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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, July 20, 2015

Colombian Narcotics Trafficker Sentenced In Manhattan Federal Court To 25 Years In Prison For Conspiring With West African Military Officials To Engage In Narco-Terrorism

Defendant Also Conspired to Provide Material Support to the FARC and to Acquire and Transfer Anti-Aircraft Missiles

            Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that RAFAEL ANTONIO GARAVITO-GARCIA was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his participation in a conspiracy to engage in narco-terrorism (Count One), a conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, knowing or intending that the cocaine would be imported into the United States (Count Two), a conspiracy to provide material support and resources to the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia (the “FARC”) (Count Three), and a conspiracy to acquire and transfer anti-aircraft missiles (Count Four).  Garavito was arrested in April 2013, following a long-term investigation conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (“DEA”) Special Operations Division, and arrived in the Southern District of New York on July 22, 2014.  On March 26, 2015, Garavito was convicted on all four counts with which he was charged following an eight-day trial before U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who imposed sentence.  GARAVITO-GARCIA’s conviction marked the first time in the District that a defendant had been convicted at trial of conspiring to engage in narco-terrorism.

            Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:  “Rafael Antonio Garavito-Garcia was at the hub of a narco-terrorism conspiracy that targeted the United States.  His aims were to import massive quantities of cocaine into the U.S., while at the same time arming the FARC with sophisticated weaponry to be used against U.S. forces in Colombia.  I want to thank our partners at the National Security Division and the DEA for their excellent work in this investigation and prosecution.”

            According to court documents and the evidence presented at trial:   

            Beginning in the summer of 2012, GARAVITO-GARCIA communicated with confidential sources (the “CSs”) working with the DEA who purported to be representatives and/or associates of the FARC.  The communications occurred by telephone, over e-mail, and in a series of audio-recorded and videotaped meetings.  Following initial recorded meetings in Brazil, GARAVITO-GARCIA accompanied the CSs to Guinea Bissau, where he introduced them to two local men, whom he indicated were his associates in that country.  GARAVITO-GARCIA later introduced the CSs to a Colombian man, whom GARAVITO-GARCIA identified as his drug trafficking partner.

             During meetings in Guinea-Bissau beginning in June 2012, and continuing through November 2012, GARAVITO-GARCIA agreed to receive and store multi-ton shipments of FARC-owned cocaine in Guinea-Bissau.  He agreed, in particular, to receive the cocaine in Guinea-Bissau and to store the cocaine there pending the eventual shipment of some of the cocaine to the United States, where it would be sold for the financial benefit of the FARC.  GARAVITO-GARCIA also agreed to sell some of the cocaine himself, and to provide the FARC with some of the proceeds of his drug sales.  Also during those meetings, GARAVITO-GARCIA and his associates agreed to help arrange to purchase weapons for the FARC, including surface-to-air missiles, by importing them into Guinea-Bissau for the nominal use of the Guinea-Bissau military.

             For example, on June 30, 2012, during a recorded meeting in Guinea Bissau with the CSs, GARAVITO-GARCIA and his Guinea Bissau-based associates agreed to assist in the distribution of FARC cocaine by facilitating the shipment of cocaine to Guinea Bissau inside loads of military uniforms.  They also agreed to establish a front company in Guinea Bissau to facilitate the export of cocaine from Guinea Bissau to the United States.  On July 2, 2012, GARAVITO-GARCIA introduced the CSs to General Antonio Indjai,[1] who was then head of the Guinea-Bissau Armed Forces, and helped win Indjai’s support for the drug and weapons deal.  During another recorded meeting in Guinea Bissau the following day, GARAVITO-GARCIA met with the CSs and a Guinea Bissau military representative and discussed the benefits of using Guinea Bissau as a transshipment point for cocaine obtained in South America and destined for the United States.  GARAVITO-GARCIA also discussed with the others the process for offloading the cocaine once it arrived in Guinea Bissau, and the nature of the weapons to be supplied to the FARC to combat American forces in Colombia, including surface-to-air missiles and AK-47 assault rifles.

            Thereafter, on August 31, 2012, during a recorded meeting in Bogota, Colombia, GARAVITO-GARCIA and his Colombian partner agreed to facilitate the receipt of approximately 4,000 kilograms of cocaine from the FARC in Guinea Bissau, with the understanding that approximately 500 kilograms of that cocaine would later be sent to customers in the United States and Canada.  During a recorded meeting in Guinea Bissau on November 13, 2012, GARAVITO-GARCIA explained to a Guinea Bissau military official that the FARC needed anti-aircraft missiles to be used against United States helicopters operating in Colombia.  The military official then advised one of the CSs that the weapons transaction could be executed once the FARC brought money to Guinea Bissau.

            GARAVITO-GARCIA was arrested in Bogota, Colombia, on April 5, 2013.

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            In addition to the term of imprisonment, GARAVITO-GARCIA, 70, was sentenced to five years of supervised release.

            The conviction was the result of the close cooperative efforts of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, DEA’s Special Operations Division and DEA’s Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team, the DEA Lisbon Country Office, the DEA Bogota Country Office, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs and National Security Division, and the U.S. State Department.

            This prosecution is being handled by the Office’s Terrorism and International Narcotics Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Aimee Hector, Shane Stansbury, and Ilan Graff are in charge of the prosecution.


[1] In April 2013, an indictment was unsealed charging Indjai with conspiracy to commit narco-terrorism, conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States, conspiracy to provide material support to the FARC, and conspiracy to acquire and transfer anti-aircraft missiles.  Indjai is currently a charged defendant located outside the arrest jurisdiction of the United States.  The charges against Indjai are merely accusations and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty

Press Release Number: 
15-185
Updated July 20, 2015