Ex-Colombian drug lord pleads guilty to trafficking charges

(NewsNation) — A Colombian man who was once one of the world’s most-wanted drug lords pleaded guilty Wednesday to U.S. smuggling charges, admitting he led a cartel and paramilitary group larger than the Boston and Miami police departments combined that trafficked in cocaine and deadly violence.

“Tons of cocaine were moved with my permission or at my direction,” Dairo Antonio Úsuga, better known as Otoniel, told a Brooklyn federal court.

“He is responsible for trafficking vast amounts of cocaine measured in tons, not pounds or kilograms,” U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said previously in May 2022 after Úsuga was arrested. “He earned enormous profits, measured in billions, not millions.”

The 51-year-old could face 20 years in prison. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement, “with today’s guilty plea, the bloody reign of the most violent and significant Colombian narcotics trafficker since Pablo Escobar is over.”

The U.S. government agreed not to seek a life sentence in order to secure his extradition from Colombia last year, according to U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry.

He pleaded guilty to leading a continuing criminal enterprise and various drug trafficking charges that involve nearly 107 tons of cocaine that was ultimately bound for the U.S. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to forfeit $216 million.

Defense lawyer Paul Nalven said Úsuga was “very remorseful” and portrayed him as “a child of the cycle of violence” that has wracked Colombia throughout his life. Úsuga, who has a fourth-grade education, was dragooned into guerrilla warfare at age 16, the attorney said.

After his arrest, Úsuga asked his cartel to stop attacking police, and he’s hoping something fruitful comes of the six-month cease-fire that recently took effect between President Gustavo Petro’s administration and five armed groups, including the Gulf Clan, in hopes of fostering a lasting peace.

Meanwhile in another Brooklyn courtroom, Mexico’s former top cop, Genaro Garcia Luna, is on trial for allowing the infamous Sinaloa Cartel to act with impunity in exchange for millions of dollars in cash.

“These bribes were supposedly delivered once a month for several years, and the other interesting part is that Luna was working very closely with the U.S. at this time, including the DEA, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security,” said Keegan Hamilton, a reporter with Vice who has been covering the trial. “He was basically the man in Mexico fighting the cartels during this era.”

Garcia Luna’s wife did not comment to reporters outside the courthouse.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced this week his government is seeking $700 million that Garcia Luna allegedly accumulated in corruption money.

Nathan jones, an associate professor of security studies at Sam Houston State University, said cartels have long pursued a strategy referred to as “plata o plomo,” a slang phrase that translates to “silver or lead.”

“It refers to a combination of threats and bribery with the intent of buying off government and purchasing intelligence,” Jones said.

The Garcia Luna trial has adjourned for the week and will resume Monday morning.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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