MIAMI – An admitted enforcer for Colombia's once-fearsome Medellin cocaine cartel was sentenced Thursday to more than three years in U.S. prison after pleading guilty to drug conspiracy charges dating back to 1994.
U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore said that Sigifredo Maya, 49, and his three brothers were instrumental in setting up the Medellin cartel's East Coast cocaine distribution network based in Miami. Under the leadership of drug lord Pablo Escobar, the network shipped several thousand tons of drugs to the U.S. beginning in 1979, prosecutors said.
"This was a substantial conspiracy by any definition," Moore said. "I understand he was not the ringleader, but he was involved in an extensive cocaine conspiracy."
Maya and his three brothers were all indicted in 1994, but the case was sealed. Maya was traveling earlier this year to Mexico when he was detained by Panamanian authorities who were aware of the charges. Maya flew to Miami — his attorney said he paid for his own ticket — to face charges he did not previously know existed and has been in custody since March.
The other three Maya brothers are fugitives and believed by the Drug Enforcement Administration to be in Colombia.
The Medellin cartel, notorious for its violent methods and assassinations, was once responsible for the vast majority of cocaine smuggled to the U.S. Escobar, who was killed by Colombian police in 1993, during the 1980s was regularly listed by Forbes magazine as one of the world's richest men. He had a substantial following among people in Colombia who viewed him as a Robin Hood-like figure because he built housing projects and soccer fields for the poor.
According to court documents, the Maya brothers reported directly to Escobar, directing hundreds of cocaine distributors and cash couriers throughout the U.S. On one occasion, the documents say, Sigifredo Maya oversaw the movement of $3 million in drug profits from one safe house in New York to another in Miami, and then on to Colombia.
He was also involved in the investigation of the theft of more than 1,100 pounds of cocaine from a Miami warehouse by a rival drug gang, the documents say. The Mayas focused on whether a security guard might have been involved and then decided the top boss would have to decide the matter.
"The guard was instructed that he would immediately have to return to Medellin, Colombia, and explain the loss to Pablo Escobar," the court documents say.
Despite the apparent close ties between the Mayas and Escobar, Sigifredo Maya's attorney Irwin Lichter said he was the least involved of all the brothers and mainly operated a small grocery store in Miami. Lichter had requested a lighter sentence of just more than two years.
"His participation was very minimal," Lichter said. "He was simply the little brother."
Prosecutor Michael Sherwin agreed that Maya was not the leader among his brothers but still deserved a longer sentence, especially considering the huge amounts of cocaine and illicit cash involved.
After the Medellin cartel's destruction, it was replaced by the Cali cartel and then the North Valley cartel. Most cocaine now is smuggled into the U.S. across the Mexican border rather than by sea and air through the Caribbean and South Florida.
Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt
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