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Friday, October 17, 2008
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Leader of Colombian Drug Cartel Pleads Guilty to Racketeering Charges

WASHINGTON – Luis Hernando Gomez-Bustamante, a/k/a "Rasguno," one of the leaders of the Norte Valle Colombian Drug Cartel, pleaded guilty today to charges of leading a racketeering enterprise that engaged in murder, narcotics trafficking, money laundering and bribery, Acting Assistant Attorney General Matthew Friedrich of the Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia for the Southern District of New York and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Acting Administrator Michele Leonhart announced. Gomez-Bustamante was charged in a superseding indictment on April 29, 2004.

Gomez-Bustamante entered the plea today before Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Gomez-Bustamante pleaded guilty to the first count of the superseding indictment, which charged him with engaging in a pattern of racketeering activity through his leadership of the Norte Valle Cartel. In his plea, Gomez-Bustamante admitted that he conspired with others to manufacture or distribute more than 10,000 kilograms of cocaine with knowledge or intent that it would be imported into the United States. He further admitted to a leadership role in the Norte Valle Cartel, a criminal organization that, between 1990 and at least the date of the superseding indictment, was responsible for exporting more than 500,000 kilograms of cocaine, worth more than $10 billion, from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately to the United States.

Gomez-Bustamante’s sentencing date has not yet been scheduled. As part of the extradition request, the United States has provided assurances to the government of Colombia that it will not seek a life sentence for the defendant, but instead will ask for a prison term of years.

Prior to his arrest and extradition, Gomez-Bustamante had been a fugitive since Oct. 10, 2002, when he was indicted on separate charges in the Eastern District of New York. Shortly after his indictment, the U.S. State Department offered a reward of up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest. On July 2, 2004, Cuban law enforcement officials detained Gomez-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 Gomez-Bustamante to face the charges filed against him in the Eastern District of New York and in the District of Columbia.

According to the indictments previously filed in the Eastern District of New York and the District of Columbia, 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 of Colombia. The indictments allege the cartel used trucks and airplanes to transport the cocaine to the port city of Buenaventura, Colombia, and from there used Mexican transportation groups to ship the cocaine to Mexico via speed boats, fishing vessels and other sea transportation for ultimate delivery to the United States. The cartel members allegedly used 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 the District of Columbia superseding 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 a State Department-designated foreign terrorist organization. On June 26, 2008, Gomez-Bustamante pleaded guilty in federal court in the Eastern District of New York to the international drug trafficking conspiracy charges. In connection with the charges in that case, he faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The District of Columbia indictment was the result of a multi-district investigation led by the DEA and the International Narcotics Trafficking Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, with the assistance of the Department of Justice Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS). The extradition of the defendant was achieved with the assistance of attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs and Judicial Attaches in the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia, who are also part of the NDDS.