The DEA's Big Bust: Did They Get the Wrong Guy?

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The March 4 arrest was dramatic. Gun-toting Drug Enforcement Administration agents stopped a van near Philadelphia and pulled out Victor Manuel Tafur Dominguez. Justice Department officials proudly announced he was a fugitive drug trafficker who would be the first Colombian ever extradited from the U.S. to Colombia.

One problem: it seems Tafur, 36, is actually a lawyer who worked in a coca-eradication program in Colombia. He came to the U.S. for treatment after a plane crash and was studying environmental law when Colombian prosecutors asked that he be detained. On Dec. 3, 1998, police there seized seven tons of cocaine in Cartagena. Prosecutors claim $350,000 of Tafur's money was being used for the shipment. But Tafur has bank records that show the $350,000 in question was part of a widow's pension the Colombian Congress had awarded to his mother. Tafur's father, a legislator who helped draft the extradition treaty, was assassinated by narco-traffickers.

Colombian prosecutors won't comment. Justice officials say they are not vouching for the Colombian allegations. Tafur, who has been in a cell in Philadelphia for over a month, doesn't want to be sent home branded as a fugitive. "I am a prisoner of the war on drugs," he says.