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Two Colombians accused attempting to smuggle 3 tons of cocaine into U.S. plead not guilty in L.A.

October 7, 2016  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
Two Colombians accused attempting to smuggle 3 tons of cocaine into U.S. plead not guilty in L.A. MIAMI, FL - APRIL 26: A crew member from the Coast Guard Cutter Bernard C. Webber piles up some of the 2,200 pounds of cocaine after it was seized during Operation Martillo, worth an estimated $27 million on April 26, 2013 in Miami, Florida. The cocaine was found while the crew was conducting a law enforcement patrol, where they located a 68-foot fishing vessel in the western Caribbean Sea, April 18, 2013. The crew of the Cutter Gallatin boarded the vessel, located 2,200 pounds of cocaine, and detained three suspected smugglers. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

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Two Colombian suspects have pleaded not guilty in a Los Angeles federal courtroom to charges of conspiracy to smuggle approximately $72 million worth of cocaine into the U.S.

Dicson Penagos-Casanova and Juan Gabriel Rios Sierra entered not guilty pleas on Wednesday to charges that could land them behind bars for the rest of their lives, the Associated Press reported.

Prosecutors indicate that the men plotted to smuggle tons of cocaine shipped from Colombian labs to secret airstrips in Venezuela. The drugs were then put on jets and were flown to Central American drug hubs for further distribution into Mexico and the U.S.

However, law enforcement officials announced that one of the jets were shot down by the Venezuelan Air Force in 2015 and another one crashed.

Juan Gabriel Rios Sierra, 34 and Dicson Penagos-Casanova, 36, purportedly managed a minimum of $70 million worth of coke that was intercepted by officials after the aircraft transporting the drugs crashed, the U.S. attorney’s office indicated.

On Tuesday, the two were extradited from Colombia to Los Angeles and are facing life in federal prison if found convicted.

An unsealed indictment revealed that Penagos and Rios arranged for cocaine, which was produced Colombian labs, to be transported to secret storage buildings near the clandestine air runways in Venezuela.

The indictment also contends that the cocaine was packed onto jets that were acquired through straw purchasers, and Venezuelan government and military officials were allegedly bribed to enable the planes to fly through the country.

The cocaine was brought to Central American hubs where it would be off-loaded by operatives, who would smuggle the drugs into the U.S.

The two planes that crashed in 2015 were carrying about 2,880 kilograms. The Venezuelan air force shot one plane down back in January 2015, and Dutch law enforcement also later discovered bundles of the drug floating near the Aruba coast.

Additionally, another drug plane sustained engine failure and crashed in the Caribbean Sea off of Colombia.

U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker announced in a statement: “By taking key players out of commission, we are disrupting the drug cartels’ ability to import their dangerous narcotics into our country.”

“These defendants’ arrival in the U.S. for prosecution marks a significant victory for law enforcement here and in Central and South America, which have worked in concert to ensure justice is achieved in this case,” Decker added.

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