DEA Congressional Testimony
March 04, 1997

DEA Congressional Testimony

Statement by:
Thomas A. Constantine
Administrator, Drug Enforcement Administration
U.S. Department of Justice

Before the:
House International Relations Committee

Certification and Mexico

March 04, 1997

Note: This document may not reflect changes made in actual delivery.

Mr.Chairman and Members of the Committee: It is a pleasure to appear before the Committee today to discuss the issue of drug control in the Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Boliva, Nigeria and Burma. My comments today will be limited to an objective assessment of the law enforcement issues involved with drug trafficking in these countries and not the political and economic factors taken into consideration when making the certification decision.

The drug trade in the United States is directly and completely controlled by organized criminal groups operating from safehavens in the countries we will discuss today. Any successful effort to dismantle these criminal syndicates must be bilateral in nature, focusing the resources of both the United States and the host countries to build cases on the syndicate leadership to ensure their arrest and long term incarceration or extradition to the United States for prosecution.

But these organized crime leaders are far more dangerous, far more influential and have a great deal more impact on our day to day lives than their domestic predecessors. While organized crime in the United States during the 1950's through the 1970's affected certain aspects of American life, their influence pales in comparison to the violence, corruption and power that today’s drug syndicates wield. These individuals, from their headquarters locations, absolutely influence the choices that too many Americans make about where to live, when to venture out of their homes, or where they send their children to school. The drugs ---and the attendant violence which accompanies the drug trade ---have reached into every American community and have robbed many Americans of the dreams they once cherished.

Organized crime in the United States was addressed over time, but only after Americans recognized the dangers that organized crime posed to our way of life. But it did not happen overnight. American organized crime was exposed to the light of day systematically, stripping away the pretense that mob leaders were anonymous businessmen. The Appalachian raid of 1957 forced law enforcement to acknowledge that these organized syndicates did indeed exist, and strong measures were taken to go after the top leadership, a strategy used effectively throughout our national campaign against the mob. During the 1960's, Attorney General Bobby Kennedy was unequivocal in his approach to ending the reign of organized crime in America, and consistent law enforcement policies were enacted which resulted in real gains. Today, traditional organized crime, as we knew it in the United States, has been eviscerated, a fragment of what it once was.

At the height of its power, organized crime in this nation was consolidated in the hands of few major families whose key players live in this nation, and were within reach of our criminal justice system. All decisions made by organized crime were made within the United States. Orders were carried out on U.S. soil. While it was not easy to build cases against the mob leaders, law enforcement knew that once a good case was made against a boss, he could be located within the U.S., arrested and sent to jail.

That is not the case with today’s organized criminal groups. They are strong, sophisticated and destructive organizations operating on a global scale. Their decisions are made in sanctuaries in Cali, Colombia, and Guadalajara, Mexico, even day-to-day operational decisions such as where to ship cocaine, which cars their workers in the United States should rent, which apartments should be leased, which markings should be on each cocaine package, which contract murders should be ordered, which official should be bribed, and how much. They are shadowy figures whose armies of workers in Colombia, Mexico and the United States answer to them via daily faxes, cellular phone, or pagers. Their armies carry out killings within the United States---one day an outspoken journalist, one day a courier who had lost a load, the next, an innocent bystander caught in the line of fire---on orders of the top leadership. They operate from the safety of protected locations, and are free to come and go as they please within their home countries. These syndicate bosses have at their disposal airplanes, boats, vehicles, radar, communications equipment, and weapons in quantities which rival the capabilities of some legitimate governments. Whereas previous organized crime leaders were millionaires, the Cali drug traffickers and their counterparts from Mexico are billionaires.

However, as with organized crime in the United States we recently saw in Colombia that law enforcement does work. have frequently complemented the Colombian National Police, General Rosso Serrano and Col ---- Gallego on their heroic efforts in securing the arrests of the leadership of the Cali group controlled by Miquel Rodriguez Orejuela and Jose Santa Cruz Londono. Their fine work is a testament to the commitment and dedication of Colombia’s law enforcement officials in the face of great personal danger and a government whose leadership is riddled with drug corruption.

General Serrano and Attorney General Valdivieso faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds; Orejuela and his confederate’s power and wealth had grown exponentially in the late 1980's as the Medellin cartel self-destructed and they gained complete dominance over the world’s cocaine trade, they ran a multi-billion dollar cocaine business using as much as three billion dollars per year to bribe Colombian officials at the highest levels of the government. They gave the appearance of being legitimate businessmen, but they were every bit as violent as their predecessors from Medellin, making every effort to keep their acts of violence and murder out of the public eye. Despite these substantial impediments the all of the top leadership of the Cali syndicate is either dead or in jail due to the efforts of the C.P.


