February 27, 2006

Colombian Drug Traffickers Sentenced in Miami

MIAMI (Reuters) - Two high-ranking Colombian cocaine traffickers were sentenced on Monday to two decades in prison and ordered to forfeit millions of dollars in illicit gains after pleading guilty to drug-smuggling, U.S. officials said.

Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez, whose fugitive brother Diego Montoya Sanchez is accused of having founded the North Valley Cartel, was sentenced to 262 months behind bars and ordered to relinquish $9.6 million, said the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida.

His cousin, Carlos Felipe Toro Sanchez, was sentenced to 235 months and made to forfeit $6 million, the attorney's office said.

Both defendants were arrested in Colombia in December 2003 and extradited to the United States in 2005.

The FBI, which includes Diego Montoya Sanchez on its 10 most wanted list, seized two luxury south Florida waterfront condos and a yacht valued at $3.5 million in 2002 after it began investigating the Montoya family.

Montoya Sanchez was accused of overseeing the cartel's cocaine laboratories and of using private jets to fly cocaine from Colombia to Mexico, or large ocean vessels and small speedboats to take drugs straight into the United States.

Toro Sanchez helped the organization smuggle drugs into the United States and helped the cartel collect drug-related debts, according to court documents.

The U.S. attorney's office said that when he was arrested, Toro Sanchez was found with a voice scrambling device and documents for other electronic espionage equipment.