News Release
March 19, 2010
Donald Caetano
Public Affairs Officer
212 337-1266

Leader of Colombian Narco-Terrorist Organization Sentenced to
More Than 20 Years in Prison for Conspiring to Import Tons of Cocaine into the United States

MAR 19 --(MANHATTAN, NY) PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that JORGE ENRIQUE RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA, a/k/a "Ivan Vargas," a high-ranking leader of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or "FARC") was sentenced today to 244 months in prison for conspiring to import ton-quantities of cocaine into the United States. The FARC is Colombia's main leftist rebel group and a U.S. State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization. RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA was sentenced today by United States District Judge THOMAS F. HOGAN in District of Columbia federal court.

According to the previously-unsealed Indictment to which the defendant pleaded guilty, other documents filed in this case, and statements made in court:

The FARC, which occupies large swaths of territory in Colombia, is a hierarchical organization which, at its height during the time of the conspiracy, was comprised of 12,000 to 18,000 members. The FARC is made up of 77 distinct military units, called Fronts, organized by geographical location. These in turn are grouped into seven "blocs." The FARC is led by a seven-member Secretariat and a 27-member Central General Staff, or Estado Mayor, responsible for setting the cocaine policies of the FARC. The FARC is responsible for the production of more than half the world's supply of cocaine and nearly two-thirds of the cocaine imported into the United States, and is the world's leading cocaine manufacturer. The FARC initially involved itself in the cocaine and cocaine paste trade by imposing a "tax" on individuals involved in every stage of cocaine production.

Later, in the 1990s, recognizing the profit potential, FARC leadership ordered that the FARC become the exclusive buyer of the raw cocaine paste used to make cocaine in all areas under FARC occupation.

In the late 1990s, the FARC leadership, including RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA, met and voted unanimously in favor of a number of resolutions, including resolutions to: expand coca production in areas of Colombia under FARC control; expand the FARC's international distribution routes; increase the number of crystallization labs in which cocaine paste would be converted into cocaine; appoint members within each Front to be in charge of coca production; raise prices that the FARC would pay to campesinos (peasant farmers) from whom they purchased cocaine paste; and mandate that better chemicals be used to increase the quality of cocaine paste.

In late 2001 or early 2002, the FARC leadership, including RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA, participated in a meeting in which they further resolved, among other things, to: increase cocaine trafficking routes overseas, including to the United States; establish better ways to exchange cocaine and cocaine paste for weapons; and to pay more to campesinos for cocaine paste. RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA, 47, served as the Commander of the FARC's 24th Front and as a member of the FARC's Estado Major. In that capacity, he directed the purchase of hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine paste, and transmitted billions of Colombian pesos in cocaine proceeds to higher-ranking FARC officials. Among other things, RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA conspired with others to manufacture and distribute thousands of tons of cocaine in Colombia, with the knowledge and intent that such cocaine would be imported into the United States.

RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA was arrested by Colombian authorities in late 2004 and extradited to the United States on November 1, 2007. On December 16, 2009, during his guilty plea proceeding, RODRIGUEZ MENDIETA acknowledged that from approximately 1998 through early October 2004, he was the commander of the 24 Front of the FARC and that he led and directed other members of the 24 Front in the manufacture and distribution of thousands of kilograms of cocaine, knowing and intending that at least some of this cocaine would be imported into the United States.

"Jorge Enrique Rodriguez Mendieta for years occupied one of the FARC's top leadership roles, overseeing the manufacture and distribution of thousands of kilograms of cocaine and participating in the policy-making of the FARC. Bringing the leadership of the FARC to justice is critical to our fight against narco-terrorism that threatens the safety and security of the United States. This Office will continue to work with its local, state, federal, and international partners to combat criminal organizations that undermine the rule of law," said United States Attorney PREET BHARARA.

The investigation resulting in these charges was led by the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, working with the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement 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's Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the New York State Police) and the DEA's Bogota, Colombia, Country Office. The Strike Force is partially funded by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which is a federally funded crime fighting initiative. The investigation, conducted under the auspices of the Department of Justice's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Program, involved unprecedented cooperation from the Colombian Military, the Colombian National Police, and the Colombian Fiscalia. Mr. BHARARA praised all the law enforcement partners involved in the investigation, and thanked the Criminal Division's Office of International Affairs, as well as U.S. Department of Justice Attachés in Bogota for their involvement in the extradition process.

This case is being prosecuted in the District of Columbia by the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. Special Assistant United States Attorneys ERIC SNYDER, PABLO QUIÑONES, and RANDALL JACKSON are in charge of the prosecution.