Norte del Valle Cartel
|This article is outdated. (November 2010)|
|Years active||Late 1990s−2012|
|Territory||Valle del Cauca department of Colombia|
|Criminal activities||Illegal drugs trade|
The Norte del Valle Cartel, or North Valley Cartel, was a drug cartel that operated principally in the north of the Valle del Cauca department of Colombia. It rose to prominence during the second half of the 1990s, after the Cali Cartel and the Medellín Cartel fragmented, and it was known as one of the most powerful organizations in the illegal drugs trade. The drug cartel was led by the brothers Luis Enrique and Javier Antonio Calle Serna, alias Los Comba, until its delivery in 2012 to the authorities of the United States.
According to Diego Montoya's Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) profile, the U.S. government accuses him of being involved in the willing production and distribution of multiple tons of cocaine into the United States. It also considers him and his organization as heavily relying on violence enjoying the protection of both right-wing and left-wing illegal armed groups classified as terrorist organizations by the U.S. government.
According to a 2004 U.S. Government Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) indictment, between 1990 and 2004, the Norte del Valle cartel exported more than 1.2 million pounds – or 500 metric tons – of cocaine worth in excess of $10 billion from Colombia to Mexico and ultimately to the United States for resale.
The indictment charges that the Norte del Valle cartel used violence and brutality to further its goals, including the murder of rivals, individuals who failed to pay for cocaine, and associates who were believed to be working as informants.
The indictment alleges that the cartel members employed the services of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), a right-wing paramilitary organization internationally classified as terrorist, to protect the cartel's drug routes, its drug laboratories, and its members and associates. The AUC is one of the 37 Foreign Terrorist Organizations identified by the U.S. State Department in 2004.
Leaders of the Norte del Valle cartel allegedly bribed and corrupted Colombian law enforcement and Colombian legislators to, among other things, attempt to block the extradition of Colombian narcotics traffickers to the United States to be prosecuted for their crimes. According to the indictment, members of the Norte del Valle cartel even conducted their own wiretaps in Colombia to intercept the communications of rival drug traffickers and Colombian and United States law enforcement officials.
Changes in leadership
The chiefs of the Norte del Valle cartel at one time included Orlando Henao a.k.a. "el hombre del overol" ("The overall man"), Montìguéz Franco a.k.a "Monty", Diego León Montoya Sánchez, a.k.a. "Don Diego", Wilber Varela, a.k.a. "Jabón" ("Soap"), and Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, a.k.a. "Chupeta" ("Lollipop"). Until his capture in late 2007 Diego Montoya was part of the list containing the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.
Fierce rivalries that divided the cartel into warring factions erupted in 2003 when Hernando Gómez, Wilber Varela and their inner circle, prompted by a rising number of extradition of cartel members to the United States, apparently attempted to negotiate a possible surrender deal with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), in a move which was strongly rejected by Diego Montoya and several of the other cartel drug lords. After a failed hit on Varela left him in the hospital with multiple gunshots, Varela declared war on Diego Montoya who he held responsible for the attack.
The consequences of such an internal vendetta led Colombian authorities to intervene in order to increase law enforcement efforts against the cartel, which resulted in the 2004 arrest of some 100 assassins in the employ of both rival factions, and in the 2005 capture of Varela's close associate Julio César López (alias "Ojitos", or "Small Eyes"), and Montoya's chief hatchetman, Carlos José Robayo Escobar (alias "Guacamayo", or "Macaw"), among others. On June 4, 2008 Julio César López was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison by a federal court in New York. More than $100 million worth in properties and luxury assets was also seized, along with an almost complete fiberglass narco submarine that would have been built by the cartel in order to smuggle drugs into the United States and other foreign countries.
All of these events may have influenced several members of the Norte del Valle cartel to seek a deal with Colombian and U.S. drug enforcement authorities during late 2004 and early 2005, whether through direct negotiation proposals or employing the possible protection that they may gain through the infiltration of the AUC's then ongoing peace negotiations with the Colombian government.
The Norte del Valle Cartel is believed to be the single most powerful existing cartel in Colombia with exception of the smaller North Coast Cartel, the FARC Marxist guerrilla, and the right wing paramilitary group AUC. Due to their violent warfare that left more than 1,000 people dead between 2003 and 2004, the Colombian government with support of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), FBI, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement have pursued the cartel heavily for over four years.
