Violent Colombian Drug Kingpin Gets 45 Years For Cocaine Importing

LAWFUEL – MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the
Southern District of New York, announced that JULIO CESAR LOPEZPENA,
a/k/a “Julito,” a/k/a “Ojitos,” a high-ranking member of
the notorious Norte Valle Cartel in Colombia, was sentenced today
to 45 years in prison for importing thousands of kilograms of
cocaine into the United States from Colombia. LOPEZ-PENA, who
was arrested by Colombian authorities and extradited to the
United States from Colombia, was tried and found guilty in
December 2007 by a jury of conspiring to import cocaine into the
United States. United States District Judge DENNY CHIN, who
imposed the sentence in Manhattan federal court, also ordered
LOPEZ-PENA to forfeit $100 million. According to the proof at
trial:

LOPEZ-PENA, as one of the principal deputies of the
Norte Valle Cartel, worked closely with Norte Valle Cartel leader
WILMER ALIRIO VARELA and participated in the shipment of multiton
quantities of cocaine, worth an estimated $100 million
dollars, to the United States between 1998 and 2003.

Specifically, LOPEZ-PENA used maritime routes through the
Caribbean and Mexico, sending his drugs on speed boats that each
carried as much as 1,600 kilograms of cocaine. In December 2001,
for example, the defendant sent a load of approximately 1,600
kilograms of cocaine to Houston, Texas, where it was divided up;
600 kilograms were taken by vehicle to Manhattan for
distribution. On separate occasions in 2002, LOPEZ-PENA
organized the trafficking of two loads of cocaine — 1,200 and
1,600 kilograms — through territory in Colombia then controlled
by the Colombian right-wing paramilitary group, Autodefenses
Unidas de Colombia (“AUC”). LOPEZ-PENA paid a high-ranking AUC
member $310 dollars per kilogram to handle and transport the
cocaine through the AUC territory to the Atlantic Ocean. In May
2003, the Colombian Marines seized 4,000 kilograms of cocaine in
the coastal region of Nanguma, Colombia, of which approximately
1,600 kilograms belonged to LOPEZ-PENA.

To facilitate the Norte Valle Cartel’s cocaine
importation operation, LOPEZ-PENA used violence, including
kidnaping and murder, bribery, extortion, and various methods of
counter-surveillance. Among the several murders that LOPEZ-PENA
committed to further his drug trafficking was the 2002 murder of
a rival drug trafficker in a crowded nightclub in Cartagena,
Colombia.

Today’s conviction was the result of a joint
investigation involving agents of the United States Drug
Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) in Bogota, Colombia and New York, and
of the New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force
(the “New York Strike Force”), which is comprised of agents and
officers of the DEA, the New York City Police Department, the
United States Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation
Division, the Department of Homeland Security Bureau of
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of
Investigation, the New York State Police, the United States
Marshals Service, the United States Secret Service and the Bureau
of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Strike Force is
partially funded by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug
Trafficking Area, which is a federally funded crime fighting
initiative. Colombian law enforcement officers stationed in
Bogota, Medellin, Catragena and Cali, Colombia, also provided
invaluable assistance.

Mr. GARCIA praised the cooperative investigative
efforts of the DEA and the New York Strike Force, and also
commended Colombian law enforcement officers for their
partnership in the case.

The prosecution is being handled by the International
Narcotics Trafficking Unit of the United States Attorney’s Office
for the Southern District of New York. MARC P. BERGER and
REBECCA MONCK RICIGLIANO are in charge of the prosecution.
08-133 ###

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