October 9, 2014 / 5:03 PM / in 3 years

Accused Colombian drug kingpin pleads guilty in U.S. to money laundering scheme

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Colombian accused of being a drug kingpin and pursued for years by U.S. authorities pleaded guilty in New York on Thursday to a charge that he conspired to illegally launder tens of millions of dollars in cocaine trafficking profits.

Daniel Barrera, 46, entered the plea in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, before U.S. District Judge Leo Glasser, more than a year after he was extradited from Colombia to face charges in three separate indictments pursued by the U.S. Justice Department.

Barrera, also known as “Loco,” (Crazy) originally pleaded not guilty in July 2013 following his extradiction.

He switched after months of negotiations that, according to court papers, are expected to culiminate in a second guilty plea in Manhattan federal court, where he faces international narcotics trafficking charges. It is unclear when that will happen.

U.S. authorities have accused Barrera of running a cocaine manufacturing and trafficking syndicate since 1998 that processed about 400 tons of the drug annually.

In light of Thursday’s plea, Barrera’s lawyer plans to seek to have the Brooklyn case transferred for sentencing to U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan. A third case is pending in Miami.

Barrera faces up to 20 years in prison in the Brooklyn case, and in the Manhattan and Miami cases faces up to life in prison.

Prosecutors say Barrera bought the raw cocaine paste from the leftist rebel group FARC and processed it in laboratories in areas controlled by a now-demobilized paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.

Barrera was arrested in Venezuela in September 2012 with the help of authorities there as well as British and U.S. intelligence agencies. Colombian authorities had been closing in on his organization in the weeks before his arrest, detaining 36 suspected members and seizing five tons of cocaine.

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