Colombian narco-trafficker's pending extradition puts "Kent Memo" back in focus

A major development appears to be unfolding in the “Bogota Connection” revealed in Narco News’ coverage of the now well-known “Kent Memo.”

One of the key narco-traffickers involved in the Bogota Connection (which is an alleged conspiracy between DEA agents and narco-traffickers) appears to be headed for the United States.

The Associated Press is reporting the following on that front:

BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) - Cuba will deport reputed drug kingpin Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante to Colombia, which plans to extradite him to the United States, a government official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The Colombian official said Gomez was expected to arrive in Bogota on Thursday and would be held at its heavily fortified chief prosecutor's office compound before being extradited to the United States.

An extradition order has been signed, the official said. He spoke on condition he not be further identified because he was not authorized to divulge the information.

If this is true, Gomez Bustamante promises to be a real thorn in the side of the U.S. government based on the allegations of DEA corruption outlined in the Kent Memo and related documents surfaced by Narco News.

Narco News published an exclusive story on Jan. 9, 2006, about a leaked memo drafted by Department of Justice (DOJ) attorney Thomas M. Kent. In the memo, Kent alleges that DEA agents in Bogota are in league with narco-traffickers and are implicated in money laundering and murder.

Kent’s memo, written in December 2004, also alleges that investigations into the alleged corruption that were carried out by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) and DEA’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) were derailed and whitewashed by officials within those watchdog agencies.

The first of the major allegations in Kent’s memo centers on an undercover operation launched in 1997 called Cali-Man, which targeted narco-traffickers in Colombia and was overseen by David Tinsley, a DEA group supervisor in Miami. As part of that operation, Tinsley and the agents working under him had uncovered evidence that DEA agents in Bogota appeared to be assisting narco-traffickers in Colombia.

But in late January 2000, Bogota DEA top gun Leo Arreguin shot off a memo to DEA headquarters. The charges in that memo (later proven to be unfounded) led to Tinsley’s operations being shut down that same year, including Cali-Man and another investigation called Rainmaker.

Rainmaker, sources tell Narco News, was set up to specifically target Colombia National Police Col. Gonzalez — long before he found himself in the sights of a U.S. indictment for narco-trafficking in the spring of 2004. Gonzalez was later assassinated in Colombia before he could be brought to justice in the United States.

Ironically, Arreguin’s memo is dated Jan. 20, 2000, about a week after Gomez Bustamante reportedly made some startling allegations in Panama concerning DEA corruption in the agency’s Bogota office.

Those allegations, if true, could shake the DEA to its core and lead to a major public backlash against the U.S. war on drugs, particularly with respect to U.S. activities in propping up Colombia’s so-called battle against narco-trafficking.

If Gomez Bustamante is indeed returned to the United States to stand trial, it is possible that the allegations in the Kent Memo could become a centerpiece of his defense.

Given that fact, and the potential damage it could cause to U.S. interests in Colombia and the larger war on drugs, you have to wonder if Gomez Bustamante will survive his trip from Colombia to the United States — or if he, in fact, will ever be extradited to U.S. shores to stand trial.

For now, the only evidence of his deportation from Cuba to Colombia appears to be the unnamed source referenced in the recent AP report.

More from that AP report:

Gomez [Bustamante], an alleged top boss of Colombia's Norte del Valle cartel known by his alias ``Rasguno,'' is wanted on a U.S. indictment in New York on drug trafficking, racketeering and money-laundering charges.

He has been held in Cuba since his 2004 arrest at a Havana airport on charges of carrying a false passport. He had fled Colombia after Washington offered rewards of $5 million each for the South American country's top drug traffickers.

Gomez would be the most senior reputed drug boss extradited to the United States since Cali cartel chief Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela was extradited in March 2005.

Gomez's Miami-based attorney, Oscar Rodriguez, told the AP he had no information on the deportation and would not answer questions until he has had a chance to speak with his client.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota had no immediate comment on the case. Cuban press officials and officials at the Colombian Embassy in Havana also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

And just what is the nature of Gomez Bustamante’s allegations concerning U.S. complicity in drug trafficking?

This is what Narco News reported in March of 2006:

In the late 1990s, Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante, one of the leaders of Colombia’s North Valley Cartel narco-trafficking syndicate, became one of the targets of a Drug Enforcement Administration investigation called Operation Cali-Man, which was overseen by a DEA supervisor in Miami named David Tinsley.

