Pilot Eduardo Pardo, a co-defendant in the drug trial of oustedPanamanian leader Manuel Noriega, changed his plea from innocent to guilty Thursday on charges of flying $800,000 in Colombian drug proceeds to Panama.
Pardo, 44, is the first defendant in the case to plead guilty.
Prosecutors said there was no agreement in exchange for the plea, but lawyers in the defense team said they assumed Pardo would testify against Noriega.
Pardo, Noriega and 14 other defendants were charged in a 1988 indictment that accuses them of conspiring to protect drug shipments from Medellin, Colombia, through Panama to the United States, and of laundering of proceeds back through Panama.
At a hearing at the federal courthouse here, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael "Pat" Sullivan detailed the charges against Pardo.
Sullivan said Pardo was accused of flying $800,000 in proceeds from the U.S. sale of Colombian cocaine from Fort Lauderdale to Panama during a May 1983 flight. The money was to be turned over to representatives of the Medellin drug cartel.
Sullivan said Pardo knew the money came from the sale of illegal drugs when he made the flight, for which he earned $40,000.
U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler asked Pardo if he understood the charges against him and whether he was guilty.
Pardo answered yes to both questions but said nothing more.
He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled for April 26.
Defense lawyers said they assumed Pardo would testify against Noriega.
"I think it's obvious he's cooperating. It appears that he will likely be a witness against General Noriega," Samuel Burstyn told the Miami Herald. Burstyn represents Luis de Cid, a close Noriega ally.
Noriega, 52, was ousted as Panama's leader by a Dec. 20 U.S. invasion. He was flown to Miami to stand trial after he surrendered Jan. 3.