Noriega raised flights' ante, pilot says '$100,000' charged to protect cocaine

September 27, 1991|By Los Angeles Times

MIAMI -- Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega demanded a payoff of at least $100,000 for every planeload of Colombian cocaine passing through Panama, saying that it would have been "crazy" for him to take less, the deposed leader's former personal pilot testified yesterday.

Floyd Carlton Caceres, who said he piloted four drug flights into Panama with General Noriega's approval, told a federal court jury he delivered envelopes containing $600,000 to the military leader in 1982 and 1983, giving them to an intermediary at General Noriega's instructions.

Coming on the heels of earlier testimony by a former aide who said he handed two of the bulky envelopes to General Noriega without checking their contents, Mr. Carlton's sworn account marked the prosecution's heaviest blow against General Noriega so far in the first two weeks of testimony.

U.S. District Judge William M. Hoeveler recessed the trial until Monday, when Mr. Carlton is to becross-examined by defense attorney Frank Rubino.

Mr. Carlton, 42, said that General Noriega became "exceedingly upset" when Mr. Carlton told him in 1982 that Medellin drug cartel leader Pablo Escobar had suggested he talk to General Noriega about allowing cocaine flights to pass through Panama en route to the United States.

He said that a week or two later General Noriega had mellowed, indicating he would entertain the idea. But General Noriega hotly rejected Escobar's proposal that the cartel pay him $30,000 to $50,000 per flight, the witness said.

"Noriega told me either they were crazy or I was crazy," Mr. Carlton testified. "He would not allow that to happen for less than $100,000."

He said that Escobar was not surprised by General Noriega's demand. He quoted the drug leader as saying that the cartel once had paid General Noriega a ransom of $1 million to free a Colombian freighter seized by Panamanian forces with cocaine stashed in coffee containers.

Identifying photographs of two planes he had used to ferry drugs from Colombia to Panama, Mr. Carlton said that he made four flights in 1982 and 1983. He said he gave General Noriega the first $100,000 in an envelope picked up by Lt. Col.Luis del Cid, the general's top aide. Del Cid testified earlier in the trial to that transaction but said he had not looked inside the envelope.

Like del Cid, Mr. Carlton is a confessed drug smuggler who is cooperating with prosecutors in return for leniency. He is living with his family in the United States under a new identity after having served four years in prison.

He told jurors that after the first payment, General Noriega upped his demand to $150,000 per shipment of 400 kilos of cocaine, and the cartel paid it. Mr. Carlton said that his own fee was $400 per kilo (2.2 pounds).

By late 1983, he said, General Noriega was becoming unhappy with the arrangement and said he would allow a final flight for $200,000.

It occurred after the Colombians tried to make an unauthorized drug flight into Panama, the jury was told. The crew were seized and beaten by soldiers; Escobar "had to send a lawyer to pay $400,000 to Noriega to get his people out of jail and out of the hospital," he said.

"Noriega told me some people believed we were a tribe of Indians and they could do anything they pleased," Mr. Carlton said. "He also told me he was trying to get away from Mafia-type people who were giving him a bad image."

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