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Lawyer charged in drug ring

Tarpons Springs lawyer James M. Timonere drove a 1982 Ford and lived in a $56,000 home in Oldsmar. Despite his modest lifestyle, authorities say he was part of a

million-dollar cocaine-trafficking operation headed by one of the most

notorious drug lords in Colombia.

Timonere, 38, of 50 Green Haven Circle was arrested Friday and charged with helping drug kingpin Pablo Escobar smuggle more than 8,000 pounds of cocaine into the United States, authorities said.

Half of the cocaine - which has an estimated street value of $81.9-million - was brought in through Dunedin, officials with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) said.

Officials said the cocaine was supplied by Medellin cartel chief Escobar. The elusive Escobar, who was indicted Friday and faces other indictments in Miami, is said to be the leader of a terrorism campaign against the Colombian government.

"It was Pablo Escobar's dope," said Manuel B. Pondakos, FDLE assistant special agent in charge. "He is one of the largest coke exporters in South America. He's very influential."

Although Timonere did not have "hand-to-hand" contact with Escobar, officials said, the lawyer was a key figure in the organization.

Timonere helped launder much of the money, set up fictitious corporations, leased motor vehicles, supplied false identifications to other players, and even helped store some of the cocaine, said Connie Smith-Patrick, also of the FDLE.

George Tragos, a Clearwater lawyer, said Timonere has practiced in the area for about two years, doing mostly civil work such as commercial litigation, mortgage foreclosures and collections. At one time, Timonere represented controversial Pasco County doctor Surindar Bedi on fraud and grand-theft charges.

Timonere doesn't live an extravagant lifestyle, Tragos said. He has a modest office at 905 Lake St. E in Tarpon Springs.

"His appearance didn't strike you as somebody who would be into that," Tragos said. "He was a regular guy. I'm surprised to hear of the charges, and I hope it's not true."

Timonere was arrested about 3:10 p.m. and taken to the Pinellas County Jail, where he was being held in lieu of $250,000 bail, according to the arrest report. Before being booked into the jail, deputies searched him, removing his money, identification and a beaded rosary.

Timonere was arrested along with Buck Spicer, a Manatee County man who listed his occupation as a pilot. Spicer, 39, is charged with bringing in about 600 pounds of cocaine to Pinellas County in June 1988, the report said.

Authorities have also seized more than $1.6-million worth of property, including boats, cars, homes and cash.

Also indicted on charges of being part of the drug ring were a Miami man, two Arizona men, an Alabama man, a man from Belize and three men - including Escobar - from Colombia. Pondakos said what although Escobar has been indicted in other jurisdictions and never taken into custody, officials still believe they can catch him.

"I don't know what the odds are, but it's not a lost hope," he said. "We can get our hands on him."

- Staff writer Karen Datko contributed to this story.