Cali Cartel ‘Ambassador’ Convicted for Importing 22 Tons of Cocaine
MIAMI (AP) _ A man federal agents call the ″U.S. ambassador″ for a Colombian drug cartel was convicted Monday of smuggling 22 tons of cocaine into the country hidden in fence posts and broccoli shipments.
Combined, the shipments constituted the largest cocaine seizure in U.S. history, according to Drug Enforcement Administration figures.
Harold Ackerman, 51, who maintained cover as a low-profile North Miami Beach vegetable importer, now faces 30 years to life in prison on six drug counts.
When Ackerman was arrested last April, the DEA said he was responsible for 70 percent to 80 percent of U.S. cocaine imports.
He reported directly to top Cali cartel bosses Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, said DEA spokesman Jim Shedd.
″This is a terrible blow to the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers,″ Shedd said Monday.
Three co-defendants - Pedro Gomez Fernandez, 42; Carlos Giron, 38; and Juan Jose Guel, 23 - were convicted on similar counts. Gerardo Morales, 25, was acquitted by the 12-member jury after almost two weeks of deliberations.
U.S. District Judge Donald Graham set sentencing for July 16.
During the trial, Ackerman’s attorney Robert Moore aggressively sought to portray his Colombian-born client as an innocent victim of overzealous drug agents. He said the verdict would be appealed.
Ackerman lived in a $500,000 home at a walled-in compound. Agents seized $463,000 in cash and a box of tear gas grenades - when they raided the house. In all, they located $3 million in assets during the raids.
Prosecutors Edward Ryan and William Pearson said they will be seeking forfeiture of many of those assets.
Agents said Ackerman ran his cocaine distribution network out of his silver Lexus automobile, using a cellular telephone and never working after dark. They received a tip about his connection to the Cali cartel, and began listening in on the conversations.
The investigation paid off in two of the nation’s largest cocaine seizures.
In late 1991, a series of raids turned up 15 tons of cocaine hidden in hollowed-out concrete fence posts at a Miami warehouse equipped with a hidden depository.
In April 1992, following information from a phone tap, agents found six tons of cocaine in a shipment of frozen broccoli and okra at Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale. Another ton of cocaine was seized later.