Federal Jury Convicts Six in International Cocaine Ring With AM-Abello Trial
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Six members of an international drug ring were convicted of distributing tons of cocaine in a case authorities say was one of the first to link a Colombian cocaine cartel to Los Angeles street gangs.
The gang’s two leaders, Brian ″Waterhead Bo″ Bennett and Mario Ernesto Villabona Alvarado, faced mandatory life prison sentences without possibility of parole under a federal drug kingpin law.
The other four convicted Friday with Bennett and Villabona by a U.S. District Court jury could each receive prison terms of 10 years to life at sentencing scheduled July 30.
Villabona, 29, also was ordered to forfeit to the government $750,000 discovered in bank accounts in Denmark.
″It’s very significant because it’s one of the first to establish a connection between Colombian cartels bringing enormous amounts of cocaine into this country and black gangs,″ said Assistant U.S. Attorney Dean G. Dunlavey.
Authorities say Bennett, 24, is a Los Angeles gang member and Villabona is a high-ranking official in the Cali cocaine cartel. Prosecutors contended that Villabona imported tons of cocaine to Los Angeles and Bennett supervised distribution to gangs that sold it in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and other cities.
Bennett and Villabona were convicted of operating a continuing criminal enterprise.
Each of the six defendants was convicted of conspiring to possess thousands of kilograms of cocaine with intent to distribute and of possessing nearly 1,000 kilograms of cocaine each.
Also convicted were Maria Cecilia Fatima Barona, Luz Janneth Martinez, Michael Harris and Michael DuBarry McCarver, all of Los Angeles.
As the verdicts were read, Martinez hung her head and sobbed. The others showed no emotion.
Defense attorneys said they would appeal, claiming that wiretap recordings and other evidence used by the prosecution should not have been admitted.
″If the Department of Justice thinks that convicting these young people is going to do one thing to stop the flow of drugs, they’re crazy,″ Martinez’ attorney, David Chesnoff, told reporters.
Federal investigators testified the defendants laundered drug proceeds through bank accounts in Panama and Denmark. Authorities said Villabona and Bennett also bought legitimate businesses, including a chain ofcheck-cashing outlets, to launder drug money.
Prosecutors said McCarver and Harris served as cocaine distributors, while Martinez and Fatima arranged shipments of cash.