By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - For the third time in 15 months, a Colombian drug kingpin pleaded guilty on Thursday to U.S. charges that he conspired to manufacture and distribute hundreds of tons of cocaine annually that he trafficked throughout the world.
The plea in Manhattan federal court clears the way for sentencing Daniel Barrera, who authorities say was one of the most prolific drug traffickers of the last two decades before his capture in Venezuela in 2012 following years in hiding.
Barrera, also known as "Loco" (Crazy), was extradited from Colombia in July 2013 to face three indictments filed in federal courts in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Miami, and pleaded guilty in 2014 in the New York cases.
The Miami indictment, along with the Brooklyn one, was later transferred to a federal judge in Manhattan in order to consolidate the cases for sentencing once his final plea was entered.
In court, Barrera pleaded guilty to two counts, admitting that from 1992 to 2010 he agreed with others "to manufacture several tons of cocaine to import into the United States."
Prosecutors and Barrera's lawyer, Ruben Oliva, had been seeking to negotiate a plea agreement to simplify his eventual sentencing on all three indictments.
But Oliva told U.S. District Judge Gregory Woods that no agreement could be reached and that there were "mitigating factors" he wanted to cite at sentencing, set for May 25
Barrera faces a sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
According to U.S. authorities, Barrera, 47, ran a cocaine manufacturing and trafficking syndicate that since 1998 processed about 400 tons of the drug annually.
Prosecutors said Barrera bought raw cocaine paste from the leftist rebel group FARC and processed it in laboratories in areas controlled by a now-demobilized paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC.
Barrera was arrested in Venezuela in September 2012 with the help of authorities there as well as British and U.S. intelligence agencies.
Colombian authorities had been closing in on his organization in the weeks prior, detaining 36 suspected members and seizing five tons of cocaine.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Dan Grebler)