A Bolivian man related to that country's ambassador to the United States has been charged with conspiracy to smuggle $158 million worth of cocaine into Virginia in the largest drug-smuggling bust in state history.
Gerardo Caballero, 30, nephew of Bolivian Ambassador Fernando Illanes, was denied release from jail on bond yesterday by a U.S. District Court judge in Roanoke.
"If I were in a foreign country and were charged with a . . . serious crime . . . and thought I could get out, I would," Judge James Turk said in denying the request.
Caballero was one of 19 persons indicted in Roanoke last month on charges in connection with the smuggling of 700 pounds of cocaine seized at a farmhouse in Bath County on the West Virginia border. The cocaine was brought into the United States from Bolivia, via Panama, on a plane provided by undercover agents of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, according to law enforcement officials.
DEA agents testified yesterday that Caballero also is the son-in-law of Roberto Suarez, a Bolivian rancher who is alleged to be one of the largest cocaine dealers in the world.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Pierce told the court that if Caballero fled he could not be returned because Bolivia's extradition treaty with the United States does not cover Bolivian nationals.
Pierce said he had not been contacted by any Bolivian officials about Caballero's arrest, and a spokesman at the Bolivian Embassy refused to comment on the case.
William Cleaveland, Caballero's Roanoke attorney, said his client was arrested by DEA agents at Howard Air Force Base in Panama April 5, after being detained by Panamian officials.
Of the 19 persons indicted last month, seven have not been arrested. Of the 11 in custody in addition to Caballero, four have been released on bonds of up to $250,000, two have been unable to make bond, and five are being held without bond in Roanoke.
All are scheduled to be tried in a federal court in Roanoke in October.