Feds Seize $600,000 Propeller Plane in Miami From Notorious Colombian Drug Lord

Feds seized a Beechcraft King Air 200, seen here in non-criminal form.
Feds seized a Beechcraft King Air 200, seen here in non-criminal form.
Carlos Menendez San Juan via Flickr Creative Commons

Dear non-Miami residents: This city is trying to move on from its days as the nation's drug-crime capital. We've built an entirely new, "hip" neighborhood miles from the beach, where the world's best visual artists visit every December. We're trying to invest in startups. We even might ban liquor sales on Ocean Drive after 2 a.m.

But damn if our decades-long Colombian drug-cartel habit isn't hard to kick. Case in point: Last week, the U.S. government filed paperwork in the Southern District of Florida to seize a $600,000 propeller plane allegedly used to run "multi-kilogram shipments of cocaine" between Colombia, Panama, the Caribbean, and the United States on behalf of famed — and currently incarcerated — drug lord Daniel Barrera Barrera.

The plane was, naturally, apprehended in Miami.

Barrera, also known across South America as "El Loco," was arrested in Venezuela in 2012 after operating one of the "most brutal" drug-running empires in history. He'd been convicted on cocaine charges in Colombia in 1990 but had fled and reportedly got cosmetic surgery to try to conceal his identity. He'd also apparently tried to burn off his own fingerprints.

He hid out for the next two decades. By the time police from four countries caught up to him, Barrera was considered the largest drug trafficker in all of Colombia. After his arrest, Colombian officials said they'd caught "the last of the great capos," but it's now believed he was simply the frontman for an even shadier, unknown cartel boss, so the investigation into the cartel continues.

As part of said investigation, the feds filed papers in court last week to formally seize what they say was one of Barrera's drug-smuggling planes. According to the court papers, Barrera's cartel was apparently still using some classic Scarface and Cocaine Cowboys-era smuggling and money-laundering techniques.

The cartel would allegedly hand a middleman huge lump sums of cash. The agent, Hector Alfonso Schneider-Lindo, would then hold the money in an escrow account tied to a shell company called the "Eagle Support Corporation" before using said money to buy planes in America for Barrera's cartel.

Schneider-Lindo would then deregister the planes with the Federal Aviation Administration and send them down to Venezuela, where they'd be loaded with drugs and sent all over the United States and Central and South America.

Barrera was apparently fond of using the Beechcraft King Air 200, one of the most popular prop planes on the market. Depending upon where you look, non-drug-dealers can get their hands on a King Air for anywhere from $1 million to $2.5 million, but it seems Barrera was paying a bit less than that.

In 2011, two moles within the cartel began working as confidential informants for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The informants spent their time wiring millions of dollars to the Eagle Support Corporation; after switching sides to work for the feds, the informants, acting from New York, would instead send money to DEA agents in Miami, who would then use that money to buy Beechcraft planes. 

In all, the Miami's DEA office says, the agency bought nine planes for the cartel this way. In this instance, the DEA says, it received exactly $600,000 in varying sums from the cartel.

Last week, the federal government says it was finally able to file a civil complaint to seize the plane through asset forfeiture, the typically shady practice by which law enforcement can suck up money and property that's been used in a suspected drug crime.

"In addition," the government wrote, "a Declaration of International Operations was submitted to the FAA reflecting that [the plane] was intended to be flown to Panama."

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