FEDERAL prosecutors say the swift drug-trafficking conviction of two co-defendants of Gen. Manuel Noriega shows the strength of the government's cocaine case against the former Panamanian leader. The trial demonstrates "that a jury will convict with the kind of evidence we've got in the Noriega case," United States Attorney Dexter Lehtinen told reporters Tuesday after a federal jury returned guilty verdicts against the two men. "We're very pleased with the convictions."
General Noriega, who was on the US government's payroll for decades as an intelligence source, is scheduled to go on trial June 24 in federal court in Miami.
A federal jury took just five hours to convict Colombian businessman William Saldarriaga and Miami real estate agent Brian Davidow of plotting with Noriega to trade 1,000 M-16 machine guns for 322 kilograms of cocaine.
Mr. Davidow and Mr. Saldarriaga were each found guilty of conspiracy and possession of drugs with intent to distribute. Each will face up to 40 years in prison when they are sentenced May 14.
Defense lawyers said they expected government prosecutors to seek the cooperation of Saldarriaga and Davidow to testify against Noriega in exchange for reduced sentences.
Three other co-defendants have pleaded guilty and promised to testify against Noriega. One of them told jurors that he heard Noriega approve the 1986 guns-for-drugs deal over a speaker telephone.
Noriega was toppled in the December 1989 US invasion of Panama and surrendered to US authorities in early January 1990. He was flown to Florida and has been jailed just outside Miami at the Metropolitan Correctional Center since then.