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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

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

Update: Neither Hector Alfonso Schneider-Lindo nor his firm, Eagle Support Corporation, faced criminal charges connected to the civil seizure of the aircraft. Through a spokesperson, Schneider-Lindo says his firm "performed its regular due diligence and background checks" and "was not involved in any form of illegal activity" in connection with the case.  

In a follow-up interview, Scheider-Lindo told New Times through a translator that the federal government only seized a single plane from his company. He is adamant that any references to multiple "planes" in the government's seizure documents are either false or have nothing to do with his company. Scheider-Lindo said the federal government's seizure documents were full of errors and misstatements.

Original post:

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 by a cartel known for running "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 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 deposit huge lump sums of cash in an escrow account. The broker, Hector Alfonso Schneider-Lindo, who runs a company called the Eagle Support Corporation, would then purchase planes for the cartel, according to the federal complaint.

DEA seizure documents say Schneider-Lindo would then deregister the planes with the Federal Aviation Administration and arrange to have the planes sent down to the cartel in Venezuela. A representative from Eagle Support denied that the company knowingly sends airplanes to drug cartels and added that new owners typically arrange their own "ferry flights" for planes meant to be exported out of the country. The company again said it did not know why the DEA documents make reference to multiple "planes."

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 new King Air for anywhere from $1 million to $2.5 million, but it seems Barrera was paying a bit less than that. (Update: Eagle Support Corp says the plane was a used model from the 1980s, and that the criminals who allegedly bought the plane paid standard value for it.)

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 money 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 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."

Correction: This story previously misstated what the DEA says the airplane was used for, as well as how much money federal agents say was wired to the company.

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