The way federal prosecutors made it sound, an accused Colombian drug smuggler named Henry De Jesus Lopez Londoño deserves a spot in the cocaine kingpin hall of infamy right next to Pablo Escobar.
Lopez Londoño — alias “Mi Sangre” (My Blood) — moved tens of thousands of kilos of coke into the United States between 2006 and 2012, said federal prosecutor Robert Emery as the defendant’s drug-trafficking trial opened Wednesday in a Miami courtroom.
“He did it again and again and again,” said Emery — while first running a paramilitary group and then a criminal gang that made a fortune off distributing drugs and extorting rivals in a territory in northern Colombia the size of Florida. In 2010, Lopez Londoño also became a U.S. informant — but Emery dismissed Lopez Londoño’s undercover work, saying it lasted only four months and that Mi Sangre continued his criminal activities while providing nothing of value to federal agents. So, they cut him off.
The defendant’s lead attorney, however, painted a starkly different picture to jurors, portraying his client as a man who risked his life to assist America’s war on drugs but is now being unfairly railroaded by federal agencies. Lopez Londoño faces life in a U.S. prison if convicted of a single distribution-conspiracy charge in the case.
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“He was stabbed in the back by our own government,” Arturo Hernandez told the jury. “He was left in the lurch in Colombia after risking his life for two years in the jungle.”
Hernandez accused federal agents of betraying his client and covering it up by destroying electronic evidence of their relationship as he spied on South America’s underworld — including Colombian cocaine cartels, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s organization and members of the al-Qaida terrorist network in South America.
Hernandez said the federal agents destroyed five Blackberry mobile phones that they used to communicate with him through text messages, as well as email correspondence. He said the evidence would have shown that Lopez Londoño was taking directions from his handlers so he could infiltrate criminal groups to provide them with intelligence. Legally, he said, the defendant was acting under the agents’ authority, not breaking the law, while he communicated with them after their first meeting in the fall of 2009.
Hernandez said the defendant was “lucky enough to secret out his phone” from Colombia that contained text messages from the agents, with some saying “great job, keep doing it.”
Afraid for his life, Lopez Londoño eventually fled in 2012 to Argentina, where he was arrested on a U.S. indictment and extradited to Miami four years later.
Before trial, prosecutors acknowledged that ICE agents communicated with Lopez Londoño by Blackberry messages, but the correspondence was lost when the feds replaced their mobile devices with iPhones in 2012. They also claimed that DEA agents never communicated with him that way, only in person.
In addition, prosecutors asserted there were no emails exchanged between any of the agents and the informant.
But the defendant’s lawyers — in an effort to have the case dismissed before trial after a plea deal was rejected by the presiding judge —said an ICE agent gave him a business card with both his official and personal email addresses, including a private password, “Panchito.” The agent, Frank Burrola, gave the business card to Lopez Londoño when they first met in Cartagena in the fall of 2009.
Lopez Londoño kept the agent’s business card, which might come in handy as evidence at his trial.