Norte Valle Cartel Kingpin Heads to Prison For 45 Years

A U.S. district judge sentenced the Colombian drug kingpin and former FBI top ten fugitive Diego Montoya Sanchez to a 45-year prison term. Montoya Sanchez, whose alias was "Don Diego," had entered a guilty plea to murder and cocaine trafficking.

A U.S. district judge sentenced one-time Norte Valle Cartel kingpin and former FBI top ten fugitive Diego Montoya Sanchez to a 45-year prison term, the bureau's Miami office has announced.

Montoya Sanchez, whose alias was "Don Diego," entered a guilty plea on Aug. 11 to murder and cocaine trafficking.

"Today's 45-year sentence closes another successful chapter on our continued war on drugs," said Jeffrey Sloman, acting U.S. attorney. "This milestone prosecution effectively dismantled the violent and prolific Norte Valle Cartel."

The decade-long investigation included the prosecution and convictions of his two brothers and one cousin. This prosecution arises out Operation Resurrection, an FBI investigation initiated in the late 1990s that targeted leaders of Colombia's Norte Valle Cartel.

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 to the U.S. from Colombia.

According to the statement of facts submitted to the court, 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.

As part of his guilty plea, Montoya Sanchez admitted that his organization's practices included using violence and murder against people his organization feared were cooperating with law enforcement. 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.

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