Last year at this time I was able to report to you that six of the seven leaders of the Cali drug syndicate were either dead or in jail. Since that time the C.P. has also arrested the seventh and last of the Cali leaders, Pacho Herrera. Unfortunately, Miquel Rodriguez Orejuela and his associates, who comprised the most powerful international organized crime group in history and ferried drugs to Mexico in 727 jets, received ridiculously short sentences for their crimes-- Miguel,9 years and Gilberto, 10 years. Even now, they are able to run their businesses from their prison cells equipped with private quarters, telephones, indoor soccer facilities and a well stocked private kitchen, due to Colombia’s lax prison system. Even in prison they remain among the most powerful cocaine traffickers in the world.

Colombia is still the worlds leading producer of cocaine, supplying over 80% of the cocaine imported in to the United States and responsible for 62% of the Heroin seized in the United States in 1996. Cocaine base, either shipped from Peru and Bolivia or produced in Colombia is converted into Cocaine HCL in large labs in Colombia and shipped on to Mexico, mostly via maritime routes, for staging and transhipment to the United States by Mexican smuggling groups. In January of this year the C.P. destroyed a major cocaine HCL laboratory complex near Miaflores, that covered nearly three square kilometers and consisted of 22 buildings connected by wooden walk ways and was manned by over 100 workers. Although, DEA has not been able to confirm the exact amount of chemicals seized at the laboratory site, the C.P. reported seizing 8.1 metric tons of cocaine HCL and base, by any standards an enormous seizure and indicative of the position of Colombian traffickers in the cocaine trade.

 Even though the Orejuela brothers are able to somewhat control the organization from prison, they cannot can no longer completely dominate the cocaine trade as they did when they wielded their power from Cali. New groups, from the Northern Valle del Cauca region, are among emerging independent groups who have appeared on the scene to replace the monolithic Cali syndicate. These groups are controlled by the powerful Henao Montoya brothers as well as former Rodriquez-Orejula associates, Diego Montoya Sanchez and Ivan and Julio Urdinola-Grajales. Over the last year we have seen some of these new independent groups return to the traditional Caribbean smuggling routes to move their cocaine to the United States but Mexico is still the primary route for cocaine leaving South America fr the United States.

Colombia was decertified in March of 1996 based on drug-related corruption and a lack of political will at the highest levels of the Colombian Government, that undercut the courageous efforts of the C.P. and the office of the Prosecutor General, to combat drug trafficking and corruption. Corruption irrefutably exists at the highest levels of the Colombian government. To date, Prosecutor General Alfonso Valdivieso has investigated allegations involving drug-related corruption involving more than 100 current of former Colombian Government officials. Two former senior Samper administration officials, former Minister of Defense Fernando Botero Zea and former Attorney General Orlando Vasquez Velasquez and eight members of Congress have been arrested on "illicit enrichment" charges. Interior Minister Horacio Serpa, Foreign Minister Rodrigo Pardo and former Communications Minister Juan Manuel Turbay and 30 members of Congress are currently under investigation by the Prosecutor General’s office.

 The charges of corruption reach the very top of the Colombian government; well documented and highly credible charges that President Samper knowingly received millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the Cali drug syndicate were dismissed by a House of Represenatives vote in June of last year. In an unprecedented move the United State’s revoked President Samper’s tourist visa in July as a result of his ties to the Cali drug syndicate. The post of Attorney General changed hands several times in 1996 due to serious corruption charges against Vasquez Velasquez and Luis Montoy-Medina. Another example of the Government of Colombia’s failure to deal swiftly and decisively with corruption is that of former Prosecutor General Gustavo de Grieff, who despite having been documented receiving large sums of money from both the organized criminal groups in Cali and Medellin and used his official position to protect their interests from prosecution, yet he remains Colombia’s current Ambassador to Mexico. In addition to the incommensurate sentences received by the Orejula’s , last summer Jorge Luis Ochoa, who flooded the United States and Europe with cocaine from Medellin in the 1980's, was released from prison after serving only 51/2 years. The GOC ignored extradition request from the United States, allowing Ocoha to return to the fortune in properties and cash that were never seized and forfeited by the government.

 In recent actions the Government of Colombia has taken steps to significantly strenghten their lenient sentencing laws, increasing prison terms to -----, however, the new laws exempt traffickers, such as the Orejuela’s, already convicted of drug trafficking offenses, from ever being sentenced under the new laws. In December, Colombia’s national assembly adopted asset forfeiture laws that if vigorously applied can be an effective tool against the drug lords. After intensive bilateral negotiations the GOC just signed the maritime agreement establishing protocols for U.S. law enforcement boarding of suspect Colombian vessels in Colombian territorial waters.

 Several benchmarks set for Colombia to be certified this year were not met including reconsideration of their non-extradition policy, progress toward conviction of the major traffickers with sentences commensurate with their crimes, forfeiture of their drug related proceeds and steps to prevent them from managing their drug trafficking operations from prison’s and strict enforcement to prevent money laundering.


 Rise to Power by the Mexican Syndicates.

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