Pubdate: Sat, 21 Jul 2001
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2001 The Washington Post Company
Author: Tom Jackman, Washington Post Staff Writer


Network Moved Cocaine Up East Coast Throughout 1990s

A Miami man who imported tons of cocaine and committed "countless
murders" to enforce his drug network was sentenced yesterday to two
life terms without parole by a federal judge in Alexandria.

Federal prosecutors said Ernesto Francisco Cole, 36, not only was one
of the most violent drug dealers they had seen but also one of the
most successful, because he kept his Panama-to-Florida-to-Washington
network intact throughout the 1990s -- a long time in the drug trade.

To keep his business running, he killed people who didn't pay their
debts, once testified against his own employees in Miami and pleaded
guilty there to a minor charge, his former associates told a federal
jury in April.

Cole was free on bond in Miami, awaiting sentencing on drug
possession, when he was arrested last August on charges of being a
major drug kingpin in the Washington region.

He was convicted of operating a continuing criminal enterprise and of
murder, for the 1991 asphyxiation death of Armando Leguisamo-Castro,
found in the trunk of a car in the Theodore Roosevelt Island parking
lot near the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Arlington.

Ricardo Lora, an admitted drug dealer for Cole for about seven years,
testified that Cole told him, "I did what I had to do," when
discussing Leguisamo's slaying. Lora also told the jury that Cole
claimed he had shot and killed two Dominican drug dealers in New York
while robbing them of 11 pounds of cocaine.

Another associate of Cole's, Richard Wall, testified that he
accompanied Cole on a drug deal in the Liberty City area of Miami
during which Cole robbed a dealer of several pounds of cocaine and
then shot him.

"We can honestly say," Assistant U.S. Attorney W. Neil Hammerstrom Jr.
said during yesterday's sentencing hearing, "that the court may never
see a defendant more violent than this one."

Other witnesses testified that Cole hid cocaine among legitimate cargo
in Panamanian freighter ships to import the drug. Cole associates knew
where the cocaine was hidden, unloaded it and then handed it off to a
courier to carry to Washington, Northern Virginia and New York by
train. One of Cole's couriers, Wall, was arrested on an Amtrak train
outside Richmond with 11 pounds of cocaine inside a suitcase,
prosecutors said.

Wall testified that, until his arrest in October 1999, he worked with
Cole almost daily and accompanied him regularly to the Miami docks to
help get the cocaine off the freighters. Wall said the shipments
ranged from 44 to 220 pounds. He also said Cole hid cocaine inside
cars traveling on the Amtrak Auto Train from Florida to Lorton in
Fairfax County, where it was unloaded and distributed to lower-level
dealers in the Washington and New York areas.

"It was a way of life," Hammerstrom told U.S. District Judge Gerald
Bruce Lee, "for this defendant to use violence and commit countless
murders to further the flow of massive quantities of cocaine to the
street for a 10-year period."

Lee ordered Cole to forfeit two Miami homes, several vehicles and $ 20
million in cash as proceeds from his drug network.
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