Indictments Announced In $1.6 Billion Drug Ring
MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) _ A billion-dollar drug ring gunned down the mother of a potential witness, hatched terrorist-like plots to free their jailed kingpin and laundered profits through phony coal companies, prosecutors allege.
U.S. Attorney Jim Wilson on Thursday announced the indictment of 25 alleged members of the ring on conspiracy, racketeering and obstruction charges. Eighteen were in custody Thursday; the others remained at large.
The ring, described as one of the biggest in the Southeast, smuggled 33 tons of cocaine worth $1.6 billion into the United States over five years, Wilson said.
Jerry Allen LeQuire, the alleged ringleader, has been in prison since before his conviction in a 1983 smuggling operation involving about 710 pounds of high-grade Colombian cocaine.
Bill Warner, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, said that case launched the probe that resulted in the indictment unsealed this week.
Cocaine was brought from Colombia into small or remote airports in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee and hauled to Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee for sale, authorities said.
Wilson said the ring set up several phony coal companies in Kentucky and one in North Carolina to launder its profits, which helped finance a lavish life of yachts and Jaguars for some members.
Members of the ring committed crimes ranging from the machine-gun slaying of a witness’ mother to witness tampering and attempting to record grand jury proceedings, prosecutors said.
In one of the alleged escape plots hatched to free LeQuire from prison, LeQuire in 1985 came up with a scheme to blow up power lines, airports, dams and Naval vessels to convince authorities that terrorists were active in the United States, according to the indictment, which gave no further explanation.
The organization had profits totaling more than $280 million in the year beginning July 1982 alone, and the same amount of cash was buried in vaults on a farm in Greenback, Tenn., Wilson said.
″This is probably one of the biggest (importation operations) in the Southeastern United States,″ said FBI agent Gerald Shockley.
The indictment, unsealed Tuesday in Knoxville, Tenn., and announced here Thursday, named LeQuire as the leader of a gang that Wilson said smuggled 33 tons of cocaine, one ton of marijuana and 1,200 methaqualone tablets into the Southeast from 1981 to 1986.
Ira DeMent, an attorney who along with defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey is representing LeQuire, had no comment on the indictment.