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Interview With Former DEA Officer Joe Toft

Aired May 30, 2003 - 11:20   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now we follow up a story that we started to tell you about yesterday. Colombian drug kingpin Fabio Ochoa could go to prison for the rest of his life when a federal judge sentences him in August. A federal jury in Miami found Ochoa guilty of drug charges on Wednesday. Now, they say Ochoa helped run the now- defunct Medellin cartel in the '80s.
Colombia extradited him to the U.S. in 2001. Does Ochoa's conviction now alter the landscape of the drug trade? That is the big question now. Let's talk about that with Joe Toft. He is the former DEA officer in charge of the Bogota office, and Joe, I have got to think that -- you must thinking this is a big win for your colleagues in the DEA to get this man locked up.

JOE TOFT, FORMER DEA OFFICER: Absolutely. This is a very significant event for United States law enforcement. You've got to take into consideration that Mr. Ochoa is one of the heads of the Medellin cartel for many, many years, and this is the first time since the mid-'80s when we had Carlos Lehder out here that the United States has been able to prosecute and convict a trafficker of this stature.

HARRIS: Well, what kind of things were they able to get on this guy? The press reports I am reading say that there really wasn't much evidence that directly linked Ochoa to the Medellin cartel that were presented in court. There were hours and hours of tape, but he showed up on, maybe, three of them or so. What kinds of things do you know about this man?

TOFT: Well, I don't know anything about this particular investigation, other than what I have read in the newspaper, but this man has been one of the kingpins of Colombian cocaine for many years. He and his organization and he were responsible for the smuggling of millions of pounds of pure cocaine that were introduced into the market in the United States.

So consequently, he was a very significant trafficker. He also -- his organization, the Medellin cartel, was basically in control of the country in Colombia for many, many years, intimidating the whole country to the point that the president himself of Colombia was afraid to act against him and the organization for fear of his life and the life of his loved ones.

HARRIS: Yes, those organizations had a stranglehold on that country, and they did so while you were there. You were there for a number of years back during that turbulent time there in Colombia. Joe, are there some things now that you can talk about that you couldn't talk about then that you could share with us this morning? TOFT: Well, I mean, obviously there are many things. One of the things that is very difficult for, I think, Americans to realize is the power that these people yielded in the country, and it's completely impossible, even for law enforcement people that have not served in a place like Colombia to understand this. But -- and also the money that these people had at their disposal. They had more money than they could possibly spend. So would actually go out there, they would buy everything they could possibly buy, whether it was real estate, businesses, etcetera.

The corruption that they -- that they engaged in of the government officials of Colombia was incredible. Fortunately for DEA and law enforcement in general, you can always find heroes that are willing to risk their lives in Colombia to bring these type of people to justice.

HARRIS: Joe, tell us this right now. Now that Ochoa is behind bars, does that mean that the Medellin cartel is done, they are out of business right now? Does that mean that the drug trade out of Colombia has been significantly hampered or what?

TOFT: Well, the Medellin cartel as we knew it was actually disbanded in 1993, and Ochoa served a few years in prison in Colombia, I think five plus years. So the Medellin cartel, as it exists now, does not exist. What you have is a number of organizations that have taken its place out there, and as far as the cartel itself, it no longer exists.

HARRIS: Well, if that is the case, these cartels don't exist, why is it we still reports that some law enforcement officials think there are actually more drugs, more cocaine on the streets in the U.S. than ever before?

TOFT: That is true. What you have out there, I don't know how many organizations are operating in Colombia at the present time. I personally believe the Cali cartel is still behind the scenes, pulling the strings of some of these organizations, and as long as we have the demand that we have in the United States, we are going to have the drugs that we're getting.

HARRIS: There you go. Joe Toft, former DEA agent. Glad to see that you did make it safely out of Colombia, and that you are able to share your stories with us today. Take care. Thank you for talking with us.

TOFT: Thank you.


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