Blast from the past! When Briceno was a drug dealer

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Briceno leaves the court in chains.
Briceno leaves the court in chains.

Briceno leaves the court in chains.In April of 1985 Elijio Briceno, father of the now leader of the People’s United Party, Johnny Briceno was arrested and charged in the United States for illegally trafficking drugs into that country. That is no secret, but what has largely been kept out of the limelight is exactly what evidence the U.S. law enforcement officers had on Briceno. Recently the Guardian was forwarded a link: http://ftp.resource.org/courts.gov/c/F2/814/814.F2d.655.85-5239.html of an appeal made by Briceno after being convicted of drug trafficking. In the appeal, details were given of how it was that Briceno was arrested and charged. The following is a reproduction of the U.S. Courts summation of the events that led to Briceno’s arrest.


During 1984, special agent Robert W. Ridler, an eleven year veteran with the Drug Enforcement Administration, was investigating illegal drug traffic in and out of Belize, a small country in Central America and once known as British Honduras. At the time Ridler was stationed in Merida, Mexico, and the information he accumulated revealed that Elijio Briceno, then the Minister of Energy and Communication of the Belizean government was involved in drug trafficking. Mr. Briceno’s responsibilities as Minister of Energy and Communication included the overseeing of airstrips, airports, traffic and communications. Ridler arranged a meeting with Briceno on October 11, 1984 at the Hotel El Presidente in Chetumal, Mexico. At this meeting Elijio Briceno was in the company of his brother, Graciano Briceno, and his nephew, Renan Briceno, and those present discussed quantity, price and transportation of marijuana in excess of one thousand pounds. Elijio advised Ridler that at that time he did not have access to cocaine. Ridler explained that an aircraft would be used to transport the marijuana out of Belize and into the United States, and he was assured by Elijio that there would be no problem with police activity and that Ridler could deal with both his brother and his nephew in making arrangements.

3 Agent Ridler was being transferred from Mexico to Wilmington, North Carolina and gave the Bricenos a telephone number at which he could be reached in Wilmington. A number of telephone calls were made between the Bricenos and Ridler from November, 1984 to April, 1985 to discuss and plan the importation scheme. All of these calls were tape recorded and they are the subject of the numerous counts in the indictment relating to the use of a communication facility in furtherance of a felony.

4 On November 23, 1984, Ridler met Elijio Briceno and Graciano Briceno again at the El Presidente Hotel in Merida, Mexico to discuss the transportation of marijuana and to arrange for the use of an airstrip that could accommodate a DC-3. This type of aircraft has the shortest runway requirements of any aircraft available to the DEA. Graciano stated that certain airstrips had previously been used for transportation out of Belize, but a DC-3 had not been involved in any previous loadings. One of the primary reasons for this meeting was to confirm the location of the airstrips. The telephone conversations had used a form of code, and it was not possible to express the map coordinates in such a conversation. At this meeting it was agreed that payment for the marijuana would be made at the time it was delivered to the plane and that delivery would be in either twenty or fifty pound bales. Elijio Briceno assured Ridler that there would be no problem with police or military activity in the area at the time of loading. This meeting was concluded with the understanding that the Bricenos would meet Ridler and Ridler’s pilot, DEA agent Richard Vandiver on November 28 and drive them to Belize to check various airstrips.

5 At the appointed time Elijio and Renan Briceno picked up Agents Vandiver and Ridler in a pickup truck and drove them to the Mexican-Belize border. At this check point Elijio took the passports and identification papers of the two agents into the immigration house and assured them that he would make sure they did not have to surrender any documents or have any notation made thereon that they had left Mexico. Ridler observed Elijio give a quantity of pesos to the border official. The agents were not required to go through any type of customs or immigration procedure on the Belize side of the border. They drove directly to a clandestine airstrip which they found too narrow to accommodate a DC-3. The agents were then introduced to one Grajalez who took them to other clandestine airstrips and they tentatively agreed upon the use of Tower Hill Airport. Grajalez then showed them samples of the kind of marijuana they would be buying. A tentative date for delivery was set for November 30, but before this delivery it was found that Tower Hill was too small to accommodate a DC-3. On December 6, Agent Vandiver with other agents flew into Belize in an effort to locate an airstrip capable of handling a DC-3. They later chartered a small plane to look for adequate sites, and after several days advised Elijio Briceno that they had been unable to find an adequate airstrip.

6 On November 26, 1985, ElijioBriceno called Agent Ridler in Wilmington and advised him that cocaine was now available if Ridler was interested. Numerous telephone calls were made in February, March and April, 1985 to discuss the cocaine transaction. This transaction was to take place in Miami but on March 21, 1985, ElijioBriceno informed Ridler that his Miami source could not handle the transaction and that Ridler should come to Belize.

7 On April 8, 1985, ElijioBriceno and Ridler met at the Columbia Hotel in Miami, Florida and discussed the price of the cocaine, the amount of cocaine available, the marijuana, the security requirements in Belize and the fact that Briceno had with him a land contract which would be used to explain the cash he would have from the ten percent commission he would receive from the sale of the cocaine and the marijuana. At this point, Elijio Briceno was arrested by DEA agents. After the arrest Briceno advised Agent Ridler that he was disappointed to find him to be a policeman because he had trusted him. Briceno was given a Miranda warning and indicated he would like to cooperate with the agents. He was asked the name of the person who was going to provide the cocaine and he gave the agent a name, a telephone number, and attempted to reach this party by telephone. This attempt was unsuccessful.

8 An indictment was returned against ElijioBriceno, his brother, his nephew and Elyo Grajalez, but only Elijio was apprehended and stood trial.