WASHINGTON - Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera Pineda, a/k/a Simon Trinidad, 56, a senior member of the designated Foreign Terrorist Organization Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC, has been found guilty by a federal jury in the District of Columbia of conspiracy to engage in the hostage-taking of three American citizens in the Republic of Colombia, Assistant Attorney General for National Security Kenneth L. Wainstein and U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor announced today.
The jury found Ricardo Palmera guilty of the conspiracy count on Monday, July 9, 2007, and continued to deliberate on four related counts. Yesterday, after the jury announced it could not reach a unanimous verdict on the remaining counts, the Honorable Royce C. Lamberth dismissed and released the jury. A sentencing date has not yet been set by the court, although a status hearing has been scheduled for July 31, 2007. Under the advisory sentencing guidelines, Palmera faces a maximum sentence of life in prison, although the court in this case is also bound by the terms of an extradition agreement with Colombia requiring the court to impose a term of years rather than life in prison
“This verdict is a significant step forward in our determination to prosecute every FARC leader involved in any manner in the Feb. 13, 2003, murder of Mr. Thomas Janis and the kidnapping of the other three Americans, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Howes,” stated U.S. Attorney Taylor. “Our agents and prosecutors will not rest until justice is done and the American hostages are safely returned home to their families.”
“Anyone involved in the hostage-taking and murder of Americans anywhere around the globe should pay close attention to this verdict. This prosecution demonstrates we will spare no effort to apprehend, prosecute and punish any individual who participates in the abduction of our citizens. While we are extremely pleased with the conviction, we continue to focus our attention on liberating all the hostages, including the three Americans held in Colombia,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Wainstein.
The U.S. Government remains committed to the safe recovery of all the hostages, including the three Americans being held in Colombia. We hold the hostage-takers responsible for their safety and call for their immediate release. It is the long-established policy of the United States to make no concessions to terrorists, and that policy will continue to apply.
According to the government’s evidence presented during a four-week trial, on Feb. 13, 2003, the American hostages were conducting aerial counter-drug surveillance in rural Colombia when their small Cessna airplane experienced engine failure and crash-landed in the southern state of Caqueta. Heavily armed FARC guerrillas immediately surrounded the plane and brutally executed two of the occupants, an American pilot named Thomas Janis, and a Colombian national, Luis Alcides Cruz. The other three men, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes, have been held hostage by the FARC ever since.
On April 27, 2003, the FARC issued a communique taking credit for the abduction of the three Americans and making certain demands of the government of Colombia in exchange for the release of the Americans and other political hostages then held by the FARC. The communique announced that defendant Palmera was the FARC’s spokesperson and representative for these negotiations. Eight months later, on Jan. 2, 2004, Ricardo Palmera was arrested in Quito, Ecuador, in possession of false identification he admitted he illegally obtained in Ecuador to allow him to travel abroad to serve as FARC spokesperson in the hostage-taking conspiracy. Palmera was deported to Colombia the next day, and he was extradited to the United States to face charges in this case on Dec. 31, 2004.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth Kohl and John Crabb Jr. Assistance was provided by Justice Department prosecutors Timothy Reardon and Barbara Berman of the Counterterrorism Section of the National Security Division, Thomas Black of the Office of International Affairs, Jerold McMillen and Peter Vincent in the Office of Judicial Attaché at the American Embassy in Bogota, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney John A. Beasley, who indicted this case. In addition, members of the Colombian national police and military who traveled to Washington, D.C., and the Fiscalia General de la Nación contributed litigation support to the case.
Principal investigators of the case include special agents on the Extraterritorial Squad of the FBI Miami Division, in particular FBI Special Agents Joseph Deters, Oscar Montoto, Manny Ortega, Chris Carboneau, Ken Jett, Robert Webb, and Supervisory Special Agent Alex Barbeito. U.S. Attorney’s Office Paralegal Amber Wetzel; Victim/Witness Assistance Advocates Dawn Tolson-Hightower and Yvonne Bryant; Litigation Support Specialists Kimberly Smith, Ronald Royal and Oliver John-Baptist; and Intern Richard Mo contributed to the successful investigation of this case as well. Several Columbian citizens courageously came forward to testify about other kidnapping crimes committed by Ricardo Palmera that were relevant to the case.