Violent Colombian Drug Kingpin Convicted, US Attorney Reports

LAWFUEL – The Legal Newswire – MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the
Southern District of New York, announced the conviction today of
JULIO CESAR LOPEZ-PENA a/k/a “Julito,” a/k/a “Ojitos,” a highranking
member of the notorious Norte Valle Cartel in Colombia,
who was extradited from Colombia to face charges of cocaine
importation. The defendant was found guilty this morning,
following a six-day jury trial in Manhattan federal court before
United States District Judge DENNY CHIN. According to the
evidence at trial:

LOPEZ-PENA, who worked closely with Norte Valle Cartel
leader WILMER ALIRIO VARELA, participated in the shipment of
multi-ton 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,

LOPEZ-PENA was found guilty of conspiracy to import
cocaine into the United States. The offense carries a maximum
sentence of life imprisonment, although the United States
provided assurances to Colombia as part of the extradition
process that a life sentence will not be sought. LOPEZ-PENA
faces a mandatory minimum sentence of ten years in prison.
LOPEZ-PENA is scheduled to be sentenced on March 7, 2008, at 2:00
p.m., by Judge CHIN.

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. 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.

“Julio Cesar Lopez-Pena is one of the most significant
narcotics traffickers ever to be extradited from Colombia, both
because of the breadth and volume of his drug trafficking
activity and the violence with which he conducted his operation,”
said U.S. Attorney MICHAEL J. GARCIA. “Today’s conviction is a
credit to the dedication and sacrifice of the law enforcement
officers, both here and in Colombia, who brought Lopez-Pena to

The prosecution is being handled by the Office’s
International Narcotics Trafficking Unit. MARC P. BERGER and
REBECCA MONCK RICIGLIANO are in charge of the prosecution.
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