A Colombian once one of the world’s most wanted drug traffickers pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges of smuggling into the United States, acknowledging that he led a cartel and paramilitary group that trafficked cocaine and carried out acts of violence.
With his permission or under his orders, tons of cocaine were moved, Dairo Antonio Usuga, better known as Otoniel, admitted before a federal court in Brooklyn.
There was a lot of violence with the guerrillas and criminal groups, he said, acknowledging that murders were committed during military work.
Usuga, 51, could be sentenced to at least 20 years in prison, prosecutors said. But the US government agreed not to seek a life sentence to secure his extradition from Colombia last year, federal judge Dora Irizarry said.
As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to a forfeiture of $216 million.
Usuga led the Clan del Golfo, an organization that terrorized much of northern Colombia to control the main cocaine trafficking routes. US authorities have referred to him as one of the most dangerous drug traffickers on the planet, and he was the most wanted drug lord in Colombia.
“With this day’s agreement, the bloody reign of the most violent and notorious Colombian drug trafficker since Pablo Escobar comes to an end,” Brooklyn US Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement.
Defense attorney Paul Nalven said his client was “very sorry” and described him as “a child of the cycle of violence” that has destroyed Colombia throughout his life. Usuga, who only attended the fourth grade of primary school, joined the guerrillas at the age of 16, said the lawyer.
After his arrest, Usuga asked his cartel to stop attacking police officers and hopes something good will come of the six-month truce that recently went into effect between the government of President Gustavo Petro, the Clan del Golfo and four other groups. armed in the hope of achieving a lasting peace.
“He would like to see a better Colombia,” said Nalven.
The Clan del Golfo, also known as the Gaitanista Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, has thousands of members in military uniform who battle rival cartels, paramilitary groups and Colombian authorities with the goal of retaining control of their territory near the border with Panama. the prosecutors assured. The transfer of cocaine finances the operation, including the “taxes” that Usuga acknowledged that the group charges for all the cocaine that is produced, stored or transported through its territory.
Usuga ordered the murder and torture of those he considered his enemies, offered rewards for killing policemen and soldiers, and ordered campaigns to go after them with military-grade weapons, according to prosecutors. He flaunted his power by declaring strikes in which businesses were forced to close and people had to stay in their homes, on pain of death.
Usuga was named in a series of US indictments dating back to 2009. The DEA offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest, and the Colombian government had a $800,000 reward. Over the years, Colombian authorities have arrested or killed hundreds of cartel members, deployed more than 1,000 police officers to search for the kingpin, and published the amount of the reward in the United States on flyers dropped from helicopters. .
But Usuga eluded capture until 2021 through a combination of corruption, contacts with fighters on the left and right, and staying out of public view. He allegedly used a different safe house every night.
At the time of his arrest, then-President Ivan Duque said that Usuga was “the most feared drug trafficker in the world, a murderer of police officers, soldiers, and social leaders, as well as a recruiter of minors. He is also known for that dementia that led him to repeatedly abuse children and adolescents.
Usuga was extradited to the United States in May 2022. He pleaded guilty Wednesday to leading and continuing a criminal enterprise and to various drug trafficking charges involving around 100 tons of cocaine bound for the United States.
Source: El Nuevo Herald