News Release
December 6
, 2007
Contact: Erin McKenzie-Mulvey
212 337-2906

Violent Colombian Drug Kingpin Convicted For Importing Thousands Of Kilograms Of Cocaine Into The United States From Colombia

DEC 6 -- (New York) JOHN P. GILBRIDE, Special Agent in Charge of the New York Field Division Drug Enforcement Administration and MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York announced the conviction of JULIO CESAR LOPEZ-PENA a/k/a “Julito,” a/k/a “Ojitos,” a high-ranking member of the notorious Norte Valle Cartel in Colombia, who was extradited from Colombia to face charges of cocaine importation. The defendant was found guilty on December 5, 2007, following a six-day jury trial in Manhattan federal court before United States District Judge DENNY CHIN. According to the evidence at trial:

LOPEZ-PENA, who worked closely with Norte Valle Cartel leader WILMER ALIRIO VARELA, participated in the shipment of multi-ton quantities of cocaine, worth an estimated $100 million dollars, to the United States between 1998 and 2003. Specifically, LOPEZ-PENA used maritime routes through the Caribbean and Mexico, sending his drugs on speed boats that each carried as much as 1,600 kilograms of cocaine. In December 2001, for example, the defendant sent a load of approximately 1,600 kilograms of cocaine to Houston, Texas, where it was divided up; 600 kilograms were taken by vehicle to Manhattan for distribution. On separate occasions in 2002, LOPEZ-PENA organized the trafficking of two loads of cocaine -- 1,200 and 1,600 kilograms -- through territory in Colombia then controlled by the Colombian right-wing paramilitary group, Autodefenses Unidas de Colombia ("AUC"). LOPEZ-PENA paid a high-ranking AUC member $310 dollars per kilogram to handle and transport the cocaine through the AUC territory to the Atlantic Ocean. In May 2003, the Colombian Marines seized 4,000 kilograms of cocaine in the coastal region of Nanguma, Colombia, of which approximately 1,600 kilograms belonged to LOPEZ-PENA.

To facilitate the Norte Valle Cartel's cocaine importation operation, LOPEZ-PENA used violence, including kidnapping and murder, bribery, extortion, and various methods of counter-surveillance. Among the several murders that LOPEZ-PENA committed to further his drug trafficking was the 2002 murder of a rival drug trafficker in a crowded nightclub in Cartagena, Colombia. LOPEZ-PENA was found guilty of conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. The offense carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, although the United States provided assurances to Colombia as part of the extradition process that a life sentence will not be sought. LOPEZ-PENA faces a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in prison.

LOPEZ-PENA is scheduled to be sentenced on March 7, 2008, at 2:00 p.m., by Judge CHIN. Today’s conviction was the result of a joint investigation involving agents of the United States Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") in Bogota, Colombia and New York, and of the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force (the “New York Strike Force"), which is comprised of agents and officers of the DEA, the New York City Police Department, the United States Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Department of Homeland Security Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the New York State Police, the United States Marshals Service, the United States Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Colombian law enforcement officers stationed in Bogota, Medellin, Catagena and Cali, Colombia, also provided invaluable assistance.

DEA Special Agent in Charge JOHN P. GILBRIDE stated, “This guilty verdict signifies that law enforcement will not tolerate drug dealing at any level - from the laboratories where cocaine and heroin are processed, through the violent and often cruel means individuals go to in order to supply dealers on the streets of New York. The DEA and our law enforcement partners are committed to identifying every individual within a drug trafficking organization who is responsible for purveying our cities with illegal narcotics.”

Mr. GARCIA praised the cooperative investigative efforts of the DEA and the New York Strike Force, and also commended Colombian law enforcement officers for their partnership in the case.” Julio Cesar Lopez-Pena is one of the most significant narcotics traffickers ever to be extradited from Colombia, both because of the breadth and volume of his drug trafficking activity and the violence with which he conducted his operation," said U.S. Attorney MICHAEL J. GARCIA. "Today's conviction is a credit to the dedication and sacrifice of the law enforcement officers, both here and in Colombia, who brought Lopez-Pena to justice."

The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s International Narcotics Trafficking Unit. MARC P. BERGER and REBECCA MONCK RICIGLIANO are in charge of the prosecution.