Former Leader of the Violent "Clan del Golfo" Drug Trafficking Organization Pleads Guilty to Engaging in a Continuing Criminal Enterprise and Other Related Charges
Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, known by various aliases, including “Otoniel,” pleaded guilty today to running a continuing criminal enterprise—the Colombian paramilitary and multibillion dollar drug organization known as the “Clan del Golfo” (CDG). Úsuga David also pleaded guilty to related drug distribution charges. When sentenced, Úsuga David will face a mandatory minimum term of 20 years in prison and up to life in prison. As part of the plea agreement, Úsuga David also agreed to pay a $216 million forfeiture money judgment. The proceeding was held before United States District Judge Dora L. Irizarry.
Úsuga David was charged by way of indictments filed in the Eastern District of New York, United States v. Dairo Antonio Usuga David, et al., 14-CR-625 (S-4) (E.D.N.Y.) (the “EDNY Indictment”), in the Southern District of Florida, United States v. Dairo Antonio Usuga David, 15-CR-20403 (S-1) (the “SDFL Indictment”), and in the Southern District of New York, United States v. Dairo Antonio Usuga David, 04-CR-962 (S-3) (the “SDNY Indictment”) (collectively the “Indictments”).
The EDNY Indictment charged Úsuga David with, among other things, engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise from June 2003 through October 2021. The SDFL Indictment charged Úsuga David with, among other things, maritime narcotics distribution conspiracy from 2002 through October 23, 2021. The SDNY Indictment charged Úsuga David with, among other things, narcotics importation conspiracy from 2001 through April 2009. Úsuga David was extradited from Colombia to the Eastern District of New York in May 2022.
Pursuant to a plea agreement, Úsuga David agreed to the transfer of the SDFL Indictment and the SDNY Indictment for plea and sentencing in the Eastern District of New York. Thus, Úsuga David will be held accountable in the Eastern District of New York for the criminal conduct encompassing the three Indictments.
Merrick B. Garland, United States Attorney General; Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Markenzy Lapointe, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; Damian Williams, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; Anne Milgram, Administrator, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Ivan Arvelo, Special Agent-in-Charge, Homeland Security Investigations, New York (HSI); Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI); Keechant L. Sewell, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD); and Steven A. Nigrelli, Acting Superintendent, New York State Police (NYSP), announced the guilty pleas.
“With today’s guilty plea, the bloody reign of the most violent and significant Colombian narcotics trafficker since Pablo Escobar is over. Úsuga David has now been held accountable for his leadership of the Clan del Golfo, which was responsible for trafficking tons of illegal narcotics from Colombia to the United States and incalculable acts of violence against law enforcement, military personnel, and civilians in Colombia and elsewhere,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “Today’s guilty plea is the result of the determined work of numerous law enforcement personnel in the United States, Colombia, and elsewhere. It is our hope that bringing Úsuga David to justice can provide a measure of solace to the victims of his narcotics trafficking and violence in Colombia and the United States.”
Mr. Peace extended his appreciation to the United States Attorneys’ Offices for the Middle District of Florida and Eastern District of Texas; the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs; the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS); Judicial Attachés in Bogotá, Colombia; NDDS SOD Trial Attorneys; the United States Marshals Service; the Port Authority Police Department; the President of Colombia; the Colombian Attorney General’s Office; the Colombian National Police; the Colombian Ministry of National Defense; the Colombian Ministry of Justice; and the Colombian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, for assistance in the investigation, arrest, and extradition of the defendant.
“The guilty plea of alias Otoniel is the result of exemplary international cooperation,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Markenzy Lapointe. “It also signifies years of hard work, commitment and perseverance of our Colombian and U.S. law enforcement partners to stem the flow of cocaine into the United States and to bring a major international drug trafficker to justice.”
“Today’s guilty plea sends a clear message to the leaders of drug cartels around the world that the DEA will stop at nothing to investigate and dismantle criminal drug networks that threaten the safety and health of the American people,” said Administrator Anne Milgram. “DEA investigated Otoniel—one of the most violent and prolific drug traffickers in the world—for almost 20 years. Under Otoniel’s leadership, Clan del Golfo shipped massive quantities of cocaine into the United States and killed rivals that threatened the cartels’ trafficking operations. I commend the men and women of the DEA for their many years of outstanding work that culminated in today’s guilty plea.”
