Norte Valle Cartel Kingpin and Former FBI Top Ten Fugitive Diego Montoya Sanchez Sentenced to 45 Years for Cocaine Trafficking, Murder, and Racketeeri

Jeffrey H. Sloman, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and John V. Gillies, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Miami Field Division, announced that one-time Norte Valle Cartel kingpin and former FBI Top Ten fugitive Diego Montoya Sanchez, a/k/a “Don Diego,” was sentenced today to a 45-year term of imprisonment by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga. Today’s sentencing follows Montoya Sanchez’s guilty plea on August 11, 2009, to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States, in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Section 963; and obstruction of justice by murder, in violation of Title 18,United States Code, Sections 1503 and 1111.

At the time of his August guilty plea, Montoya Sanchez also entered a guilty plea before Judge Altonaga in a separate case from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that was transferred to Miami for a consolidated guilty plea. In that case, which was jointly investigated and prosecuted by the U.S. Department of Justice Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section and the Southern District of New York, Montoya Sanchez pled guilty to conspiring to participate in conducting the affairs of an enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1962(d). Judge Altonaga also sentenced Montoya Sanchez to a 45-year term of imprisonment in that case, to run concurrent to the 45-year sentence for his cocaine trafficking and murder conviction.

Today’s sentencing culminates a decade-long effort to bring Montoya Sanchez to justice, an effort that has 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 from Colombia to the United States.

According to the statement of facts submitted to the Court at the time of Montoya Sanchez’s guilty plea, 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.

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.

Diego Montoya Sanchez is the fourth Montoya family member to be extradited in this case. All four defendants have been convicted. On January 23, 2009, the defendant’s brother, Eugenio Montoya Sanchez, who had been extradited in June 2008, pled guilty to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and obstruction of justice by murder. On April 28, 2009, he was sentenced to a 30-year term of imprisonment. In 2005, another brother, Juan Carlos Montoya Sanchez, and a cousin, Carlos Felipe Toro Sanchez, were extradited to South Florida. In November 2005, both pled guilty to conspiring to import cocaine into the United States and in February 2006 were sentenced to terms of imprisonment of 21 and 19 years, respectively.

Three additional co-defendants in the case were apprehended in Colombia in 2008 as part of this case. Gildardo Rodriguez Herrera, a/k/a “Camisa Roja,” a/k/a “Camisa,” a/k/a “El Señor de la Camisa,” a/k/a “Urley Mena Rosales,” was captured on May 17, 2008 and was extradited to Miami on September 19, 2009. His case is pending before Judge Altonaga. Jorge Ivan Urdinola Perea, a/k/a “Iguana,” a/k/a “Raul,” a/k/a “Don Raul,” was captured on June 25, 2008, and Oscar Varela Garcia, a/k/a “Omar Garcia Varela,” a/k/a “Capachivo,” was captured on July 5, 2008. Urdinola Perea and Varela Garcia both are in custody in Colombia, pending proceedings for their extraditions to the United States.

Acting U.S. Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman stated, “Today’s 45-year sentence closes another successful chapter on our continued war on drugs. This milestone prosecution effectively dismantled the violent and prolific Norte Valle Cartel. Nonetheless, we in law enforcement understand full well that today’s victory is not the end of the war on drugs. We remain poised and committed to continue to fight the flow of illegal narcotics into our communities.”

Special Agent in Charge John V. Gillies stated, “With the sentencing of Diego Montoya Sanchez, a former FBI Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitive, a brutal chapter in the history of drug trafficking has come to an end. Unprecedented cooperation between Colombia and the United States was instrumental to the success of this case and led to the dismantlement of the Norte Valle Cartel. The FBI will continue to team with our foreign and domestic counterparts to eliminate international organized crime threats.”

Mr. Sloman commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In addition, Mr. Sloman thanked the Government of Colombia, the Colombian National Police, and the Colombian Army. Mr. Sloman also thanked the Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, the Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Section, and the Southern District of New York for their assistance. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Davis.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

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