Beginning in 1997, agents from the U.S. Customs Department operated a sting operation in Mobile, Alabama, called Operation Skymaster. Ultimately, the investigation led to the seizure of 20 tons of narcotics, millions of dollars in cash and dozens of vehicles as well as more than 200 arrests.
Undercover Customs agents posed as drug smugglers and, working with paid informants, convinced Columbian drug cartels to ship huge quantities of cocaine and marijuana into the United States through Mobile.
One of those arrested was an alleged drug runner named Carlos Rojas a native of Medellin, Columbia. Rojas was indicted along with several others, including Frank Ordo ez De long. De long went to trial and was convicted by a jury, primarily on the testimony of an informant, Antonio Aizprua. De long was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
In that case, the prosecution informed the defense that Aizprua had been paid $5,000 by the federal government for his informant work.
Rojas did not go to trial, but instead pled guilty in 2000 to narcotics violations and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Nearly a decade later, during the drug-smuggling trial of former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, evidence emerged showing that Aizprua, a former pilot for Noriega, had actually been paid a total of $250,000.
De long challenged his conviction, arguing that his defense was entitled to know the full amount Aizprua had been paid. A judge cut De long’s sentence in half and he was released.
Rojas attempted to use the evidence to challenge his guilty plea—but at first lost because such an appeal was time-barred. However, in an unusual move, U.S. District Judge Wallace Capel Jr. ordered prosecutors to release or give Rojas a new trial.
After Rojas rejected offers to plead guilty in return for time served or to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, the prosecution dismissed the charges in March 29, 2002 after signing a waiver that he would not sue the government. Rojas was then released.
– Maurice Possley