Colombian seized in drug case told his rights weren't violated

October 11, 1992|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Staff Writer

A federal judge ruled Friday that U.S. Customs agents did no violate the rights of a Colombian national when they arrested him on suspicion of conspiring to import 6 tons of cocaine into the United States.

Luis Ferrin, 40, testified that officers did not read him his Miranda rights and that a customs agent threatened him during the arrest in the early morning hours of July 16.

Mr. Ferrin said the agent made the threat when the two were alone in the agent's car. But U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz said that Mr. Ferrin, who speaks little English, probably misunderstood a remark by the agent.

The defendant had been living in a quiet Catonsville neighborhood when he was charged with conspiring to import the largest known shipment of cocaine ever destined for Maryland. A load of cocaine with a street value of $200 million was seized in Panama by authorities there.

Mr. Ferrin's business address for Madison Tile Co. in Catonsville was on the shipment's bill of lading. Federal agents allege that Colombian drug traffickers used him as a point man to receive cocaine shipments.

He testified that he has lived in the United States since 1984 and knows enough English to understand a threat made by the customs officer during a trip to Drug Enforcement Administration headquarters.

Mr. Ferrin said the agent pulled to the side of the road after his arrest and threatened his life.

The agent's partner, Special Agent Frank C. Dasaro, testified that he followed closely in his car and that the partner's car stopped only at traffic lights.

Mr. Ferrin spoke through an interpreter during the hearing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Purcell asked him under cross-examination to convey the conversation with the agent in English.

"Who is your boss?" Mr. Ferrin recalled the agent asking. "I work for Madison Tile," he said was his response.

"No play, no play. You not tell me your boss, I kill you now," he said the agent told him.

The agent was on his honeymoon and could not appear at the hearing, officials said.

Judge Motz said that, although he found Mr. Ferrin to be a credible witness because of other frank statements during his testimony, he concluded that the defendant misinterpreted statements made by the agent.

"Perhaps there was a language barrier or miscommunication -- something that was said that caused Mr. Ferrin to believe his life was being threatened," Judge Motz said.

Mr. Ferrin's trial is set for Oct. 26.

Eight Panamanian defendants were arrested when the cocaine shipment was seized, and they will be prosecuted in Panama.

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