Brooklyn’s role in the battle against global narcotics: A new kingpin falls

August 9, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The federal court in Downtown Brooklyn has emerged as one of the world’s premier venues for prosecuting and bringing down narcotics kingpins, a reputation further cemented on Tuesday with the sentencing of another significant figure in the global drug trade.

Dairo Antonio Úsuga David, widely recognized by his alias “Otoniel” and once commanding the multibillion-dollar “Clan del Golfo” drug trafficking organization, received a 45-year sentence in the Brooklyn federal court Tuesday morning.

This courtroom, the same venue that witnessed the fall of the notorious Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, again played a pivotal role in sending a stern message to international drug lords.

“The human misery caused by the defendant’s incredibly violent, vengeful, and bloody reign as leader of the Clan de Golfo drug trafficking organization may never be fully calculated due to its magnitude, but today’s lengthy sentence delivers appropriate justice and sends a message to other paramilitary and cartel leaders that the United States will seek their arrest and extradition in order to hold them accountable in our courts of law,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace.

Operating from the shadows of Colombia and orchestrating a vast criminal enterprise, Úsuga David’s reign echoed the brutality and complexity of El Chapo’s empire. Their stories, although distinct in their geography and operations, intersected on the shores of the East River.

On Tuesday, Judge Dora Irizarry meted out the sentence, it was evident that Brooklyn’s federal court remains a beacon of justice, not just for New Yorkers, but for communities worldwide affected by the narcotics trade.

“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,” stated Attorney General Merrick Garland. “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.”

As was proven at trial, between 2012 and October 23, 2021, Úsuga David led the CDG, a dominant criminal organization in Colombia and one of the world’s largest cocaine distributors. The CDG, at times boasting up to 6,000 members, held military-like control over the lucrative Urabá region in Antioquia, Colombia. This region is crucial for drug trafficking due to its closeness to international borders and both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts. The CDG wore military uniforms, used military tactics, and engaged in violent conflicts with rival drug traffickers, paramilitaries, and Colombian authorities.

Their primary source of funding was a multi-billion-dollar drug trafficking operation. The CDG taxed drug traffickers in their territory, charged for storing or transporting cocaine, and also exported vast amounts of cocaine, primarily to Central America, Mexico, and eventually the United States.

To maintain power, Úsuga David used “sicarios” (hitmen) for various violent acts, targeting rivals, law enforcement, potential witnesses, and even civilians. The organization’s violence aimed to enhance its reputation, protect its territories, finance its operations, ensure member discipline, and fend off potential threats from law enforcement.

Úsuga David, who had been with the CDG since its start, directed its operations for about a decade. He supervised its violent activities, including enforcing regional shutdowns, retaliating against law enforcers and potential witnesses, and controlling drug routes. He further asserted his authority by personally directing violent actions, such as executing civilians who didn’t follow CDG mandates, assassinating rivals, and offering bounties for killing Colombian police and military personnel.

Financially, Úsuga David was deeply involved in the drug trafficking that sustained the CDG. He managed the CDG’s drug exports, controlled cocaine production facilities, and led a network responsible for collecting drug-related debts. He also utilized the CDG’s distribution channels to personally profit from cocaine exports.

Úsuga David has been ordered by the Court to pay a forfeiture of $216 million, which falls under an agreement between the U.S. and Colombia on sharing confiscated criminal proceeds.

The entire operation against Úsuga David was part of the OCDETF’s initiative to target and dismantle major drug traffickers, money launderers, and large criminal organizations that pose a threat to the U.S., using a combined effort of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.


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