One of the world’s most dangerous drug lords faces sentencing in New York Tuesday to at least 20 years in a U.S. prison.
Dairo Antonio Úsuga, also known as Otoniel, was the elusive boss of Colombia’s notorious Gulf Clan group, a cartel and paramilitary group that used deadly force to keep control over much of northern Colombia. He was Colombia’s most wanted kingpin before he was arrested in 2021.
Úsuga, 51, faces up to 45 years behind bars after the U.S. agreed not to seek a life sentence in order to get him extradited from Colombia.
He pleaded guilty in January to high-level drug trafficking charges, admitting he oversaw the smuggling of tons of U.S.-bound cocaine and acknowledging “there was a lot of violence with the guerillas and the criminal gangs.”
Prosecutors argued his “desire for control and revenge simply cannot be overstated, nor can the degree of harm he inflicted,” according to a court filing. They also described his cartel leadership as a “reign of terror.”
“In military work, homicides were committed,” Úsuga said, through a court interpreter, when pleading guilty.
Úsuga ordered killings of perceived enemies, including one who was tortured, buried alive and beheaded. He also terrorized the public at large, prosecutors say, and offered bounties for the lives of police and soldiers.
“The damage that this man named Otoniel has caused to our family is unfathomable,” relatives of slain police officer Milton Eliecer Flores Arcila wrote to the court.
Úsuga “took away the chance I had of growing old with the love of my life,” said the widow of Officer John Gelber Rojas Colmenares, who was killed in 2017.
“All I am asking for is justice for my daughter, for myself, for John’s family, for his friends and in honor of my husband, that his death not go unpunished,” she wrote. All the relatives’ names were redacted in court filings.
Úsuga’s lawyers have argued he has a number of medical problems and have cast him as a product of an unfavorable Colombian environment, where he was born into poverty, surrounded by guerilla warfare and recruited into it at age 16.
His attorneys filed a report in court in July with testimony from social worker Melissa Lang, who wrote understanding his crimes “requires a closer evaluation of the history of violence and trauma that shaped Colombia as a nation and Mr. Úsuga-David as a human being.”
Úsuga had been under indictment in the U.S. since 2009, prior to his arrest.
The Gulf Clan, also known as the Gaitanist Self Defense Forces of Colombia, controls an area rich with smuggling routes for drugs, weapons and migrants. They have military-grade weapons and thousands of members.
It is largely financed by imposing “taxes” on cocaine produced, stored or transported through its territory.
Úsuga, per his plea deal, agreed to forfeit $216 million from these funds.
Prosecutors said after Úsuga’s arrest, Gulf Clan members attempted a cyanide poisoning of a potential witness against him and tried to kill their lawyer.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.