Dario Antonio Úsuga David, also known as “Otoniel,” was born into a humble peasant family in Necoclí, Colombia, on September 15, 1971.
He joined the Popular Liberation Army (EPL) at the age of 18, a guerrilla group focused on defending poor peasants against landowners and the government. After the EPL made peace with the government, Úsuga joined the United Self-Defenses of Colombia (AUC), a paramilitary and drug trafficking group.
In 2005, Úsuga started working for Daniel Rendón Herrera, the then-leader of the Los Urabeños drug trafficking group. Alongside his brother Giovanni, he took control of Los Urabeños in 2009. After Giovanni’s death, Otoniel became the sole leader.
He gained notoriety, being compared to Pablo Escobar due to his violent and influential role in the Gulf Clan, the successor of Los Urabeños.
Colombian authorities pursued Úsuga since 2011. The US Department of State offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. In 2021, Colombian authorities intensified their search due to increased cocaine production.
In October 2021, Colombian intelligence pinpointed Úsuga’s location near the Panamanian border. His kidney disease medication tracking led to his hideout. A military operation, codenamed El Blanco, captured him. He was found in a remote mountainous area. At the time, he was Colombia’s most wanted drug lord, and his capture was a significant victory.
In early 2022, Úsuga testified to the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), but suspicions of escape planning arose. He was extradited to the United States in May 2022. In January 2023, he pleaded guilty in New York, facing extensive prison time for his leadership in violent cartels and paramilitary groups.
Úsuga was sentenced to 45 years in prison in August 2023. US District Judge Dora Irizarry praised his capture and stated he had trafficked large cocaine quantities into the US. He was fined $216 million. US Attorney General Merrick Garland emphasized Úsuga’s reckless orders that affected police, soldiers, and civilians. Additionally, he faces charges in southern Florida for conspiracy to transport cocaine by land and sea.
Here are some key details about the sentencing:
Otoniel was sentenced to 45 years each for participating in a maritime narcotics conspiracy and a narcotics importation conspiracy.
These sentences will be served concurrently. He was also ordered to forfeit $216 million.
Otoniel pleaded guilty to all three charges in January 2023. The Clan del Golfo is one of the most powerful and violent criminal organizations in Colombia, and it is one of the world’s largest distributors of cocaine.
Otoniel was a significant leader within the Clan del Golfo for approximately a decade, and he employed a strategy of deploying “sicarios,” or hitmen, to enforce control over the cartel’s territory.
Otoniel was captured in Colombia in October 2021 and extradited to the United States.
He took the opportunity to address the court, expressing his acknowledgment of responsibility for the crimes he committed and extending apologies to the victims’ relatives, parents, and both the US and Colombian governments for the damage caused.
Former Colombian President Iván Duque responded to the sentencing on a social media platform, drawing a parallel between Otoniel and the notorious drug trafficker Pablo Escobar. Duque expressed satisfaction with the verdict, emphasizing the pain Otoniel had inflicted on the country.
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