In mid January 2000, Gomez Bustamante attended a meeting in Panama to discuss possible cooperation with the DEA. According to one of Tinsley’s informants, during the course of that meeting Gomez Bustamante revealed that a high-level DEA agent in Bogota was on the “payroll” of a corrupt Colombian National Police colonel named Danilo Gonzalez — who was eventually indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice on narco-trafficking charges.

The informant, an individual named Ramon Suarez, later told DEA internal affairs investigators that the U.S. federal agent identified by Gomez Bustamante as being on the “payroll” was Javier Pena, who at the time was the assistant country attaché of the DEA Bogota Country Office in Colombia.

When questioned by DEA internal affairs investigators in 2002, Pena denied the charge. However, he did concede he had a relationship with Colonel Gonzalez dating back to the early 1990s, when Colombian and U.S. law enforcers worked together to hunt down the notorious narco-outlaw Pablo Escobar.

These remarkable revelations have surfaced in a document recently obtained by Narco News. The document also includes evidence that the DEA, FBI and CIA were each operating covertly in Colombian’s narco-trafficking underworld, all using the same informant.

… The document, prepared by the DEA’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR, essentially the DEA’s Internal Affairs unit), is the final report of an investigation prompted by a memo written in January 2000 by the chief of Bogotá’s DEA office, Leo Arreguin.

The OPR report, prepared in March 2002, includes summaries of numerous interviews with informants, accused narco-traffickers and federal agents.

From the DEA OPR report:

Mr. Suarez (Tinsley’s informant) also stated Mr. Gomez Bustamante claimed [Assistant Country Attaché] Javier Pena was on the “payroll,” which was paid by Colombian National Police Colonel Danilo Gonzalez.”

… Javier Pena … stated he was involved in the Pablo Escobar investigation in the early 1990s, when he met and worked closely with CNP Colonel Gonzalez. … Pena stated he had never received money or gratuities from Colonel Gonzalez.

… In his role as one of the top DEA commanders in the Bogota DEA office between 1999 and 2001, Pena was in a position to wield a lot of control over what other DEA agents did on his turf. And he used that leverage, Narco News sources claim, to thwart an investigation being carried out by Miami DEA agent Ed Fields — another whistleblower who shows up in the Kent memo.

Fields is the DEA agent mentioned (but not named) in the Kent memo as the whistleblower who was involved in investigating a tip from informants that a drug ring in Colombia had developed an ingenious method for smuggling cocaine into the United States.

“Specifically, the narcotics traffickers in Colombia were infusing acrylic with cocaine and shaping it into any number of commercial goods,” Kent states in his memo. “The acrylic was then shipped to the United States and Europe where, during processing, the cocaine was extracted from the acrylic.”

Informants working with Fields and other Florida agents sent samples of the cocaine-laced acrylic to the DEA, but the agency’s chemists couldn’t figure out how to extract the cocaine. As a result, the Florida agents decided to have the informants come to the United States with a sample of the acrylic, so they could walk the DEA’s chemists through the extraction process.

“Agents contacted the Bogota [DEA] Country Office to discuss the informants’ planned travel and their bringing cocaine out of Colombia infused in acrylic,” the Kent memo alleges. “They were advised that the best tact was for the informants to carry it out themselves.”

But when the informants got to the airport to leave for the U.S., they were arrested. A DEA agent in Bogota, it turns out, had told Colombian officials to “lock them [the informants] up and throw away the key,” according to the Kent memo. The Bogota agent then claimed that he had no idea the Florida agents had given the informants permission to transport the cocaine.

Kent’s memo does not name the Bogota agent allegedly responsible for double-crossing the Florida agents and their informants.

But Narco News sources claim Pena is that agent.

“His [Pena’s] misrepresentations were backed by another agent in Bogota,” Kent alleges in his memo. “The informants were imprisoned for nine months while the accusations flew back and forth. Once it was determined that the agents in Bogota were lying, the informants were released. One of the informants was kidnapped and murdered in Bogota where he had gone into hiding.”

In an effort to back up his claims about being deceived by the Bogotá agents, Fields took a polygraph and passed, indicating that he was telling the truth about his version of the events, according to the Kent memo.

“A representative of the Department of Justice reviewed the allegations and found that the reporting agent [Fields] had been telling the truth…,” the Kent memo claims.

Pena, who is now the chief of DEA’s operations in San Francisco, has not responded to Narco News’ request for an interview.

Could Cuba being calling the United States’ bluff in the war on drugs with this move?

If the AP report is true, it sure seems to bring the Kent Memo back to the center stage of U.S. foreign policy — or hypocrisy.

Stay tuned….

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