2003 - 2004
The first significant blow to be dealt to the Norte del Valle Cartels internal membership came with the arrest of Juan Carlos Montoya Sánchez, brother to top Norte del Valle boss Diego Montoya. Juan Carlos was arrested in December 2003 in Colombia and extradited to the United States two years later on May 4, 2005 where he was sentenced to 262 months in prison for drug trafficking and money laundering, he was believed to be responsible for overseeing the cartels cocaine laboratories. Along with Juan Carlos, Carlos Felipe Toro Sánchez, alias "Pipe," was arrested. Carlos Felipe was believed to be responsible for overseeing the drug shipments of cocaine to their destination in the U.S., Mexico, and Europe. Carlos Felipe was extradited to the United States ten days before Juan Carlos, on April 25, 2005. The following month after the capture of Juan Carlos came the arrest of José Dagoberto Flores Ríos whose alias is "Chuma." Jose Dagoberto, who was the top lieutenant to Arcángel Henao Montoya, was arrested in January 2004 in Colombia and later extradited to the United States where he is in custody in New York.
In 2004, four additional captures occurred of Norte del Valle hierarchy. The capture of Arcángel Henao Montoya, also known as "El Mocho" ("The Amputee"), was a top leader of the cartel. Arcángel was arrested on January 10, 2004 in Panama and extradited to New York. Fernando Henao Montoya, younger brother to Arcángel, was captured and later sentenced in Manhattan, New York Federal Court, in May 2005 to 19 years and 7 months for drug trafficking. In July 2004 Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamante, alias "Rasguño" ("Scratch"), one of the founders and top leaders of the cartel, was arrested on July 2, 2004 trying to enter Cuba on a false [passport. He was held in Cuba awaiting extradition to Colombia and ultimately to the U.S. In March 2004, the Colombian government seized properties belonging to Bustamante in excess of $100 million. He would not be extradited to the United States for over three years. Gabriel Puerta Parra, alias "El Doctor" ("The Doctor"), was arrested on October 7, 2004 near Bogotá, Colombia. Gabriel Puerta was an attorney and counselor to the Norte del Valle cartel. He acted as a highly respected intermediary between the Norte del Valle Cartel and major Mexican cartels, assisted in resolving disputes within the cartel and, influencing the Colombian government with extradition matters. He invested his own money in drug shipments and facilitated money laundering operations through front companies he owned and setup for the cartel, as well as acquiring local and international real estate to launder the cartel's illegal proceeds.
Arrests continued throughout 2005 as José Aldemar Rendón Ramírez, alias "Mechas," he was arrested by Colombian authorities on July 15, 2005. José Aldemar operated as a financial officer within the Norte del Valle Cartel, responsible for the launder of its illegal proceeds. Jhonny Cano Correa, alias "Flecha" ("Arrow"), was arrested later the year on October 29, 2005. Jhonny Cano operated as a chief of security for Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamante. He was responsible for ensuring the security of cocaine processing laboratories, drug shipments, and murdering rivals. He was eventually extradited to the United States in September 2006.
Following the capture of Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamante, and his chief of security, Jhonny Cano, came the capture of Bustamante's lieutenant, Jaime Maya Durán, alias "Alejandro." Following Bustamante's arrest, Durán assumed more responsibility within the cartel. He was captured in Mexico in September 2006 and shortly after extradited to the United States. The following month brought the capture of Orlando Sabogal Zuluaga, alias "Alberto," another high-ranking lieutenant to Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamante on October 31, 2006 in a shopping mall in Spain.
In 2007 five members of the cartel were captured, Eugenio Montoya Sánchez, alias "Don Hugo," younger brother to top cartel boss Diego Montoya, was arrested January 15, 2007 in the Cartel's stronghold town of El Dovio. It is believed Eugenio took over his brother's major operations to allow his brother to remain at large from Colombian and U.S. authorities.
