LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — One of the oldest inmates in the federal prison system — a 94-year-old serving time for his role in a billion dollar international drug ring — died Monday, days before he was set for a compassionate release hearing.
Carlos Tapia-Ponce died at a federal prison medical facility in North Carolina, according to a Los Angeles federal court filing obtained by
City News Service.
Tapia-Ponce was convicted in LA 25 years ago for a 1989 raid that resulted in authorities finding more than 21 tons of cocaine — a record amount of the white powder — in a Sylmar warehouse.
Authorities said the 21.4 tons of Colombian-grown cocaine found stacked in boxes had been sitting in storage as the result of a pay dispute
between Mexican smugglers and Colombian cartels and had reached unusual proportions.
The bust was the largest in the history of the United States, enough for 1.38 billion cocaine doses — five for every person in the country at the
time, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Stacked properly, the 2.2 pound bricks of cocaine would have been the size of two school buses, with a street value of roughly $7 billion.
Officials also found $12 million in $100 and $20 bills, stored in boxes.
Seven people were arrested in the case, including the organization’s “patriarch,” Tapia-Ponce, who was convicted along with two others in November 1990 of conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance.
He was sentenced to life in prison in 1991.
At a Jan. 13 hearing, his new attorney argued that Tapia-Ponce was now frail and infirm and should be able to live out his remaining days with his family and loved ones in Mexico.