Colombian Drug Kingpin Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Cocaine Into U.S.

Dairo Antonio Úsuga David admitted to running one of the largest and most powerful cocaine-trafficking organizations in Colombia.

A Colombian drug kingpin who was once one of the country’s most wanted fugitives pleaded guilty Wednesday in a Brooklyn federal court to overseeing the smuggling of more than 100 tons of cocaine into Central America and the U.S.

Dairo Antonio Úsuga David was extradited to the U.S. last year after the Justice Department accused him of being the former leader of the Gulf Clan, one of the largest and most powerful cocaine-trafficking organizations in Colombia. Mr. Úsuga David, who is also known by the alias Otoniel, was arrested in Colombia in 2021 after years on the run. The U.S. had placed a $5 million bounty on his capture. 

Mr. Úsuga David, 51 years old, pleaded guilty to running a criminal enterprise and two other drug-related charges, telling a federal judge through a Spanish interpreter that he “obtained substantial income and resources from the narcotics-trafficking operation.” The plea agreement settled three federal indictments that Mr. Úsuga David faced. 

Federal prosecutors in the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office said in court that federal sentencing guidelines would likely recommend Mr. Úsuga David receive a term of life in prison. However, as part of his extradition, the U.S. agreed it wouldn’t seek a life sentence, prosecutors said. The judge hasn’t set a sentencing date. 

As part of his plea deal, Mr. Úsuga David agreed to not oppose the Justice Department seeking a $216 million forfeiture judgment against him. He also faces tens of millions of dollars in fines. 

“With today’s guilty plea, the bloody reign of the most violent and significant Colombian narcotics trafficker since Pablo Escobar is over,” Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace said in a statement after the plea hearing.

Mr. Úsuga David said in court that until his capture, for more than a decade, he headed the Gulf Clan, a rural militia of at least 1,000 fighters that operates across several Colombian provinces. The group would tax each kilogram of cocaine that went through the region it controlled, he said. It also oversaw shipments of the drug through Central America and ultimately to the U.S., he said. 

Prosecutors said the Gulf Clan also employed sicarios, or hit men, to carry out kidnappings and assassinations. Mr. Úsuga David acknowledged in court that his group oversaw killings.

Paul Nalven, a lawyer for Mr. Úsuga David, said that while his client was remorseful for his actions, he had been forced to join a paramilitary group at 16 and was involved in the internal fighting in Colombia for most of his life.

“Our client is really a child of the years of violence in Colombia,” said Mr. Nalven, who added that Mr. Úsuga David “is not making an excuse for his criminal conduct.” 

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