America's war on drugs came home to a cocaine kingpin Thursday when U.S. District Judge David Sam sentenced Orestes Luciano Abreu to 33 years in federal prison and fined him $20,000.
In 1988, Abreu, a Miami resident, was arrested in Salt Lake City. Cocaine and a semiautomatic assault rifle and a revolver were seized. The assault rifle had been modified in an apparent attempt to make it fully automatic, but the attempt failed.While awaiting trial Abreu was released to a federal halfway house, and he escaped.
In September, he was stopped at a routine roadblock in Mississippi and arrested with three- quarters of a kilogram of cocaine. He was returned to Salt Lake City for trial and convicted on seven counts: conspiracy, possession of cocaine with the intention to distribute it, four gun charges and escape.
Speaking through an interpreter at his sentencing, Abreu told Sam, "I never sold any cocaine to anybody in Salt Lake City. I have not bought any ammunition here. I'm a family man."
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Dance told Sam, "This particular case illustrates . . . the extreme seriousness of drug trafficking involving large amounts and guns."
It was almost a shock to see the assault rifle and its magazines entered into evidence, he said.
Evidence established in the trial showed that Abreu "organized, masterminded and led a cocaine operation that brought in excess of five kilograms of cocaine from Florida to Utah for distribution here in our community in a little over a year's time," from early 1986 to mid-October 1987.
Abreu was living temporarily in Salt Lake City when he was arrested by a federal drug task force in April 1988.
"Now we get to something that is also somewhat shocking, and that is the extent of the punishment required by law for the offenses," said Dance.
The heavy prison terms send out the message that society is serious about protecting itself against this sort of crime, Dance added.
"The word should go out from this court . . . that society is determined to do everything it can to protect itself."
One aspect that increased the recommended sentence under federal guidelines was that Abreu was "an organizer and a leader of this" drug trafficking, he added.
A "particularly egregious, aggravating factor" was that he enticed the 19- or 20-year-old co-defendant and placed him in the position where he would be exposed to the most risk, while Abreu "hid in the shadows."
The co-defendant had made a plea agreement and was sentenced to five years in prison.
Dance reviewed the lengthy terms recommended by the guidelines.
"This all makes for very heavy sentencing," he said, "but I think this case should stand for the proposition that if you engage in illegal drug activities that endanger citizens, you will be punished harshly."
Sam agreed that the findings about the recommended terms, prepared by the U.S. Probation Department, are correct.
He sentenced Abreu to 200 months on the conspiracy charge and the possession charge, to run concurrently; 60 months for use of one gun; 120 months for use of the other; and 18 months for escaping the halfway house.
Sam also imposed the $20,000 fine and ordered Abreu to serve five years probation when he is released from prison. Abreu was impassive throughout the sentencing.
Under the sentencing guidelines, Abreu is not eligible for any time off for good behavior for the firearms crimes. For the remaining 18 years, he may earn a reduction of his sentence of 54 days per year for good behavior, or about 2 1/2 years less.
Altogether, he is almost certain not to be released before serving 30 years.
Abreu is 49 years old, said his lawyer, David K. Smith. "That's a life sentence if I ever saw one," he commented after the session.