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Vega's world

By Time Staff
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 4, 2003

photo
[Times photos: John Pendygraft]
Baruch Vega photographs Kendra Smith in Miami Beach.
Vega, right, and assistant, Alvaro Guerra set up a shot at Loews Miami Beach hotel.
Special report
Plan Colombia, extradition and informers
By the time Operation Millennium was unveiled late in 1999, Colombia and the United States were putting the final touches on a new antidrug strategy called Plan Colombia.
Who's who
BARUCH VEGA, 56 aka, Dr. B Fashion photographer and undercover law enforcement asset in America's war on drugs.
Operation Millennium
Investigation: 12-month, joint U.S.-Colombian effort, unveiled Oct. 13, 1990 . . .
Vega's world
For more than three decades, fashion photographer Baruch Vega accepted a variety of assignments ...
Sources for this special report
The story of Operation Millennium sits in a bulging docket at the federal. . .
Part Two: Family business
The Ochoa clan went from breeding horses to trafficking drugs and back again. Now the family has gone into another business: defending one of its own

1. For more than three decades, fashion photographer Baruch Vega accepted a variety of assignments for U.S. law enforcement. Said one agent: "We regarded Vega as our prinicipal weapon."

2. Late in 1997, the supervisor of DEA Group 43 in Miami, David Tinsley, asked him to recruit Colombians to work as informers to help penetrate a cartel suspected of enjoying Colombian police protection.

3. Through his contacts in Colombia, Vega spread the word that if traffickers came up with cash, his crooked U.S. law enforcement friends would get them sweet deals. To demonstrate his influence, he would smuggle fugitive traffickers into Miami on a private jet.

4. The "Colombian Traffickers Rehabilitation Program," as it came to be known, proved such a success that Vega held six "conventions" in Panama, where he and his DEA and FBI handlers held off-the-record meetings with traffickers. The meetings led to deals under which many turned themselves in.

5. Some of these traffickers also were targets of an unrelated investigation, Operation Millennium, run by DEA Group 9 in Fort Lauderdale. Neither group knew precisely what the other was up to, or that their investigations were on a collision course.

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