ST. PETERSBURG — One of three Colombian brothers who authorities say once were key operators of the notorious Medellin cartel's multibillion-dollar cocaine smuggling enterprise in Florida is seeking early release from U.S. prison because of changes in federal sentencing guidelines.
The attorney for Fabio Ochoa Vasquez, 62, wants a federal judge to cut his 30-year prison sentence by about five years. That would effectively result in his release from prison and deportation to Colombia, said lawyer Richard Klugh.
“Now that there has been a change, retroactively, the statute now authorizes a reduction in sentence,” Klugh said. “He wants to go back to Colombia. That's where his family is.”
The U.S. attorney's office in Miami did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore directed prosecutors to file a response by May 1 regarding Ochoa's request.
Ochoa is the youngest of three brothers who U.S. authorities say in the 1980s ran the Miami distribution center of the cocaine cartel once headed by Pablo Escobar. Ochoa was at various times named in several U.S. indictments, including one in Louisiana that said he had a role in the killing of Drug Enforcement Administration informant Barry Seal — whose life was popularized in somewhat fictional form in the 2017 film “American Made” starring Tom Cruise.
Ochoa was initially arrested in 1990 in Colombia under a government program promising drug kingpins would not be extradited to the U.S. At the time, he was on the U.S. list of the ″Dozen Most Wanted″ Colombia drug lords and officials say he essentially ran the cartel at the time with his brothers Jorge Luis and Juan David.
Almost a decade later, Ochoa was arrested again in Colombia and extradited to the U.S. in 2001 as part of a drug trafficking indictment in Miami naming more than 40 people. Of those, Ochoa was the only one who opted to go to trial, resulting in his conviction and the 30-year sentence. The other defendants got much lighter prison terms because most of them cooperated with the government, according to Klugh's court filing.
The key to Ochoa's request for a reduced sentence is that in this particular case, only about 150 kilograms of cocaine could be directly attributed to him, Klugh said. Therefore, Klugh contends, under the revised sentencing guidelines his sentence should be about 24 years rather than 30.
"The effect of that would be the top guideline no longer started out at 150 (kilograms) but at a much higher number,” he said.
That would translate into time served for Ochoa, allowing for his release from prison, Klugh said.
Ochoa has a wife and three grown children in Colombia, court records show. He served about eight years in a Colombian prison after his initial arrest related to the Medellin cartel operations, focusing after his release on breeding horses until he was extradited to the U.S.
“In sum, Ochoa has been punished for both the offense and his criminal history more severely than any other defendant in this case, despite the fact he is at the lowest level of the conspiracy,” Klugh wrote in court papers.