Cartel member's sentence reduced

Published: Thursday, January 4, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 3, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

MIAMI — A Colombian man was rewarded with a nearly 17-year prison sentence reduction for helping prosecutors find billions of dollars in drug-tainted assets in the Cali cocaine cartel case against his kingpin father and uncle, court records show.

William Rodriguez Abadia, 41, now has just more than four years to serve on his own drug trafficking conviction after U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno last month approved chopping his initial prison term from nearly 22 years.

While reduced sentences are not uncommon for cooperating defendants, a cut of this magnitude is rare. But Rodriguez Abadia's lawyer, Humberto Dominguez, said Wednesday the decision reflects the extraordinary assistance his client rendered in one of the federal government's biggest drug cases ever.

"It's sort of unprecedented," Dominguez said. "If you go this far, you get these types of rewards. This type of case should set the standard."

But Rodriguez Abadia knows that he, his wife and two young daughters can never return to Colombia, where cooperation with prosecutors is not acceptable in the violent cocaine underworld, Dominguez said. "They would be killed and they know it, in a heartbeat," he said.

Rodriguez Abadia is the son of Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and nephew of Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, who pleaded guilty in September to U.S. drug charges and are each serving 30-year prison sentences.

The two brothers built the Cali cartel into the world's biggest cocaine supplier, once responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States.

The brothers made a deal with prosecutors to forfeit $2.1 billion in global assets. But they also won concessions for 28 family members in Colombia, guaranteeing that six will not be prosecuted and allowing all to win release from U.S. Treasury Department restrictions that had frozen their assets and imposed other financial shackles.

Rodriguez Abadia was the key to both the kingpins' guilty pleas and the other agreements. He spent months with prosecutors going over the worldwide financial holdings of the family and providing details of the inner workings of the trafficking cartel itself. Most important, he agreed to testify against his father and uncle, but never had to because of the guilty pleas.

Rodriguez Abadia was a fugitive from U.S. justice from 2003 until early 2006, when he surrendered to U.S. authorities in Panama.

Marc Seitles, the Miami attorney for the Colombian family members, said none of the others agreed to cooperate.

"Nonetheless, they understand William's decision to cooperate and support it. They understand the position he was in, facing charges in the United States," Seitles said.

Prosecutors in the office of U.S. Attorney R. Alexander Acosta did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. But in court papers, prosecutor Matthew Axelrod had recommended a sentence reduction of 13 years.

"The United States believes that the defendant has provided substantial assistance in the prosecution of others," Axelrod wrote.

Moreno went with the higher 17-year reduction after a hearing on Dec. 21. Rodriguez Abadia had pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to import cocaine.

Dominguez said it's possible that after serving prison time Rodriguez Abadia and his family will enter the federal witness protection program, which would give them new identities, employment and a place to live at government expense.

"He may not need to. Things change in time. If things are hot, he will. If they are not, he won't," the attorney said.

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