February 2007 brought about the extradition of Luis Hernando Gómez Bustamante, arrested years prior. Bustamante was extradited to Colombia from Cuba on July 20, 2007, he was then handed over to DEA agents in Bogotá for transport to the United States. Bustamante reportedly offered to cooperate with U.S. authorities in exchange for protection after receiving numerous death threats while in Colombian custody. February also led to the capture of Laureano Rentería, right hand man to Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, Laureano Renteria was detained at one of Ramirez's stash houses containing $19 million. He tried convincing authorities he was a simple construction worker hired to remodel the house and accepted a plea deal to 44 months in prison. While in prison an informant in New York revealed he was Ramírez's confidant who protected Ramirez during their six-year prison term served in a Colombia during the 1990s. Laureano Renteria was responsible for managing Ramírez's financial structure including the stash house logistics and bribing of high Colombian government officials. When the DEA learned of this information they had the Colombian authorities transfer Rentería to a maximum security prison to await a speedy extradition to the US. On February 27, 2007 the extradition order was to be served, but authorities found Rentería dead in his cell due to cyanide poisoning. His death went unsolved, but Ramírez is suspected to have ordered the hit to prevent him from revealing vital cartel secrets.
July 25, 2007, Eduardo Restrepo Victoria, alias "El Socio" ("The Partner"), was arrested in Colombia. Eduardo was believed to be the right hand man and partner to cartel leader Wilber Varela. On September 7, 2006 Colombian police seized 65 of Restrepo's properties in the cities of Bogota, Cali, and in the state of Tolima valued at more than $25 million. Restrepo got his start as a front man for notorious drug trafficker Henry Loaiza Ceballos alias "El Alacran" ("The Scorpion"). When Loaiza was captured and extradited Restrepo took over his operations and partnered with Varela. The following month brought about the capture of Juan Carlos Ramirez-Abadia, alias "Chupeta," one of the major bosses in the Norte del Valle Cartel. In January 2007, four separate raids to Ramírez's stash houses in the city of Cali, Colombia led authorities to over $80 million in cash and gold bars. This marked the largest seizure of money belonging to a single individual in Colombian history. Ramírez was arrested in Brazil on August 7, 2007. Ramírez was extradited by Brazil to the United States on Friday, August 22, 2008.
Diego León Montoya Sánchez, alias "Don Diego","El Señor de la Guerra" ("The Warlord"), was arrested on September 10, 2007 at 8:20 a.m., in a rural farm house in Valle, Colombia. Montoya was believed to be the top leader of the Norte Del Valle Cartel. The arrest of Diego Leon ends the Montoya Clan's claim in drug trafficking, with Juan Carlos Montoya Sánchez serving a 262-month prison term in the United States and his younger brother Eugenio Montoya Sánchez detained in a maximum security prison in Colombia awaiting extradition. After news of Montoya's arrest, Colombian Defense Minister claimed his extradition to the US was inevitable. He was extradited to Miami on December 12, 2008.
The Colombian and US governments were targeting Wilber Varela, believing he would try to take over Montoya's business as well and possibly start another war with the emerging leaders. However, Varela was found murdered on January 30, 2008 in a hotel resort in the state of Mérida in Venezuela. Colombian authorities believe he was murdered by his own men on orders of jailed paramilitary drug lord Carlos Mario Jimenez alias "Macaco" to end Varela's power struggle in the rival city Medellin and surrounding areas in Antioquia. Jimenez was later extradited to the United States on May 7, 2008 for failing to meet the terms of his surrender and for continuing to run his criminal organization in prison.
2009 / 2010
On June 1, 2009 Aldemar Álvarez Tabares alias "Pelón", the supposed successor of Bustamante, was arrested in Cali. Ramón Quintero Sanclemente (alias "RQ" or "Lucas"), an old guard high-ranking member of the cartel, was arrested in Quito (Ecuador) and immediately deported to Colombia. Quintero is now being held in the Combita maximum security prison, awaiting extradition proceedings to the United States. Quintero was one of the 10 most wanted DEA drug traffickers in the world, and he had a reward for his capture valued up to $5 million Dollars. Quintero was accused of being one of the last leaders of the NVC organization, and also of trafficking large amounts of cocaine through Mexico using his Mexican cartel connections / partners (some reports claim that his organization was moving up to 50 metric tons per year to the United States and Europe). The formal request for extradition was submitted by the United States in July 2009. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Bonnie S. Klapper and Walter M. Norkin in the Eastern District of New York.
Diego Montoya's arrest and Wilber Varela's murder closed a chapter in Colombia's war on drugs. However, Colombian and US officials have identified the remaining cartel members that may fight for leadership of the organization. Authorities have identified the following targets as possible successors for both the Montoya and Varela Organization. As a preventive initiative, the Colombian government has issued arrest warrants for all these men before they can organize and restructure the cartel. Close to $250,000 is being offered for information leading to the arrest of each suspect. All suspects have extradition requests from the United States.
