Diego Montoya Sanchez, one of the leaders of the Norte Valle Colombian drug cartel and a former FBI top ten fugitive, has pleaded guilty to drug trafficking, murder and racketeering charges, the Justice Department announced.
Montoya Sanchez, 48, appeared before U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga in Miami on Tuesday, where he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to import more than five kilograms of cocaine into the U.S. and one count of obstruction of justice by murder.
In the second case, Montoya Sanchez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to engage in a pattern of racketeering activity.
"The prosecution of Montoya Sanchez is a milestone in the efforts to dismantle the Norte Valle Cartel, one of the world's most powerful and dangerous drug-trafficking cartels," said Lev Dassin, acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. "Montoya Sanchez's arrest and extradition marked the end of his long campaign of violence and corruption. We are grateful to our partners at the DEA and in the Colombian government for their tireless work in this investigation."
Following the decline of the Cali Cartel in the mid-1990s, the Norte Valle Cartel emerged to become Colombia's most prolific cocaine trafficking cartel. Based upon FBI estimates, at its peak the Norte Valle Cartel was responsible for 60 percent of the cocaine exported from Colombia to the United States. According to the SDNY/NDDS indictment, between 1990 and 2004, the Norte Valle Cartel exported more than 1.2 million pounds, or 500 metric tons, of cocaine worth more than $10 billion.
According to the statement of facts submitted in conjunction with today's hearing, Montoya Sanchez was a high-level Colombian drug trafficker for more than two decades. In the mid-1980s, Montoya Sanchez ran cocaine laboratories that served many significant traffickers. In the late 1980s, Montoya Sanchez expanded his organization's operations into smuggling plane loads of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico.
According to the statement of facts, by the early 1990s, Montoya Sanchez had switched to maritime smuggling. During the course of the next 15 years, Montoya Sanchez's organization routinely smuggled cocaine loads between 1,000 and 6,000 kilos at a time using go-fast boats and fishing boats, among other methods.
By the late 1990s, Montoya Sanchez and Wilber Varela emerged to become the Norte Valle Cartel's two leading kingpins. Mounting tensions between the Montoya and Varela organizations led to a two-year war between the organizations in which each targeted the other's members for murder. The Montoya-Varela war, which lasted from fall 2003 until fall 2005, resulted in hundreds of deaths, including those of innocent civilians.
Montoya Sanchez specifically admitted to the August 2003 murder of a one-time organization member who was believed to have been cooperating with authorities.
In May 2004, the FBI added Montoya Sanchez to its list of ten most wanted fugitives. On Sept. 10, 2007, Colombian authorities mounted an operation on a believed Montoya hide-out at a ranch in a rural area outside of Zarzal, Valle del Cauca, Colombia, and captured Montoya Sanchez hiding in a creek-bed approximately 700 yards from the ranch. Montoya Sanchez was extradited from Colombia to Miami on Dec. 12, 2008.