By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK – A man once considered Colombia’s most wanted drug lord pleaded guilty on Tuesday to U.S. charges of narcotics distribution and supporting a terrorist group as part of a billion-dollar cocaine empire.
U.S. authorities said Daniel Rendon Herrera, 56, accepted responsibility for trafficking at least 73,645 kilograms (81 tons) of cocaine that spread addiction and death in his home country and the United States.
Prosecutors said the defendant was also leader of a group known as the Urabenos along with Dairo Antonio Usuga, an alleged Colombian drug kingpin known as Otoniel who was captured last month in what officials in Colombia called a blow to trafficking https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/colombia-armed-forces-capture-top-drug-trafficker-otoniel-sources-2021-10-23.
Herrera, known as Don Mario, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry in Brooklyn. He was charged in the United States with shipping cocaine to U.S. territory, and buying weapons for paramilitary fighters he commanded.
“I associated with other people to collect taxes for the transportation of coke which was coming to the United States,” Rendon Herrera told Irizarry through an interpreter.
The defendant faces up to life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years, and more than a combined $47 million in forfeiture and a fine.
Rendon Herrera was arrested https://www.reuters.com/article/us-colombia-drugs/colombia-captures-top-drug-lord-don-mario-idUSTRE53E5UE20090415 in the Colombian jungle in 2009, and was extradited https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/pr/colombian-drug-kingpin-extradited-united-states-face-charges-operating-continuing to the United States in 2018. He had previously pleaded not guilty.
Irizarry said Rendon Herrera will likely be deported because of his plea, and may be credited at sentencing for time spent in Colombian jails.
Prosecutors said he faces sentences in Colombia for convictions related to drug trafficking, weapons violations and “numerous” homicides.
Usuga, 50, eventually rose to lead the Urabenos, also known as the Clan del Golfo. Bogota has pledged to swiftly extradite Usuga to the United States to face drug trafficking charges there.
(Reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Alistair Bell)