Nation & World

Accused Colombian drug lord says he was secretly working for the feds

In an Oct. 31, 2012, file photo, police escort alleged Colombian drug lord Henry Lopez Londono, also known as "Mi Sangre," or "My Blood," in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In November, he was handed to U.S. authorities.
In an Oct. 31, 2012, file photo, police escort alleged Colombian drug lord Henry Lopez Londono, also known as "Mi Sangre," or "My Blood," in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In November, he was handed to U.S. authorities. AP

When an elusive cocaine-trafficking suspect was finally extradited to Miami in November, federal prosecutors portrayed Henry De Jesus Lopez Londoño as one of Colombia’s most “prolific drug dealers.”

But what U.S. authorities did not mention was that Lopez Londoño had been recruited as a confidential informant — or “deep cover mole” — for two federal agencies, his lawyers say in court documents unsealed Thursday.

The defense depicts Lopez Londoño as a coveted government operative who made a deal with the feds and put his life on the line to help the war on drugs — including infiltrating a dangerous drug-trafficking cartel headed by Mexican kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, as well as paramilitary groups and members of the al-Qaida terrorist network in Colombia.

Saying he was promised “favorable treatment” by agents, Lopez Londoño’s attorneys contend he provided them with inside information on the organizations, production plants, drug routes and cocaine shipments and claim his tips led to at least two major U.S. seizures. Although he is known in the trafficking underworld as “Mi Sangre” (My Blood), the court filings say, agents called him by his code name, “Assis.”

Elusive drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán gets fingerprinted by authorities after his January 2016 arrest. He had escaped from prison in summer 2015. (Narration in Spanish)

The filings from his defense team, which had been out of public view until now, claim Lopez Londoño worked formally for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Administration as an undercover informant — for a period that covers most of the time he is accused of importing loads of cocaine into the United States.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Miami confirmed that Lopez Londoño was once a “confidential source” for ICE between August 2010 and February 2011, in a response also unsealed Thursday. But prosecutors said the DEA “never” formally used him as an informant. Prosecutors also dispute that he helped the feds throughout the time frame of his narco-trafficking indictment.

Lopez Londoño, charged with a half-dozen others on a single conspiracy charge of importing and distributing more than five kilos of cocaine between October 2006 and February 2012, is scheduled for trial in late October of this year. Four of his co-conspirators have already pleaded guilty and are cooperating as witnesses.

His lawyers say he signed agreements with ICE and then the DEA during meetings in Cartagena, Colombia, in 2009 and 2010. The agencies, according to court documents, also promised to provide his family with possible asylum in America — along with “favorable treatment for him once he came to the United States.”

As a result of Lopez Londoño’s “arrangement with ICE, he undertook infiltration assignments among Colombia’s paramilitary organizations, at great personal risk, in order to uncover money laundering, drug and weapons trafficking activities in Colombia during the relevant periods of [his] indictment,” his lawyers assert in court documents.

Lopez Londoño’s lawyers have taken the strategic step of disclosing his once-secret role for the federal agencies in an effort to thwart his prosecution under a rare legal strategy known as the public authority defense. His lead defense attorney, Arturo V. Hernandez, argues in court papers that during the time his client is accused of breaking U.S. drug-trafficking laws, he was merely carrying out his assignments for government agents and therefore cannot be punished for any alleged misconduct.

Hernandez, who is seeking more government evidence about his client as well as federal grand jury minutes, asserts the indictment is “defective” and that the initial U.S. prosecutor on the case deliberately withheld the defendant’s role as a government informant from that jury.

Asked about his client’s disclosure on Thursday, Hernandez declined to comment, stating he “would litigate this case through the filed pleadings, not in the press.”

An Argentine lawyer who represented Lopez Londoño in his fight against extradition to the United States also criticized U.S. authorities for withholding information about his client’s role as an informant for federal drug investigators. The defendant was arrested in Argentina in 2012.

“For four years, Mr. Lopez Londoño fought the U.S. extradition request and the U.S. Government never once informed the Argentine judicial authorities that the defendant had, for a significant period of time, worked for the U.S. Government,” attorney Daniel Fedel said in a statement. “Had this been confirmed, Mr. Lopez Londoño would not have been extradited to the U.S.”

According to his lawyers, Lopez Londoño fled from Colombia to Argentina in 2008 and started working undercover for a series of federal agencies, requiring him to return to his homeland to infiltrate drug organizations.

They said he returned to Argentina a couple of months before he was indicted by a federal grand jury in February 2012, saying he feared for his life in his native country — not because of the conspiracy case in Miami. Prosecutors, however, said he absconded to Argentina after the indictment was filed in federal court.

Lopez Londoño was a leader of the right-wing Colombian paramilitary group known as the AUC more than a decade ago, according to prosecutors. He later became a boss of the Urabeños gang in northern Colombia.

When police in Argentina arrested him in October 2012, they said Lopez Londoño held passports from seven countries to evade capture, and that he had entered the country with a false passport while posing as a Venezuelan businessman. He sought asylum, but his petition was rejected, and after a fierce legal fight he was extradited to the U.S. four years later.

In his Miami case, Lopez Londoño filed an affidavit in which he said he first made contact with a U.S. agency in 2008 through a member of AUC. Agents with the Treasury Department, he said, wanted him to help investigate large drug trafficking and money laundering organizations in Colombia. He said the following year, he began his infiltration activities.

In 2009, he said he formalized his undercover work in meetings with agents from another U.S. agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in Cartegena. “I became a documented informant for the U.S. law enforcement agents, and signed two separate contracts,” he said in his affidavit unsealed on Thursday.

Lopez Londoño said during that period, he worked with five ICE agents and later with three DEA agents, while infiltrating and providing information on several targets — including the Guzman, Ubarbeños and Los Rastrojos organizations.

As a confidential informant, Lopez Londoño said he provided “extensive intelligence” on the structure of the organizations, cocaine production facilities, drug-trafficking routes, money-laundering activities, and the identities of high-ranking officials “engaged in political corruption” in Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina.

In addition, he said, “I have provided information that has led to at least two seizures of large quantities of cocaine.”

Lopez Londoño said he also became aware in 2010 of an “internal conflict” between ICE and the DEA agents over who would be supervising his activities as a confidential informant. He said ICE agents told him to stop working with the DEA.

“Due to the close partnership of DEA with the Colombian police, I had ongoing concerns that my activities would become known to the Colombian police that I believed were corrupt and in the pay of the large cartels,” Lopez Londoño said in the affidavit.

“If my activities on behalf of U.S. law enforcement had been leaked to the criminal cartels I was infiltrating,” he said, “it would have cost me my life and possibly that of my family.”

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