Colombian drug lord ‘Don Mario’ pleads guilty to leading violent cartel that trafficked 81 tons of cocaine

Daniel Rendon Herrera, a Columbian drug kingpin known as “Don Mario” who admitted to trafficking more than 80 tons of cocaine,  pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiring to provide material support to a designated foreign terrorist organization.Police officers escort Colombian drug trafficker Daniel Rendon Herrera, also known as "Don Mario," at a police airport in Bogota in this file photo from April 15, 2009.Colombian drug trafficker Daniel Rendon Herrera, also known as “Don Mario,” (middle).

The 56-year-old drug lord “was once the most feared narco-terrorist in Colombia,” Breon Peace, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said in a news release from the Department of Justice.

Now, Rendon Herrera is “facing the consequences of his billion-dollar cocaine empire,” said Ray Donovan, Special Agent-in-Charge for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Don Mario’s guilty plea has left footprints for other drug kingpins to follow,” Donovan said in the release that announced Rendon Herrera’s guilty plea.

Since 2009, Rendon Herrera has been designated by the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control as a “specially designated narcotics trafficker,” pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. He was extradited from Colombia to the United States in 2018.

On Tuesday, Rendon Herrera admitted in federal court in Brooklyn to trafficking at least 73,645 kilograms, about 81 tons, of cocaine, the DOJ said. Rendon Herrera was leader of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, founded in 1997 and later designated as a foreign terrorist organization.

The group imposed “taxes” on cocaine trafficked through areas it controlled and was known for its acts of violence, including murders and kidnappings. Rendon Herrera later founded and led the AUC’s successor group, Los Urabeños Drug Trafficking Organization. It’s the largest and most influential BACRIM, Banda criminal or criminal group, in Colombia, according to the DOJ.

Between approximately June 2003 and December 2014, the group was involved in multi-ton shipments of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico and Central America, with the U.S. as the final destination. “All roads traveled by international drug cartels seem to lead straight to our cities, where their members poison our neighbors and wreak deadly havoc,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Michael Driscoll said in the release. The Urabeños hired “sicarios,” or hitmen, who would carry out violent acts including murders, assaults, kidnappings and assassinations to collect drug debts, maintain discipline, control and expand drug territory, and to promote the prestige and reputation the organization, the DOJ said. 

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. He “admitted to leading one of the world’s largest and most violent drug cartels and flooding the streets of America with cocaine,” Peace said. “Rendon Herrera also admitted to providing material support to a designated terrorist organization that brutally killed, kidnapped, and tortured rival drug traffickers and civilians.”

The DOJ said Colombia also wants Rendon Herrera to serve sentences for convictions related to a number of homicides, weapons, and narcotics trafficking. When sentenced in the U.S., Rendon Herrera will face a mandatory minimum 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.

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