"Harold Rosenthal, a former bail bondsman, was found guilty today of directing a drug trafficking ring that Federal agents said brought more than five tons of cocaine into the country from September 1981 to January 1984.
A Federal jury found Mr. Rosenthal and eight others guilty of drug charges after three days of deliberations that climaxed a 10-week trial.
A 10th defendant was found not guilty. Sentencing was set for the week of Nov. 26.
Defense attorneys said Mr. Rosenthal was conducting the smuggling with a special dispensation from the Government because he was spying on Marxist groups in Colombia for the Central Intelligence Agency.
The prosecutor, Craig Gillen, said in his closing argument that Mr. Rosenthal and his co-conspirators were motivated by greed.
Mr. Rosenthal was arrested in Bogota, Colombia, a year ago. He had escaped in 1981 from a Federal prison in Memphis where he was serving 31 years for drug smuggling.
Federal grand jury indictments were unsealed Monday charging 53 people with smuggling $3.8 billion worth of cocaine into the United States, the authorities said.
Harold Rosenthal of Atlanta, named as ringleader of the gang, was accused of trying to arrange the murder of drug agents to avenge his arrest and protect other members of the ring.
An extensive undercover investigation by Federal, state and local authorities led to the indictments, which charge that some 5 tons of cocaine were brought from Colombia into Georgia, Florida, Tennessee and Pennsylvania from June of 1982 to September of 1983 in 14 shipments. The indictments were unsealed in Atlanta, Miami, Los Angeles and Little Rock, Ark.
Associate Attorney General D. Lowell Jensen said the investigation, in which 2,700 pounds of cocaine was confiscated, uncovered the the largest cocaine ring ever in the United States. He estimated the amount of cocaine brought into the country annually at 30 tons to 60 tons.
Mr. Jensen praised the Colombian Government for its help in the investigation. ''The Minister of Justice and the Attorney General of Colombia both deserve great credit for this enormous assistance,'' he said. ''We believe it marks the beginning of a new era of cooperation between Colombia and the United States in drug enforcement.''
The indictment asserted that members of the smuggling ring were supported by Bahamian immigration and customs officials who permitted planes carrying cocaine to land at West End Airport in the Bahamas. Mr. Rosenthal was serving a 31-year sentence for drug smuggling when he escaped from a Federal facility in Memphis three years ago. He was arrested by Federal agents last fall while he was stuck in traffic in Bogota, Colombia.
A Federal grand jury in Miami indicted Mr. Rosenthal and three other persons on charges of trying to arrange Mr. Rosenthal's escape from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Miami, where he was being held after his capture in Colombia.
Thirty people were named in an 86- page indictment handed down by the Federal grand jury in Atlanta. Of the 30, 18 had been arrested as of this afternoon.
In Little Rock, a Federal grand jury charged two other defendants in the Atlanta case and 11 other people with conspiracy to import heroin and marijuana.
Officials said Mr. Rosenthal was being held in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary.
A federal appeals court Friday upheld the racketeering and drug smuggling convictions of Harold Rosenthal and seven co-defendants in what the government described as the largest cocaine ring in U.S. history.
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Rosenthal, a former Atlanta bail bondsman, was sentenced to life in prison without parole and fined $425,000 after his 1984 conviction on charges of racketeering, running a continuing criminal enterprise, importing cocaine, possessing cocaine with intent to distribute and conspiracy to import cocaine.
The federal indictment charged that the smuggling ring imported $3.8 billion worth of cocaine into the United States in 14 months, using the equivalent of a small air force to fly the drugs from South America and the Caribbean.
The convictions followed an 18-month undercover investigation by federal agents. During the nine-week trial in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, Rosenthal contended he was working for the Central Intelligence Agency and ran the drug operation as part of his CIA duties.
In appealing the verdict, Rosenthal and another defendant, Philip Bonadonna of Coral Gables, Fla., argued that the trial judge was wrong to limit the evidence they were allowed to present about the alleged CIA link.
But the appeals court rejected that argument and said the CIA connection, even if it existed, was not a viable defense."