Diego Montoya Organization
Oscar Varela Garcia alias "Capachivo" is posed as the most likely candidate to assume leadership. 54-year-old Varela, along with the Robayo brothers, has control of Montoya's security force of Los Machos. Varela started his career as a hitman with Wilber Varela for the late drug baron Orlando Henao Montoya. Varela remained friends with Wilber Varela until he sided with Montoya during the Montoya-Varela war. Oscar Varela's name became known after he organized the Jamundí massacre, where ten investigative agents were murdered by a corrupt military unit. On July 5, 2008 Varela was captured by Colombian authorities in a farmhouse in Palmira, Valle del Cauca. The operation was during the early morning where Varela was captured while he was sleeping in his underwear with his girlfriend.
Jorge Urdinola Perea alias "La Iguana" ("The Iguana") is another potential candidate. Urdinola is 42 years old and is cousin to the late drug baron Ivan Urdinola Grajales. He owns and operates many drug laboratories in the cartel's stronghold of the Canon Of Garrapatas and in the Colombian state of Choco. He is also the current leader of Diego Montoya's private army and hit squad "Los Machos". If Urdinola assumes control, his brother Hilbert Urdinola Perea alias "Don H" (Mr. H), will also co-lead. On June 25, 2008 Jorge Urdinola Perea was captured by Colombian authorities in Zarzal, Valle del Cauca.
The fourth possible candidate was 39-year-old Gildardo Rodriguez Herrera alias "El Señor de la Camisa" ("The Man of the Shirt"). He started his career as a leftist guerrilla and after spending ten years at Montoya's side he learned the trade. He also managed Montoya's security forces of Los Machos. After Montoya's arrest, Gildardo was starting to gain strength until Colombian authorities captured him on May 16, 2008 in a farmhouse in the Colombian state of Cundinamarca. The arrest was made possible on information provided by an informant who was paid the reward money. Another possible candidate is Javier Leonardo Hernandez alias "Canelo",captured in June 4 2009 in his apartment in Bogota, "Canelo" was the contact between Mexican cartels and Montoyas organization, being responsible for around 250,000 shipments of cocaine, also responsible for organizing a new clan that would formalize relations with the Mexican cartels it is said that "Canelo" was protected by the Tijuana Cartel and also had control of the Bogota cartel since 1995.
Wilber Varela Organization
Authorities now believe Wilber Varela's main captains Diego Perez Henao alias "Diego Rastrojo" and Luis Enrique Calle alias "Combatiente" ("Combatant") conspired with AUC commander Carlos Mario Jiménez alias "Macaco" to murder Varela. With the murder of Varela, Jimenez consolidated himself as the maximum authority in drug trafficking in Colombia controlling the drug trade in ten Colombian states and having authority over the cartel. His control lasted until his extradition in 2008. Luis Enrique Calle's rise to power will include his brother Javier Antonio Calle. Together they operated Varela's drug laboratories and oversaw transportation through their controlled drug routes. Under Jimenez's conditions, the Varela organization was to leave any interests in Medellin and Antioquia and share power between Henao and the Calle brothers.
Other Varela organization members of interest include Gilmer Humberto Quintero, alias "Cabezon" ("Big Head"), Ramon Quintero Sanclemente alias "Lucas" (arrested in Ecuador on April 2010, deported to Colombia for extradition proceedings to the United States), Jaime Umberto Palomino alias "Piernas Locas" ("Crazy Legs"), Roberto Londono Velez, Jaime Alberto Marin Zamora alias "Beto" (beto was captured in Venezuela in 2010), Jose Ignacio Bedoya Velez, and Diego Perez Henao's brother Wilmar Perez Henao. Longtime Varela partner Ramon Quintero is suspected of being the most powerful and experienced target but is suspected of being at war with Diego Perez Henao over a 10 million dollar dispute.
Gilmer Humberto Quintero, was found dead inside a police station bathroom with a shot in the head. Apparently, he committed suicide with a .25 caliber pistol he had hid from police when he was captured June 14, 2008.
Juan Carlos Ramirez Organization
After Laureano Renteria's mysterious murder in his jail cell, authorities have identified Aldemar Rojas Mosquera as the man who will most likely inherit Ramirez's organization.
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