Chivis Martinez Borderland Beat TY-GUS! Source
One of the world’s most infamous drug lords — former Colombian cartel leader Gilberto Rodriguez-Orejuela — is hoping the potential threat of the novel coronavirus to his life will bring an end to his 30-year sentence in federal prison.
Rodriguez-Orejuela, 81, who has survived bouts with cancer in prison but maintains his health is “extremely fragile,” is trying to build momentum around the public health crisis for his “compassionate release” by a Miami federal judge who is considering his bid for freedom.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are concerned that when such a virus spreads to the facility where he is incarcerated, it will be a death sentence to Mr. Rodriguez-Orejuela,” the inmate’s defense attorney, David O. Markus, wrote in a court filing this week, in which he cited a recent news story on a judge’s release of hundreds of non-violent inmates from a county jail in Ohio because of the coronavirus scare.
“Because there were already sufficient reasons to release him, this crisis gives the court further reasons to grant his motion,” he said, citing a New York Times column suggesting that “jails are a much more dangerous place to be than a cruise ship” if inaction persists during the coronavirus threat.
Federal prosecutors, already opposed to his release from a federal prison in North Carolina under any circumstances, scoffed at his latest tactic amid the global spread of the coronavirus causing COVID-19.
“As of the morning of March 16, 2020, Butner, the institution where the defendant is incarcerated, has not had any staff or inmates diagnosed with the virus,” wrote prosecutors Lisa Hirsch and Lynn Kirkpatrick. “Staff members are being screened upon entry to the institution and the institution has isolation rooms and other means to isolate individuals to the extent that becomes necessary.”
The prosecutors noted that the federal Bureau of Prisons has imposed “social distancing” steps at all of its facilities, such as a 30-day suspension of visits as well as enhanced staff screenings. They also criticized the defense attorney’s reference to the release of certain inmates from the Ohio county jail, saying it is off point and “provides no support for the release from federal prison of a convicted leader of one of the world’s largest drug cartels.”
Rodriguez-Orejuela and his family led a powerful cartel based in Cali, Colombia, that revolutionized the cocaine-smuggling rackets in the 1980s and 1990s by turning the deadly narcotics business personified by Pablo Escobar into a corporate-like enterprise that exported an estimated 200 tons of white powder worth $2 billion into the United States.
At a hearing in February, U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno described Rodriguez-Orejuela as “a big-time drug dealer” as he considered his bid under a new federal law to be released from prison after spending 15 years behind bars. Moreno said he would make up his mind after reviewing the inmate’s medical records and any related legal cases, which were provided earlier this month.
At the hearing, prosecutors challenged the suggestion that Rodriguez-Orejuela was at “death’s door,” pointing out that he had recovered from his colon and prostate cancers after undergoing surgery. Then, as now, they strongly opposed his release from prison.
Even the judge made it clear at the hearing that the violent drug-trafficking history of brothers Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez-Orejuela weighed heavily on his mind. The brothers pleaded guilty to cocaine-smuggling conspiracy charges in 2006, accepting a maximum prison sentence of 30 years, in exchange for the feds’ agreement not to charge their other family members in the massive drug case.
Moreno wondered aloud whether the 2018 First Step Act passed by Congress should benefit a drug lord like Gilberto Rodriguez-Orejuela.
This week, his lawyer, Markus, defended the inmate’s renewed bid for compassionate release amid the coronavirus crisis, saying his family in Colombia can care for and support him.
“There’s absolutely no reason to hold non-dangerous elderly and vulnerable prisoners,” he told the Miami Herald Tuesday. “There is no such thing as social distancing in jail. And there’s no hand sanitizer and little soap. We need to be proactive and save lives.”
In a bipartisan effort, Congress passed the First Step Act aiming to improve the criminal justice system by reducing the federal prison population and allowing inmates to seek relief without compromising public safety. Before it passed, only the Director of the Bureau of Prisons could file a motion for compassionate release for inmates. Under the new law, families of inmates can file a motion with a federal judge after exhausting administrative options in the prison.
Last October, U.S. District Judge Robert Scola granted “compassionate release” to Miami imam Hafiz Khan after he served eight years of his 25-year sentence on terrorist conspiracy charges. Khan, 84, died in a North Carolina hospice care center just days after the judge’s order.
Petitions under the First Step law have become more commonplace: In February, notorious New York investor Bernard Madoff filed a petition asking a federal judge for compassionate release from prison, citing terminal kidney failure. The 81-year-old Madoff, arrested in 2008, is serving 150 years for orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history.
So significant was the case of the Colombian brothers — once responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine sold in the United States in the 1990s — that then-U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and South Florida’s then-U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta took the rare opportunity to hold a news conference in Washington.
Prosecutors estimated that the brothers exported ‘‘over 200,000 kilograms’‘ to South Florida and other parts of the country from 1990 to July 2002. The brothers packed the white powder in concrete posts, frozen vegetables, coffee and ceramic tile, among other creative ways. Their organization supported a small-scale war against the Medellin cartel and its boss, which ended in 1993 with Escobar’s death.