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A Look Back at the Life and Crimes of Dario Antonio Usuga David,
The Most Dangerous Drug Trafficker in the World
By Paul Davis
Like the infamous Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, notorious Colombian drug lord Dario Antoino Usuga David, also known as “Otoniel,” is currently a guest of the U.S. government.
Usuga David, 51, dubbed “the most dangerous drug trafficker in the world,” was sentenced to federal prison on August 9th. He is serving a 45-year sentence for engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise as the leader of a multibillion-dollar paramilitary and drug trafficking organization as the “Clan del Golfo.”
After pleading guilty to all charges, Úsuga David was also sentenced to 45 years in prison for engaging in a maritime narcotics conspiracy and 45 years in prison for engaging in a narcotics importation conspiracy. The federal judge ruled that the sentences would run concurrently. The judge also ordered Úsuga David to pay $216 million in forfeiture.
“Otoniel led one of the largest cocaine trafficking organizations in the world, where he directed the exportation of massive amounts of cocaine to the United States and ordered the ruthless execution of Colombian law enforcement, military officials, and civilians,” said U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland after the sentencing. “This sentence sends a clear message: the Justice Department will find and hold accountable the leaders of deadly drug trafficking organizations that harm the American people, no matter where they are and no matter how long it takes.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray added, “The FBI’s goal is to save lives by stopping the supply of deadly narcotics before they reach our borders and targeting the leadership of these criminal enterprises, The success of this case is due to the collaborative efforts of partners who work to dismantle these dangerous drug trafficking organizations and stop these criminals from harming our communities.”
According to the Justice Department, 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. Úsuga David also 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.
According to the U.S. Justice Department, Usuga David was the leader of the Clan Del Golfo (CDG), one of the most violent and powerful criminal organizations in Colombia and one of the largest distributors of cocaine in the world.
With an estimated 6,000 members, the CDG exercises military control over vast amounts of territory in the Urabá region of Antioquia, Colombia, which is 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.
CDG members dress in military uniforms and 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 a multi-billion-dollar drug trafficking operation. 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 Justice Department stated “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 Justice Department further noted that Úsuga David served as a high-ranking leader within the CDG from its inception and was its principal leader for more than 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 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,” the Justice Department stated. “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 in a police raid, Úsuga David ordered a multi-day shutdown 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. Úsuga David ordered CDG members to execute those who did not adhere to his orders.”
The Feds also noted that Usuga David 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.
“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 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.
“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.”
The Justice Department stated that the investigation, extradition, and conviction of Úsuga David was 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 Justice Department stated.
Prior to his arrest, Usuga David spent a decade evading capture by bribing government officials and partnering with Colombian terrorist organizations. He also moved constantly through a series of rural safe houses and relied on couriers for communication rather than cell phones. He was finally caught by more than 500 Colombian soldiers on October 23, 2021, in the Antioquia province of Colombia, near the Colombia-Panama border.
According to press accounts, a Colombian special forces soldier asked a shirtless man hiding in a bush to identify himself. Usuga David identified himself, and said, “Cool it, soldier. Don’t kill me.”
Colombian President Ivan Duque signed Úsuga David’s extradition to the United States on April 8, 2022. After signing the extradition order, Duque said “It shows nobody is above the Colombian state.
“He is not only the most dangerous drug trafficker in the world, but he is a murderer of social leaders, abuser of boys, girls and adolescents, a murderer of policemen,” Duque added.
After Usuga David’s sentencing in August, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Administrator Anne Milgram told reporters, “Today’s sentencing demonstrates DEA’s commitment to defeating deadly criminal networks who have no regard for human life. Under Otoniel’s leadership, the Clan del Golfo shipped massive quantities of cocaine into the United States, terrorized the Colombian people, and killed civilians, law enforcement officers, and rivals in Colombia who threatened the organization’s trafficking operations. I commend the men and women of the DEA for their many years of outstanding work that culminated in today’s sentencing.”
Paul Davis, a long-time contributor to the Journal, also writes the online Threatcon column.