Leaders of Colombian Terror Organization Plead Guilty to Narcotics Charges in D.C.
Update: Jorge Enrique Rodriguez Mendieta was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison on March 19, 2010.
Posted: December 22, 2009
Two leaders of a Colombia-based terrorist organization have pleaded guilty to attempting to import cocaine into the United States.
On December 16, 2009, Jorge Enrique Rodriguez Mendieta, also known as Ivan Vargas, 46, and Gerardo Aguilar Ramirez, also known as Cesar, 49, pleaded guilty in a Washington, D.C. federal court to conspiring to import large quantities of cocaine into the U.S. Mendieta and Ramirez are both leaders of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization based in Colombia. The case was prosecuted in D.C. by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York. "With each step to disrupt this illicit narcotics trade, we siphon fuel from the machine of terror," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said following their guilty pleas.
The FARC, which produces more than half the world's supply of cocaine and nearly two-thirds of the cocaine imported into the U.S., is comprised of 12,000 to 18,000 members, according to the Department of Justice. These members are divided into 77 distinct military units, or fronts, which are organized by geographical location.
When submitting his guilty plea, