Feds: Colombian drug trafficker shouldn’t get shorter prison sentence

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration doesn’t want a U.S. District Court judge in Lubbock, Texas, to lighten a prison sentence for Escobar’s former accountant, Salomon Veloso, according to a motion released Friday. Veloso, the…

Feds: Colombian drug trafficker shouldn’t get shorter prison sentence

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration doesn’t want a U.S. District Court judge in Lubbock, Texas, to lighten a prison sentence for Escobar’s former accountant, Salomon Veloso, according to a motion released Friday.

Veloso, the Drug Enforcement Administration said, admitted a total of a dozen counts involving drug trafficking, money laundering and witness tampering. He agreed to plead guilty in November to four charges stemming from his involvement in some of the biggest cocaine trafficking arrests in the history of law enforcement.

The DEA said that if Veloso didn’t tell the truth, he could end up spending the rest of his life in jail. And the drugs and money can’t stay in Lubbock, the DEA said, so he shouldn’t get a reduced sentence because of that.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Texas agrees with the DEA in its recent motion and said that an earlier guilty plea by Veloso shouldn’t have been treated like a “personnel writ” because it was significantly related to his physical confinement in the United States and not prison time.

Veloso and his attorneys have asked a federal judge to reconsider his guilty plea, which comes at a time when many Colombians are questioning the nation’s strict penalties for people caught dealing or buying cocaine, even in small amounts. The DEA’s plea also comes as the government promotes the ability of the U.S. to put key drugs behind bars in order to keep violence from the illegal drug trade from spilling over from its borders.

Though they agreed to the plea, Veloso and his attorneys denied all the government’s allegations in the plea agreement. They said their client’s cooperation was unprecedented and that he paid a heavy price for it.

Veloso was the designated person who handled Escobar’s finances, but he escaped the mafia’s grip after the head of the infamous cartel and other senior men were arrested in 1993. But his role as the “lifeblood” of the “Pablo Escobar drug trafficking organization” wasn’t fully recognized until 2013, when he was initially sentenced to an additional six years in prison. He pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to launder and receive illegal proceeds, money laundering, witness tampering and transportation of marijuana, cocaine and other drugs.

He should have served the remaining 16 years of his sentence, which was recommended by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, since a rival drug trafficker’s $500,000 wire transfer to Veloso from Escobar’s bank account was part of his plea agreement.

Veloso’s attorney, Christopher High, wrote in a response to the U.S. Attorney’s Office that his client spent “countless hours in interviews … testifying as to his dealings with Escobar.”

“I can think of no one who has spent more time and effort during a federal criminal proceeding (or that has been entered into federal evidence), to show sincere contrition and accept full responsibility for the fact that he has contributed to a significant narcotics trafficking organization,” High wrote.

The attorney said Veloso’s cooperation “has dramatically” reduced the Mexican drug cartels’ presence in northern Mexico and Colombia. Veloso admitted that “he was a key link for dealings with Russian cartel operatives,” according to the plea. “Mexican and Colombian cartels work with these international criminal organizations to carry out wholesale commercial importation of narcotics.”

Veloso fled the country in 2000 when the DEA issued an arrest warrant for him, authorities said. When an attorney representing Veloso turned up in Colombia in September, he was immediately arrested.

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