LOS ANGELES – The lead defendant in an indictment targeting an international drug trafficking organization was sentenced today to 180 months in federal prison for conspiring to smuggle tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine by aircraft from Colombia to Mexico for distribution in the United States via the maintenance of secret airstrips and the bribery of air traffic controllers.
Jaison Dávila Amador, 57, a.k.a. “Costeño” and “María Angélica,” of Bogotá, Colombia, was sentenced by United States District Judge George H. Wu.
Dávila pleaded guilty on April 20 to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine for the purpose of unlawful importation. Dávila has been in federal custody since September 2021 after his extradition from Colombia.
Dávila participated in the cocaine trafficking conspiracy from at least 2017 through May 2019. Dávila and his accomplices carried out their plan by maintaining clandestine airstrips in Colombia where aircraft from Mexico would land to retrieve bulk quantities of cocaine. To facilitate the scheme, members of the conspiracy bribed air traffic controllers and law enforcement officials to ensure the flights from Mexico could enter Colombian airspace undisturbed.
The conspiracy involved at least two cocaine shipments by aircraft. The first flight successfully departed Colombia in the spring of 2017 with approximately 480 kilograms (1,058 pounds) of cocaine, though the airplane crashed in Central America, killing the pilots on board.
On November 5, 2017, an aircraft bound from Mexico entered Colombian airspace for the purpose of receiving a second cocaine shipment, but it was intercepted and forced down by the Colombian air force and then destroyed it with machine gun fire. Near a clandestine airstrip and near the airplane’s wreckage, law enforcement found approximately 515 kilograms (1,135 pounds) of cocaine, which Dávila and his co-conspirators intended to traffic by aircraft. Investigators estimate that the two cocaine shipments, if sold in the United States, would have been valued collectively at nearly $30 million.
Dávila coordinated various aspects of the conspiracy, including bribe payments to air traffic controllers, financing for the cocaine shipment, and logistical support for the aircraft that would transport the cocaine from Colombia to Mexico.
“[Dávila] was the ringleader, the principal organizer of the criminal venture,” prosecutors argued in a sentencing memorandum. “He called the shots, he directed the bribe payments, and, even after two pilots died, he pushed forward with another enormous drug shipment. Such a role speaks not only to the seriousness of [Dávila’s] conduct, but his experience. One does not accidentally find oneself leading a transnational criminal organization.”
All 13 defendants arrested and extradited to the United States in this case have pleaded guilty to participating in the international drug trafficking conspiracy.
The investigation into this drug trafficking organization was conducted by special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration, which received substantial assistance from the Colombia National Police’s Dirección de Investigación Criminal e Interpol (DIJIN) and Colombia’s Fiscalía General de La Nación. This investigation was conducted with the support of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in securing the defendants’ extradition from Colombia and Canada.
Assistant United States Attorneys Alexander B. Schwab of the Corporate and Securities Fraud Strike Force, Chelsea Norell of the Violent and Organized Crime Section, and Elia Herrera of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section are prosecuting this case.