NEW YORK — A Colombian described by authorities as one of the biggest cocaine dealers in history pleaded guilty Thursday to a drug trafficking charge, admitting that he imported hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States.
Known as "El Loco," Daniel Barrera Barrera entered the plea in Manhattan federal court before a federal magistrate judge. Sentencing was set for Feb. 27, when Barrera faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life.
He was arrested in 2012 in Venezuela and has been held without bail since he was brought to the U.S. from Colombia in July 2013.
Prosecutors say Barrera worked with two Colombian terrorist organizations to manufacture and distribute cocaine while laundering tens of millions of dollars in drug proceeds.
His lawyer declined to comment outside court after the plea proceeding in which Barrera spoke with the aid of a Spanish translator.
U.S. prosecutors have described the 47-year-old Barrera as one of the largest cocaine distributors in history. They alleged he processed about 30,000 kilograms — more than 60,000 pounds — of raw cocaine into cocaine powder each month since 1998.
On Thursday, Barrera admitted manufacturing and distributing 400 tons of cocaine annually from 1998 to 2011. On Oct. 9, he pleaded guilty in Brooklyn federal court to conspiring to launder money.
U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch in Brooklyn said "Barrera's reign as one of the world's most prolific narcotics traffickers has come to an end."
She said his "illegal empire, funded by millions of dollars of illicit proceeds and backed by some of the most lethal drug cartels and terrorist groups in the world, wreaked havoc in Colombia and around the world for decades. The amount of destruction Barrera wrought upon the world, all in pursuit of staggering profits, is truly incalculable."
Lynch, President Barack Obama's nominee for attorney general, added that the prosecution demonstrated the U.S. "commitment to bringing all narcotics traffickers to justice, no matter how rich, powerful, ruthless and violent they may be."
U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said that a "drug kingpin who enriched two terrorist organizations and himself by producing and peddling poison now stands to lose his wealth, his empire and his liberty."
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