Grand jury indicts Puerto Rico drug lord’s lawyer

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — A Puerto Rico lawyer has been arrested on allegations he collected funds meant to bribe a judge to overturn a life sentence for a drug dealer once dubbed the “Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean,” officials said Tuesday.

Ramon Negron Colon, an attorney for Jose Figueroa Agosto, was charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering. U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said Negron had received at least $590,000 in cash for the scheme, though there is no evidence that any bribe was actually offered to any official.

Also indicted was legal broker William Barreto Ortiz, who in addition is accused of lying to the FBI.

Both men were arrested Monday afternoon at their homes and pleaded not guilty during a court appearance Tuesday afternoon.

Figueroa was convicted of murder in August 1995 and sentenced to 208 years in prison in Puerto Rico. But he escaped to the Dominican Republic in 1999 after forging his release papers, only to return to Puerto Rico a decade later.

He was arrested again in July 2010 after a high-speed chase and was accused of shipping Colombian cocaine to the U.S. mainland through Puerto Rico.

Rodriguez said that more than a year before Figueroa’s return to Puerto Rico, Negron sought to obtain up to $3 million to help nullify Figueroa’s conviction through bribes and had received an initial payment of at least $440,000 stuff in a suitcase.

After Figueroa’s 2009 arrest in Puerto Rico, Negron told his client he would seek a new trial and said it would be granted if the presiding judge was offered a $300,000 bribe, according to the indictment. Authorities said Negron received an additional $150,000 in cash, only to return $125,000 of it in 2011 after failing to secure a new trial for Figueroa.

The indictment does not say who provided the money, but authorities said the funds were derived from drug sales.

Rodriguez said prosecutors had no evidence that any officials, including judges, politicians and police officers, were ever approached with a bribe offer by anyone involved in the alleged scheme.

A total of 56 people have been arrested in Figueroa’s case and more than 3 million tons of drugs seized, said Angel Melendez, Puerto Rico-based special agent for Homeland Security Investigations of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“This investigation is quite extensive and is still ongoing,” he said.

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