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Colombian cartel leader Otoniel pleads guilty to U.S. drugs charges

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The leader of a prominent Colombian criminal group pleaded guilty on Wednesday to U.S. drug trafficking charges, court records showed.

Dairo Antonio Usuga David, better known as Otoniel, admitted in Brooklyn federal court to one count of running a continuing criminal enterprise, as well as two counts of drug distribution stemming from federal indictments in Manhattan and Miami that were transferred to Brooklyn.

Usuga, 51, had been arrested by Colombian armed forces in October 2021 near the South American country’s border with Panama on U.S. charges of smuggling “outrageous” amounts of cocaine to the United States while leading the Clan del Golfo cartel.

“With today’s guilty plea, the bloody reign of the most violent and significant Colombian narcotics trafficker since Pablo Escobar is over,” Breon Peace, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, said in a statement.

Usuga faces a mandatory minimum prison term of 20 years. Prosecutors agreed when seeking his extradition from Colombia not to seek a life sentence, court papers show.

“Mr. Usuga David pleaded guilty because he wants to accept responsibility as quickly as possible for his crimes,” his lawyer Alexei Schacht said in an email. “He hopes that his plea and prior calls for peace may help to make Colombia a more peaceful place.”

U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry, who oversees the case, has not yet set a sentencing date. Usuga has been detained in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center since May.

Extradition to the United States is among Bogota’s main weapons to fight drug trafficking.