“Today’s guilty plea ends Dairo Antonio Usuga David’s nearly 20-year reign of terror as a member and eventual leader of the notorious drug trafficking organization Clan del Golfo – an organization whose violent criminal activities pose a major strategic drug and national security threat to both the United States and Colombia,” said Ivan J. Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in New York. “HSI will not stand by while narco-terrorists peddle poison around the globe for their own selfish financial gains. We will continue to work with our domestic and international law enforcement partners to disrupt and dismantle these dangerous transnational criminal enterprises and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
As today's plea details, Usaga David admitted to leading a savage and violent cartel responsible for trafficking enormous amounts of illegal narcotics to the United States. The FBI along with our law enforcement partners are dedicated in our efforts to make sure ruthless actors like Usaga David are held accountable for their destructive actions in our criminal justice system,” stated Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll.
“Today’s guilty plea further affirms the New York City Police Department’s unwavering commitment to ridding our streets of illegal narcotics,” stated NYPD Commissioner Keechant L. Sewell. “Because we know this vital work is far from over, we will continue to stand united with our local, state, federal, and international law enforcement partners in the fight against violent drug traffickers, wherever they are based. To that end, I thank and commend the New York State Police, the FBI, the DEA, Homeland Security Investigations, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, and every other detective, agent, and attorney involved in this important case.”
New York State Police Acting Superintendent Steven A. Nigrelli said, “I applaud the remarkable work done by our State Police members and law enforcement partners in this case. Today’s guilty plea is proof that we will not tolerate those who bring dangerous drug activity into our communities and put the health and safety of others at risk. The State Police will continue to work with our partners to put an end to these violent enterprises to make our state a safer place.”
According to the Indictments, between June 2003 and October 2021, Úsuga David was the leader of a continuing criminal enterprise responsible for exporting multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and Central America for ultimate importation into the United States. Additionally, Úsuga David participated in conspiracies to distribute narcotics via maritime vessels and also to manufacture and distribute cocaine, knowing and intending that the narcotics would be illegally imported into the United States.
The Clan Del Golfo
Between 2012 and through his capture by Colombian military and law enforcement forces on October 23, 2021, Úsuga David was the leader of the CDG.
The CDG is one of the most violent and most powerful criminal organizations in Colombia, and it is one of the largest distributors of cocaine in the world. With as many as 6,000 members, the CDG exercises military control over vast amounts of territory in the Urabá region of Antioquia, Colombia, one of the most lucrative drug trafficking areas within Colombia due to its proximity to the Colombia-Panama border and the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. Clad in military uniforms, CDG members employ military tactics and weapons to reinforce their power and incite wars and violence against rival drug traffickers, paramilitary organizations, and Colombian law enforcement authorities who threaten the CDG’s control.
The CDG funds its operations primarily through drug trafficking. It imposes a “tax” on any drug traffickers operating in territory under its control, charging fees for every kilogram of cocaine manufactured, stored, or transported through areas controlled by the organization. The CDG also directly exports cocaine, and coordinates the production, purchase, and transfer of weekly and bi-weekly multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Colombia into Central America and Mexico for ultimate importation to the United States.
To maintain control over CDG territory, Úsuga David and the CDG employed an army of “sicarios,” or hitmen, who carried out acts of violence, including murders, assaults, kidnappings, torture, and assassinations against competitors and those deemed traitors to the organization, as well as their family members. The CDG murdered and assaulted Colombian law enforcement officers, Colombian military personnel, rival drug traffickers and paramilitaries, potential witnesses, and civilians. Úsuga David and the CDG used violence to promote and enhance the reputation, and position of the CDG with respect to rival criminal organizations; preserve, protect, and expand the CDG’s power and territory; finance the CDG’s operations and enrich its leaders through the collection of drug debts; maintain discipline among its members and associates; and protect CDG members from arrest and prosecution by attempting to silence potential witnesses and retaliating against law enforcement authorities and those assisting law enforcement.
