An alleged cocaine smuggler charged with shooting two Drug Enforcement Administration agents in 1982 is facing arraignment for attempted murder following his extradition from Colombia.
Federal marshals brought Rene Benitez, 44, a Cuban, and four other suspected or convicted drug dealers to the United States Friday. DEA spokesman Robert Feldkamp said "we have very strong reason to believe that Rene Benitez was the alleged triggerman" in the shooting of the two agents in Colombia.
Benitez is being held in Florida pending arraignment in New York. The extraditions bring to 12 the number of drug suspects returned to the United States under a 1980 extradition treaty with Colombia.
The return of one Colombian, Severo Escobar, 55, ends an embarrassing incident for the Justice Department. In 1984, while being held on $1 million bail in a drug trafficking case, Escobar was inadvertently released from custody in New York and fled to Colombia.
His partner, Jose Antonia Cabrera, 54, whom officials describe as head of a large cocaine smuggling operation, also fled to Colombia after his bail was set at $500,000. U.S. Marshals Service spokesman Stephen Boyle said both are now in custody in New York.
Benitez's brother, Armando, and another Colombian are serving life sentences in connection with the DEA shootings. A fourth Colombian man remains a fugitive in the case.
The two DEA agents, Charles Martinez and Kelley McCullough, were staying at a Colombian hotel in 1982 while searching for an American fugitive, Feldkamp said. "The word got out that they were American drug agents," he said, and four men identifying themselves as Colombian police -- two wearing stolen police uniforms -- knocked at the agents' hotel door late at night.
The agents were kidnaped, driven to a rural area and shot several times, Feldkamp said, but both survived and have returned to active duty.