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Colombian drug suspect pleads not guilty in NY

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TOM HAYS | July 10, 2013 02:53 PM EST | AP

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NEW YORK — A Colombian who authorities say is known as "El Loco" and has a penchant for plastic surgery pleaded not guilty Wednesday to U.S. charges that he led a drug organization that produced hundreds of tons of cocaine annually and funneled revenue to rebel forces.

Daniel Barrera Barrera spoke through a Spanish interpreter during the brief hearing in Manhattan, responding "Yes, your honor" when asked if he understood the charges. Afterward two burly deputy U.S. marshals, both several inches taller than Barrera, led him back to jail.

Defense attorney Ruben Oliva told a judge he would possibly seek bail at a later date.

"They are very serious charges," Oliva said outside court. "He is being accused of very serious crimes"

The single charge against Barrera, conspiracy to import narcotics, could carry a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison or a maximum of life in prison if he is convicted. He also faces charges in federal court in Miami, where he would be taken after the court cases are completed in New York.

Prosecutors have described the 44-year-old Barrera as one of the largest cocaine distributors in history. They alleged he laundered tens of millions of dollars of profits as he processed about 30,000 kilograms of raw cocaine into cocaine powder each month since 1998.

The U.S. Treasury Department in March 2010 put Barrera on its list of most-wanted Colombian narcotics traffickers. He was arrested last September in Venezuela. He was then sent to Colombia, where the U.S. pursued his extradition.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has called Barrera "the last of the great capos." He is known to authorities in Colombia as "El Loco" and reportedly had several cosmetic surgeries and tried to burn off his fingerprints with acid to mask his identity. His attorney on Wednesday denied his client had the surgeries.

Venezuelan officials say they confiscated houses, ranches, a yacht, apartments and 48 cars from Barrera, U.S. authorities said.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Barrera's organization produced as much as 400 tons of cocaine annually and used some of the proceeds to fund terrorist groups, including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC.

Authorities allege he purchased raw cocaine base or paste from the FARC and converted it into powder at laboratories he owned and operated in an area of Colombia once controlled by the since-demobilized terrorist group, Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, or AUC.

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Associated Press writer Claudia Torrens contributed to this report.