Department of Justice, Colombian Authorities Charge 17 Drug Kingpins in International Cocaine Trafficking Scheme

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos talks during a news conference after an EU-CELAC Latin America summit in Brussels on June 11, 2015. ERIC VIDAL/REUTERS

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos talks during a news conference after an EU-CELAC Latin America summit in Brussels on June 11, 2015. ERIC VIDAL/REUTERS

Updated | On Tuesday afternoon, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos hosted a press conference announcing a series of indictments for drug-trafficking charges. A total 17 people were charged with a cocaine production and distribution system which extended from Cali, Colombia, to the northern United States. The conference, held in Bogota, Colombia, was attended by Southern District of Florida Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer and Eastern District of New York Acting Attorney Kelly T. Currie.

Five indictments were unsealed by the U.S. before Santos’s press conference. Those arrested are high-ranking officials in Colombia’s largest drug trafficking gang, Los Drabness, also known as Clan Usuga. Six of those involved were charged in both Brooklyn and Miami. All defendants face life in prison if convicted.

In a case of The United States v. Eduard Fernando Giraldo Cardoza, the U.S. brought international cocaine distribution conspiracy charges. Araujo was named a leader of a drug-trafficking organization based in Cali. The U.S. alleges he “facilitated the transfer of multi-ton shipments of cocaine…for ultimate importation into the United States.” As a drug kingpin, Araujo is accused of imposing a “‘tax’ on any drug traffickers operating in regions under [his group’s] control.” He charged a fee for every kilogram of cocaine produced and transported through his region. Araujo is also accused of hiring hit men who murdered and kidnapped on behalf of his drug gang.

Orlando Gutierrez-Rendon is also accused of operating a drug trafficking organization. He allegedly shipped tons of cocaine from Colombia into Mexico, El Salvador and Panama, which was then transported to the U.S. His drug gang “also acted as a collection agency, using violence and murder in order to obtain payments and collect outstanding debts related to cocaine shipments.” He also hired hit men to collect shipping fees and intimidate rival gangs.

Another of those indictments unsealed on Tuesday names 11 defendants, all of whom are charged with various crimes related to cocaine trafficking. The majority of the defendants named in this charge were high ranking commanders within the gang. Ramiro Caro Pineda, a drug organizer, managed to control entire airstrips and ports on Colombia’s Atlantic Coast. He used these to ship cocaine undetected for the Urabeños organization. Between June 2003 and March 2012, these 11 men are charged with trafficking over 73,000 kilograms of cocaine into the U.S., over 80 tons.

“The indictments announced today are the result of a sweeping national and international effort to stem the flow of drugs across the world and into our communities. We stand united with our partners in Colombia in our unwavering commitment to root out the leaders of drug trafficking criminal enterprises wherever they may be found,” said Currie.

“These indictments are the culmination of years of work and far too often heartfelt sacrifice by the brave men and women of the Colombian National Police and the Office of the Prosecutor General of Colombia,” said DEA Regional Director Jay Bergman. “These indictments represent the United States’s steadfast bilateral commitment to conclusively dismantle what is the largest and arguably the last of the nationally structured criminal bands in Colombia.”

Authorities continue to search for Dairo Antonio Usuga David, alias Otoniel, who is the leader of the organization. There is a $5 million bounty for information leading to his arrest.