our desires to extradite Colombian nationals, their constitutional amendment referred to earlier, has yet to be tested under its new parameters. These guidelines require overt acts, charges, and indictments dated after the December 17, 1997, effective date of the amendment. The DEA will continue to work with the Colombian Government, the United States Department of Justice, and the State Department to coordinate the provisional arrest and extradition of Colombian traffickers who must be brought to justice.
The Role of Extradition: Mexico
In light of some of the issues discussed earlier in my testimony regarding the rise to prominence of the trafficking organizations based in Mexico, one of the biggest threats to our success against these traffickers is their continued willingness to corrupt and intimidate through bribery and violence. It is our belief, that the expulsion and extradition of the major traffickers in Mexico, many of whom have been repeatedly indicted in the U.S., would be a strong benchmark in measuring Mexico's success in counter-drug efforts. More importantly for the Government of Mexico (GOM), would be the extradition of incredibly violent traffickers such as Ramon Arellano-Felix and top organizational members that could well assist in breaking the strangle-hold of violence and intimidation that exists in that country. This would serve to benefit the dedicated professionals within the GOM, and in particular in the PGR, and give them the opportunity to combat major drug trafficking organizations, similar to what was experienced in Colombia following major trafficker extraditions in the 1980's.
The GOM has made some progress regarding extradition over the last several months. In November 1998, Bernardo Velardes-Lopez, a Mexican national, was extradited to the U.S. to face murder and drug trafficking charges stemming from his involvement in the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Alexander Kirpnick in June 1998. Although this is a positive step, this extradition cannot be defined as that of a significant trafficker, or even a mid-level trafficker. On March 23, 1999, the GOM extradited Tirzo Angel Robles to the United States to face marijuana trafficking charges. He was charged and convicted in the U.S. but escaped from a U.S. prison in 1995 and fled to Mexico. He was arrested in Mexico and deemed extraditable in February 1997. However, although Robles is the first Mexican national to be extradited to the U.S. for drug offenses, he will only serve time for the drug offenses for which he was convicted upon his initial arrest. Under GOM law, the U.S. will be prevented from prosecuting him further for his escape. These cases illustrate that the extradition of Mexican nationals can be accomplished. The next step in the process should be the extradition of top echelon drug traffickers. This would be a significant step forward for all of the reasons I have already illustrated.
The United States has presented the GOM with extradition requests on a significant number of Mexican traffickers. Extradition requests which have been made to the GOM by the U.S. for major traffickers who have been indicted in DEA investigations include:
Currently, one of the most notable request is for Jesus and Luis Amezcua-Contreras. In June 1998, they were arrested on GOM charges including organized criminal activity, money laundering, and illicit gains. The GOM recently dismissed their charges against the Amezcua's for insufficient evidence. Both Luis and Jesus were re-arrested and are being held in Mexico based solely on U.S. Provisional Arrest Warrants. Recently, the GOM ruled that Jesus and Luis could be extradited to the United States. As a result, both have filed a judicial appeal against extradition, which is pending a GOM judicial ruling.
As I stated in my opening remarks, the DEA recognizes that the extradition to the United States of international drug traffickers is not the long-term solution to solving the drug problem that currently exists. New initiatives and continued cooperative efforts will enhance our ability to combat major trafficking organizations in Colombia and Mexico. By building institutions that sentence traffickers to significant prison terms or by allowing for extradition of traffickers to the U.S., our counterparts can assist our efforts towards incapacitating the traffickers from continuing their trafficking activities unabated. International drug traffickers are comfortable working in an environment that permits intimidation through violence, corruption or both. In order for the DEA and our international counterparts to realize success in our efforts, we must confront and repair the damage that international drug trafficking organizations have inflicted on our nations. This strategy can best be applied through aggressive law enforcement principles, extradition treaties, and our continued efforts to assist host nations in improving their law enforcement institutions.
I want to thank you for the opportunity to testify before the Subcommittee today. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.