Leader of Norte Valle Colombian Drug Cartel Extradited to United States
WASHINGTON – Luis Hernando Gomez Bustamante, also known as “Rasguno,” one of the leaders of the Norte Valle Colombian Drug Cartel, has been extradited from Colombia to the United States to face charges in the Eastern District of New York of running a continuing criminal enterprise and importing into the United States and distributing more than 150 kilograms of cocaine, the Department of Justice announced today.
Gomez-Bustamante also faces racketeering charges in a multi-district indictment pending in Washington, D.C., resulting from an investigation conducted by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York, the Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Section of the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Gomez-Bustamante arrived in New York last night, in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Unit aircraft, accompanied by special agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). His arraignment is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. today at the federal court in Central Islip, N.Y., before U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert of the Eastern District of New York.
Gomez-Bustamante had been a fugitive since Oct. 10, 2002, the date on which he was first indicted in the Eastern District of New York. Shortly after his indictment, the State Department offered an award of up to $5 million for information leading to Bustamante’s apprehension. On July 2, 2004, Cuban law enforcement officials detained Bustamante after he attempted to enter that country on a false Mexican passport. He remained in Cuban custody until Feb. 8, 2007, when he was deported from Cuba to his native Colombia. On July 13, 2007, the Colombian government granted the U.S. request to extradite Bustamante to face the charges filed against him in the Eastern District of New York and in Washington, D.C.
According to the indictments previously filed in the Eastern District of New York and the racketeering indictment filed in Washington, D.C., Gomez-Bustamante worked with several Colombian drug transportation specialists and sent multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Colombia and other locations in South America to the Valle del Cauca region. The cartel used trucks and airplanes to transport the cocaine to the Pacific Coast port city of Buenaventura, and from there, used Mexican transportation groups to ship the cocaine to Mexico via speed boats, fishing vessels, and other maritime conveyances, for ultimate delivery to the United States. The indictment alleges that, between 1990 and the present, the Norte Valle Cartel exported more than 1.2 million pounds – or 500 metric tons – of cocaine, worth in excess of $10 billion, from Colombia to the United States. The cartel members allegedly employed violence and brutality to further the organization’s goals, including the murder of rivals, individuals who failed to pay for cocaine, and associates who were suspected to be working as informants for law enforcement. As alleged in Gomez-Bustamante’s indictment, the cartel members relied on the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), a terrorist paramilitary organization, to protect the cartel’s drug routes, its drug laboratories, and its members and associates. The AUC is one of 42 foreign terrorist organizations listed by the U.S. State Department.
Ten additional leaders and high-ranking members of the Norte Valle Cartel have been prosecuted in the Eastern District of New York in recent years, four of whom have been convicted on felony narcotics offenses and are awaiting sentence.
“Gomez-Bustamante’s extradition is a blow to the leaders of international drug cartels who once thought they could never face justice in the United States,” said Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. “The cooperation of the Colombian government in extraditing alleged drug lords and the tireless work of U.S. prosecutors and federal agents in pursuing cases against them has helped in our efforts to target the Norte Valle and other cartels, and to cut off the flow of illegal drugs from Colombia to the United States.”
“Gomez-Bustamante is the ‘Pablo Escobar’ of his generation – a violent and ruthless drug trafficker whose organization flooded our streets with cocaine,” stated U.S. Attorney Roslynn R. Mauskopf of the Eastern District of New York. “The prosecution of the leaders of his cartel, culminating in the defendant’s extradition, has brought low one of the largest drug organizations in the world. This long-term investigation and resulting prosecutions demonstrate our ongoing commitment to bring international drug traffickers to justice.” Ms. Mauskopf thanked the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the El Dorado Task Force, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Colombian government for its assistance in this case.
“Gomez-Bustamante was a top member of an organization that controlled roughly 50 percent of the cocaine shipped to the United States in the 1990s and was responsible for countless murders and a reign of terror extending from Colombia to the United States,” said Julie Myers, Homeland Security Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. “ICE agents in the United States and our Attaché in Colombia worked hand-in-glove with Colombian law enforcement officials, our partners in the DEA and the Justice Department to bring Gomez to justice.”
“Global criminal organizations that flood American streets with deadly contraband spread violence in our neighborhoods and around the globe. They exploit U.S. financial systems to cleanse their dirty money and violate U.S. borders with their smuggling enterprises,” said New York ICE Special Agent-in-Charge Peter Smith. “This clearly represents a threat to America’s homeland and his arrest and extradition to the U.S. reflect a great triumph and extraordinary teamwork with our domestic and international law enforcement partners.”
Gomez-Bustamante’s arrest and extradition to the Eastern District of New York are the result of a lengthy investigation beginning in the mid-1990s that was conducted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, the El Dorado Task Force, an ICE-led anti-money laundering task force in New York City, ICE agents in Colombia, and Colombian law enforcement authorities, with the assistance of the Drug Enforcement Administration and Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigations. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of Florida also assisted in the investigation, and the Office of International Affairs of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division helped facilitate the extradition of Gomez-Bustamante.
In the mid-1990s, the El Dorado Task Force began investigating storefront money remitter businesses in Queens, N.Y. Three of those transmitting businesses were owned by Juan Albeiro Monsalve, who was the cartel’s principal drug distributor in the New York area and was directly responsible for distributing thousands of kilograms of cocaine into New York City, laundering more than $70 million, and ordering multiple homicides. Monsalve pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of New York to drug trafficking and murder, and on May 3, 2002, was sentenced to a term of life imprisonment. The investigation of Monsalve and related cases revealed the structure of the Norte Valle Cartel and ultimately led to the indictment of Bustamante in the Eastern District of New York.
The charges announced today are merely allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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