Top Colombian drug lord pleads guilty in Brooklyn court to running brutal cartel

NEW YORK — A Colombian drug lord who had a military force of thousands under his command has pleaded guilty in a Brooklyn courtroom to running a criminal enterprise and will see at least 20 years behind bars.

Dairo Antonio Usuga David, 51, led Clan del Golfo from 2012 until his arrest by the Colombian authorities in October 2021. The international criminal organization sent cocaine by the ton from Colombia to the U.S. through Mexico and Panama, the feds said.

On Wednesday, Usuga David entered a guilty plea before Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Dora Irizarry. The court covers indictments in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Florida.

Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Breon Peace described Usuga David as “the most violent and significant Colombian narcotics trafficker since Pablo Escobar.”

Usuga David, who also went by the name “Otoniel,” led a 6000-member militarized cartel that controls vast swaths of territory in the Urabá region of Antioquia, Colombia.

He ruled with a draconian hand and ordered his minions to murder dozens of rivals, police and perceived informants, prosecutors said.

After a 2012 poice raid killed his brother, he ordered his cartel’s forces to shut down the towns under his control. All businesses were forced to close and all residents told to stay in their homes for several days. He told the cartel members to execute anyone they found out violating his curfew.

He commanded a cruel fate for one minion, who leaked information to a rival. The turncoat was tortured, buried alive, exhumed and beheaded post-mortem, prosecutors said.

He sent out teams to kill Colombian law enforcement and military personnel with grenades, explosives and assault rifles, and offered bounties for the murder of police officers and members of the military.

As part of his plea agreement, Usuga David agreed to turn over $216 million.

He faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years behind bars. Under the terms of his extradition from Colombia, federal prosecutors have agreed not to seek a life sentence, though there’s no limit on how many years he can receive when he’s sentenced.

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