UNITED STATES ANNOUNCES RICO CHARGES AGAINST
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General John Ashcroft, Assistant Attorney General Christopher A. Wray of the Criminal Division, DEA Administrator, Karen Tandy, FBI Director Robert Mueller, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Assistant Secretary Michael Garcia, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson, and U.S. Attorneys Roslynn Mauskopf of the Eastern District of New York, Marcos Jimenez of the Southern District of Florida and David Kelley of the Southern District of New York announced today the unsealing of RICO charges against nine leaders of Colombia’s most powerful cocaine-trafficking organizations, including a cartel allegedly responsible for exporting more than 500 metric tons of cocaine worth more than $10 billion from Colombia to the United States.
Three of the charged defendants have been designated as among the “most wanted” international drug trafficking targets by federal law enforcement. In addition, one of the defendants has been added to the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” Fugitives list.
State Department Assistant Secretary for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Robert Charles also announced that the United States government is offering rewards of up to $5 million for information leading to the apprehension of these defendants.
According to the RICO indictment, filed April 29, 2004 in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia by the Narcotic and Dangerous Drugs Section of the Criminal Division, and unsealed today, the defendants were the leaders of a Colombian cocaine cartel known as the “Norte Valle Cartel,” which operated principally in the Norte Valle del Cauca region of Colombia. According to the indictment, the defendants worked together with various Colombian drug transportation specialists to transport multi-ton loads of cocaine from Peru, Colombia and other locations within South America to the Valle del Cauca region. The defendants allegedly then used trucks or airplanes to transport the cocaine to the Pacific Coast port city of Buenaventura. The cartel members allegedly also associated themselves with Mexican transportation groups that shipped the cocaine loads to Mexico via speed boats, fishing vessels, and other maritime conveyances, for ultimate delivery to the United States.
According to the indictment, between 1990 and the present, the Norte Valle Cartel exported more than 1.2 million pounds – or 500 metric tons – of cocaine worth in excess of $10 billion from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately to the United States for resale.
The indictment charges that the Norte Valle Cartel used violence and brutality to further its goals, including the murder of rivals, individuals who failed to pay for cocaine, and associates who were believed to be working as informants.
As alleged in the indictment, the cartel members used the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (the “AUC”), a terrorist paramilitary organization, to protect the cartel’s drug routes, its drug laboratories, and its members and associates. The AUC is one of 37 Foreign Terrorist Organizations identified by the State Department.
Leaders of the Norte Valle Cartel allegedly bribed and corrupted Colombian law enforcement and Colombian legislators to, among other things, attempt to block the extradition of Colombian narcotics traffickers to the United States to be prosecuted for their crimes. According to the indictment, members of the Norte Valle Cartel even conducted their own wiretaps in Colombia to intercept the communications of rival drug traffickers and Colombian and United States law enforcement officials.
According to the RICO indictment, the alleged leaders of the Norte Valle Cartel charged today operated in Colombia, Mexico and the United States and included, among others:
The indictment also charges: GABRIEL PUERTA-PARRA, a/k/a “Doctor Puerta,” an attorney and counselor who resolved internal disputes within the Norte Valle Cartel and represented the interests of the cartel members and associates in disputes with rival Colombian cartels; JORGE ORLANDO RODRIGUEZ-ACERO, a/k/a “El Mono Ciquenta,” a former high-ranking official with the Colombian National Police, who acted as an enforcer for the Norte Valle Cartel; and JAIRO APARICIO-LENIS, a/k/a “Don Pedro,” one of the cartel’s money launderers.
Only ARCANGEL HENAO-MONTOYA is in custody in the United States. HENAO-MONTOYA was arrested in Panama on Jan. 10, 2004, and is currently in custody in New York.
To date, law enforcement officers in the United States, Mexico and Colombia have seized more than 48,000 pounds of cocaine from the Norte Valle Cartel.
The RICO indictment unsealed today was the result of a joint investigation by the Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section of the Criminal Division and three United States Attorneys’ Offices – the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of New York, and the Southern District of Florida. In addition, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Internal Revenue Service, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement worked cooperatively with law enforcement in Colombia and in the United States to achieve the results announced today.
“This case further reinforces our message to all drug dealers: regardless of where you are, we will find you, prosecute you, and punish you,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft. “The Norte Valle Cartel was as deadly as it was dangerous. For years they have dumped drugs into this country and ruined lives. Now, with today's announcement, we have these defendants running for their lives."
“Today, we have ripped out the foundation of the largest and most powerful drug cartel in Colombia,” said DEA Administrator Karen Tandy. “We have indicted the ringleaders of a criminal organization responsible for bringing into the United States one-third to one-half of the cocaine that reaches our shores. The combined efforts of Colombia and U.S. law enforcement have put these traffickers on notice: like the Medellin and Cali cartels before them, their time is running out.”
FBI Director Robert Mueller said, “The indictments unsealed today are the result of an extensive international investigation, and show what can be accomplished when the FBI, DEA, IRS, ICE and other partners work together, each bringing particular expertise to bear. Now, through the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program, we are bringing to bear the eyes and ears of the general public to help us locate Montoya. We are well on our way to dismantling the Norte Valle Cartel and removing the threat it presents to our national security.”
Michael J. Garcia, Department of Homeland Security Secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), stated, “Today’s announcement clearly demonstrates the value of following the money trail in criminal investigations. ICE’s involvement dates back to 1997, when agents from New York raided three money remitting stores in Queens. Evidence from those raids seven years ago ultimately led to three of the major cartel players charged today. Protecting U.S. financial systems against exploitation by criminal organizations and other groups is a critical mission of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security.”
Mark Everson, Internal Revenue Service Commissioner, said, “IRS Criminal Investigation plays a unique role in federal law enforcement’s counter-drug effort; we target the money associated with the criminal organizations. The combined skills of numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies produce a formidable force in the war on drugs, and we are pleased that IRS Criminal Investigation is part of this effort.”
If convicted, all the charged defendants face a maximum sentence of 40 years imprisonment on the two RICO charges. In addition, all of the charged defendants face an additional maximum sentence of up to life imprisonment on the cocaine importation and distribution charges.
LUIS HERNANDO GOMEZ BUSTAMANTE and ARCANGEL HENAO-MONTOYA also have been charged in the Eastern District of New York in a 25-count superseding indictment unsealed today. The defendants are charged with participating in an international drug trafficking conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy, and with substantive counts of cocaine importation, possession and distribution and money laundering. BUSTAMANTE also is charged with engaging in a Continuing Criminal Enterprise. Charges against HENAO were unsealed in January, when he was expelled from Panama to New York after his arrest in Panama on January 10, 2004. BUSTAMANTE is a fugitive.
In addition, WILMER VARELA has been charged in the Eastern District of New York in a six-count indictment, unsealed today, with participating in a drug trafficking conspiracy and an international drug trafficking conspiracy and with substantive counts of drug trafficking. The charges arise out of an investigation into the drug trafficking activities of the Norte Valle Cartel in the New York and Miami areas.
Charges in the Southern District of Florida unsealed today include an indictment filed in March, 2004, against GABRIEL PUERTA-PARRA, charging him with conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute. In addition, the Southern District of Florida unsealed an eight-count indictment charging DIEGO MONTOYA with conspiracy to import cocaine, conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute, conspiracy to launder drug proceeds, and five substantive counts of money laundering.
Finally, an indictment unsealed today in the Southern District of New York today charged DIEGO MONTOYA with conspiracy to commit narcotics trafficking and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
The charges contained in the RICO indictment and the other indictments are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty