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Colombia's most-wanted criminal sentenced to 45 years in U.S. District Court

The sentencing brings a significant chapter to a close in Otoniel's criminal career, reflecting a shift from his once-dominant position as a major player in the Colombian underworld.

Narcotraficante condenado
Otoniel | Eastern District of New York Attorney Breon Peace

August 9, 2023 9:15am

Updated: August 9, 2023 9:16am

In a significant legal development, Dairo Antonio Úsuga, famously known as "Otoniel," once at the helm of Colombia's most powerful criminal organization, has been sentenced to 45 years in a US court, by Judge Dora Irizarry in the Eastern District of New York, Brooklyn. The former drug lord, who pleaded guilty in January to charges of running a criminal enterprise and drug smuggling, expressed remorse for his actions during his sentencing on Tuesday.

Otoniel considered one of the world's most dangerous and wanted criminals, was found guilty of drug trafficking, having introduced multiple tons of narcotics into the United States. The sentencing took place on Tuesday, concluding a case that has captivated global attention. 

Otoniel, aged 51, who admitted to smuggling nearly 97 tons of cocaine from Mexico and Central America into the U.S., has been described by authorities as a "narco-terrorist" comparable to Pablo Escobar, the former leader of the Medellin Cartel, both in terms of his power and the violence with which he wielded it.

Otoniel is the leader of the violent criminal organization known as the Clan del Golfo. His declaration of guilt came in January, following his extradition from Colombia in May 2022. His initial reluctance to admit wrongdoing shifted as he sought potential penitentiary benefits.

Throughout the proceedings, Otoniel's defense team sought a more lenient 25-year sentence. They cited examples of other drug traffickers receiving lighter sentences after refusing to cooperate with the authorities. However, Judge Irizarry dismissed these arguments, highlighting the unprecedented severity of Otoniel's case.

Judge Irizarry, while acknowledging that this case involved substantial drug quantities, delivered the sentencing, noting that the Clan del Golfo's violence had deeply impacted the United States. The criminal organization's actions resulted in numerous casualties, with innocent lives, including children and young individuals, tragically affected.

In a courtroom statement, the 51-year-old conveyed his apologies to both the United States and Colombian governments, along with the victims who suffered due to his criminal activities. His acknowledgment of responsibility and apology were offered as part of the legal proceedings.

Otoniel opted to plead guilty to charges of continued criminal enterprise, conspiring to import drugs, and maritime drug trafficking earlier this year. This strategic move aimed to avoid a prolonged and costly trial. Despite his plea, prosecutors still sought the 45-year prison term, which Judge Irizarry upheld.

As the sentencing concluded, Otoniel's legal team requested the judge to relax confinement conditions, as they claimed he had been isolated from them for several months. Judge Irizarry indicated that this issue would be addressed separately.

Beyond this verdict, Otoniel faces additional legal challenges in Colombia, stemming from his involvement with the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary group. These charges encompass offenses such as murder, terrorism, child recruitment, kidnapping, and sexual crimes.

Otoniel has conveyed his willingness to cooperate with Colombian authorities in an effort to reveal the truth about the country's armed conflict and contribute to "national healing".

Otoniel's final words took a political tone, as he urged the United States government to support ongoing peace processes in Colombia involving several guerrilla groups linked to cocaine trafficking.