The Defendant’s Conduct
According to court filings, Úsuga David served as a high-ranking leader within the CDG from its inception and was its principal leader for 10 years. During his reign, Úsuga David oversaw all of the CDG’s activities and directed its members to engage in extensive criminal acts, including acts of violence, mandated “strikes” or shutdowns of all business activities and civilian movement within designated regions of Colombia, retaliation against law enforcement authorities and potential witnesses, the exertion of control over drug manufacturing facilities and trafficking routes, and the exportation of cocaine in multi-ton quantities.
Úsuga David assumed power and territorial control over vast swaths of the Colombian coastline and personally directed members of the CDG to commit acts of violence to reinforce that power. This included violence against civilians. For example, in early 2012, following the death of Úsuga David’s brother, Juan de Dios Úsuga David (also known as “Giovanni”), in a police raid, Úsuga David ordered that a multi-day shutdown or “strike” be imposed on towns and communities within the CDG’s control. During the strike, CDG members ordered that all businesses remain closed, and that residents stay in their homes. For multiple days, the streets remained empty, as Úsuga David ordered CDG members to execute those who did not adhere to his orders.
Úsuga David also personally ordered CDG members to commit murders of specific individuals, including the murders of rival drug traffickers and members of the CDG who betrayed him or the organization. For example, Úsuga David ordered the assassinations of multiple individuals who worked for a rival drug trafficking organization run by Daniel Barrera Barrera. Úsuga David also ordered the torture and murder of a CDG member who provided information to Barrera’s organization. That individual was subsequently tortured, buried alive, exhumed, and beheaded post-mortem.
In addition, Úsuga David regularly directed CDG members to use violence, intimidation, and murder to dissuade law enforcement authorities from performing their duties and to silence potential witnesses. For example, at Úsuga David’s direction, the CDG carried out organized campaigns, referred to as “Plan Pistolas,” to kill Colombian law enforcement and military personnel using military-grade weapons, including grenades, explosives, and assault rifles. Úsuga David also offered bounties for the murder of Colombian police officers and military personnel to intimidate law enforcement authorities and prevent them from capturing him or interfering in the CDG’s business. Úsuga David’s organization made numerous attempts to assassinate individuals who were believed to be cooperating with law enforcement. For example, CDG members attempted to poison a witness with cyanide while he was imprisoned overseas and attempted to assassinate the witness’s attorney.
Úsuga David was also extensively involved in the narcotics activities that funded the CDG and enabled its power. He oversaw the CDG’s drug trafficking exports and directed a network of “debt collectors” tasked with the enforcement and collection of taxes paid by drug trafficking organizations that operated in regions controlled by the CDG. In addition, Úsuga David controlled cocaine manufacturing facilities and used the CDG’s extensive distribution network to export cocaine independently for his own personal profit.
As part of the plea agreement, Úsuga David agreed to pay a $216 million forfeiture money judgment. The forfeiture money judgment is subject to the Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Colombia concerning the Sharing of Forfeited Proceeds and Instrumentalities of Crime.
The investigation, extradition, and conviction of Úsuga David is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
The government’s case is being handled by the Eastern District of New York’s International Narcotics and Money Laundering Section. Assistant United States Attorneys Francisco J. Navarro, Gillian A. Kassner, and Tara B. McGrath are in charge of the prosecution with assistance from Paralegal Specialist Sophia Cronin, and Assistant United States Attorney Claire S. Kedeshian of the Office’s Asset Recovery Section is handling forfeiture matters. Assistant United States Attorney Robert Emery of the Southern District of Florida and Assistant United States Attorney Alexander Li of the Southern District of New York led the prosecutions for their respective offices.
Dairo Antonio Úsuga David (also known as “Otoniel,” “Mao,” “Gallo” and “Mauricio-Gallo”)
E.D.N.Y. Docket Nos. 14-CR-625 (S-4) (DLI)
Danielle Blustein Hass
U.S. Attorney's Office