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Appeals Court Upholds Convictions In Largest U.S. Cocaine Ring

July 19, 1986 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) _ A federal appeals court Friday upheld the racketeering and drug smuggling convictions of Harold Rosenthal and seven co-defendants in what the government described as the largest cocaine ring in U.S. history.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also rejected the government’s appeal of a directed verdict of acquittal for a ninth defendant and overturned Rosenthal’s conviction on a conspiracy charge.

Rosenthal, a former Atlanta bail bondsman, was sentenced to life in prison without parole and fined $425,000 after his 1984 conviction on charges of racketeering, running a continuing criminal enterprise, importing cocaine, possessing cocaine with intent to distribute and conspiracy to import cocaine.

The federal indictment charged that the smuggling ring imported $3.8 billion worth of cocaine into the United States in 14 months, using the equivalent of a small air force to fly the drugs from South America and the Caribbean.

The convictions followed an 18-month undercover investigation by federal agents. During the nine-week trial in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Rosenthal contended he was working for the Central Intelligence Agency and ran the drug operation as part of his CIA duties.

In appealing the verdict, Rosenthal and another defendant, Philip Bonadonna of Coral Gables, Fla., argued that the trial judge was wrong to limit the evidence they were allowed to present about the alleged CIA link.

But the appeals court rejected that argument and said the CIA connection, even if it existed, was not a viable defense.

″A defendant may only be exonerated on the basis of his reliance on real and not merely apparent authority,″ the court said. ″The CIA had no real authority to authorize the drug violations involved here.″

But the court overturned Rosenthal’s conviction on a charge of conspiracy to import cocaine, saying it should have been merged with other counts.

Rosenthal, who escaped from a federal prison in Memphis, Tenn., in 1981 while serving time on a drug-related charge, headed the cocaine ring from a base in Colombia while he was a fugitive, prosecutors said. He was captured in Bogota, Colombia, in September 1983.

He is serving his sentence at the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion, Ill.