Colombian Drug Kingpin and Paramilitary Leader Pleads Guilty to Operating a Continuing Criminal Enterprise and Conspiring to Provide Material Support to a Foreign Terrorist Organization

Earlier today, in federal court in Brooklyn, Daniel Rendon Herrera, also known as “Don Mario,” a citizen of Colombia, pleaded guilty to engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.  The proceeding took place before United States District Judge Dora L. Irizarry.  When sentenced, Rendon Herrera faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in prison and up to life imprisonment, as well as forfeiture in excess of $45 million and a fine of up to $2.25 million. 

Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; Damian Williams, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York; Matthew G. Olsen, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s National Security Division; Ray Donovan, Special Agent-in-Charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, New York Division (DEA); Rick J. Patel, Acting 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); Dermot F. Shea, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD); and Kevin P. Bruen, Superintendent, New York State Police (NYSP), announced the guilty plea.

“With today’s guilty plea, Rendon Herrera, who was once the most feared narco-terrorist in Colombia, admitted to leading one of the world’s largest and most violent drug cartels and flooding the streets of America with cocaine.  Rendon Herrera also admitted to providing material support to a designated terrorist organization that brutally killed, kidnapped, and tortured rival drug traffickers and civilians.” stated United States Attorney Peace.  “I commend the determined efforts of countless members of law enforcement, foreign and domestic, who brought the defendant to justice.”

“By his admission, Daniel Rendon Herrera was a leader of a brutal and murderous narco-terrorist organization in Colombia, and he trafficked more than 80 tons of cocaine,” stated United States Attorney Williams.  “Rendon Herrera oversaw operations of a paramilitary cartel that carried out kidnappings, torture, and murders.  Now, through the combined efforts of law enforcement officers and prosecutors, Rendon Herrera awaits sentencing for his crimes.”

“Don Mario’s guilty plea has left footprints for other drug kingpins to follow,” stated DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Donovan.  “This notorious founder and leader of Clan Usaga is facing the consequences of his billion-dollar cocaine empire that spread fear, drug addiction, and death throughout Colombia and the United States.  I commend the law enforcement alliance that has worked for years to bring Rendon Herrera to justice.”  

“Rendon Herrera, one of Colombia’s most prominent and feared drug kingpins and once the leader of the narco-terrorist Los Urabenos Drug Trafficking Organization, committed heinous crimes in pursuit of power and profit. This plea demonstrates HSI and its law enforcement partners’ commitment to disrupting and dismantling the criminal organizations responsible for the dangerous narcotics flooding our streets. We will continue to pursue these organizations at the highest levels, both at home and abroad, and put an end to the terror that they generate across the world.” stated HSI Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Patel.

“All roads travelled by international drug cartels seem to lead straight to our cities, where their members poison our neighbors and wreak deadly havoc. In this case, Mr. Herrera admits to supporting designated terrorists as they kidnapped, tortured, and murdered people so he could build his power and wealth. Our pursuit of these groups won’t wane with his guilty plea today. Even now, we are on to the next leader who most likely believes he won’t suffer the same fate,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll.

“Our NYPD investigators work tirelessly to avert narcotics, terrorism and threats from the kind of violent, overseas criminal enterprises that this long term investigation has dismantled. I commend our officers, our law enforcement partners and the prosecutors in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York for their public service to all New Yorkers in achieving today’s guilty plea,” stated NYPD Commissioner Shea.

According to court filings and facts presented during the plea proceeding, the guilty plea stems from Rendon Herrera’s role, since the late 1990’s, as a leader of the designated foreign terrorist organization, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), and as founder and leader of Los Urabeños Drug Trafficking Organization (the Urabeños, also referred to as Clan Usuga and Clan del Golfo), effectively the successor organization to the AUC. 

The AUC, founded in 1997, was a Colombian paramilitary and drug-trafficking organization, designated in 2001 by the United States Department of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization and Specially-Designated Global Terrorism Organization.  The AUC engaged in armed conflict with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s main guerilla group, and sought to remove FARC sympathizers from positions of power and influence in Colombia.  To support its political and terrorist objectives, the AUC imposed “taxes” on cocaine trafficked through AUC-controlled areas and engaged in violent attacks including murders and kidnappings.  By 2006, many members of the AUC demobilized as part of the Colombian government’s Justice and Peace process – a process under which paramilitary members surrender to the Colombian government and relinquish their criminally-derived assets in exchange for reduced sentences and amnesty from extradition.  Rather than submit to the peace process, Rendon Herrera re-mobilized the AUC as the Urabeños.

The Urabeños, like the AUC, continued to finance their paramilitary and drug trafficking by imposing a “tax” on multi-ton shipments of cocaine that transited through areas in Colombia controlled by the organization and were ultimately destined for importation into the United States.  The Urabeños employed “sicarios,” or hitmen, who carried out various acts of violence, including murders, assaults, kidnappings and assassinations to collect drug debts, maintain discipline, control and expand drug territory, and to promote and enhance the prestige, reputation, and position of the organization.  In 2009, when Rendon Herrera was captured by the Colombian National Police, he commanded 16 “bloques,” or territories, across Colombia and thousands of armed paramilitary fighters.

In connection with his plea, Rendon Herrera accepted responsibility for trafficking at least 73,645 kilograms of cocaine.  The charges relating to the AUC were initially filed in the Southern District of New York and transferred to the Eastern District of New York for the consolidated plea.  The charges relating to the Urabeños originated in the Eastern District of New York.  Additionally, since 2009, Rendon Herrera has been designated by the United States Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, as a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act.  Rendon Herrera is also wanted to serve sentences for convictions in the Republic of Colombia relating to numerous homicides, weapons, and narcotics trafficking, which remain pending his service of his sentence in the United States.

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s International Narcotics and Money Laundering Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jonathan P. Lax, Francisco J. Navarro, and Andrew D. Grubin are in charge of the prosecution, with assistance provided by Assistant United States Attorney Alexander Li of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and Trial Attorney Elisabeth Poteat of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section.  The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs handled the extradition in this matter and the Department of Justice Judicial Attaché’s Office was instrumental in supporting the case.

This prosecution 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 Defendant:

DANIEL RENDON HERRERA (also known as “Don Mario”)

Age: 56

Antioquia, Colombia

E.D.N.Y. Docket Nos. 14-CR-625 (S-3) (DLI) / 20-CR-569 (S-6) (DLI)

S.D.N.Y. Docket Nos. 04-CR-962 (LAP) / 08-CR-659 (SAS)

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