Top Narco-Terrorist Sentenced to 60 Years in Federal Prison for Hostage Taking
by Jim Kouri, CPP
Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera Pineda, a/k/a Simon Trinidad, a senior member of the US State Department-designated foreign terrorist group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC, was sentenced to a prison term of 60 years by a federal judge in Washington, DC on Monday for his role in a conspiracy to engage in the hostage-taking of three American citizens in the Republic of Colombia, according to a report obtained by the National Association of Chiefs of Police.
In imposing the sentence, Judge Royce C. Lamberth characterized the hostage-taking crime as an act of terrorism that was heinous, barbaric, and "against the law of all civilized nations". The court noted the mental torture the families of the hostages continue to endure.
Under the advisory sentencing guidelines, Palmera faced a maximum sentence of life in prison; however, prosecutors asked the court to not impose a sentence greater than 60 years in order to comply with the terms of an extradition agreement with Colombia, requiring the court to impose a term of years rather than life in prison.
"The US Government remains committed to the safe recovery of all the hostages, including the three Americans being held in Colombia . We hold the hostage-takers responsible for the hostages’ safety and call for their immediate release," said an FBI spokesperson.
According to the government’s evidence presented during a four-week trial last summer, the American hostages were conducting aerial counter-drug surveillance in rural Colombia on Feb. 13, 2003, when their small Cessna airplane experienced engine failure and crash-landed in the southern state of Caqueta.
Heavily armed FARC guerrillas immediately surrounded the plane and brutally executed two of the occupants, an American pilot named Thomas Janis, and a Colombian national, Luis Alcides Cruz. The other three men, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes, have been held hostage by the FARC members ever since they crash-landed.
On April 27, 2003, the FARC issued a communiqué taking credit for the abduction of the three Americans and making certain demands of the government of Colombia in exchange for the release of the Americans and other political hostages then held by the FARC. The communiqué announced that defendant Palmera was the FARC’s spokesperson and representative for these negotiations.
Eight months later, on Jan. 2, 2004, Ricardo Palmera was arrested in Quito, Ecuador, in possession of false identification he admitted he illegally obtained in Ecuador to allow him to travel abroad to serve as FARC spokesperson in the hostage-taking conspiracy. Palmera was deported to Colombia the next day, and he was extradited to the United States to face charges in this case on December 31, 2004.
This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth Kohl and John Crabb Jr. Assistance was provided by Justice Department prosecutors Timothy Reardon and Barbara Berman of the Counterterrorism Section of the National Security Division, Thomas Black of the Office of International Affairs, Jerold McMillen and Peter Vincent in the Office of Judicial Attaché at the American Embassy in Bogota, and former Assistant U.S. Attorney John A. Beasley, who indicted this case.
In addition, members of the Colombian national police and military who traveled to Washington , D.C. , and the Fiscalia General de la Nación contributed litigation support to the case.
Principal investigators of the case include special agents on the Extraterritorial Squad of the FBI Miami Division, in particular FBI Special Agents Joseph Deters, Oscar Montoto, Manny Ortega, Chris Carboneau, Ken Jett, Robert Webb, and Supervisory Special Agent Alex Barbeito. U.S. Attorney’s Office Paralegal Amber Wetzel; Victim/Witness Assistance Advocates Dawn Tolson-Hightower and Yvonne Bryant; Litigation Support Specialists Kimberly Smith, Ronald Royal and Oliver John-Baptist; and Intern Richard Mo contributed to the successful investigation of this case as well.
Several Colombian citizens courageously came forward to testify about other kidnapping crimes committed by Ricardo Palmera that were relevant to the case.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.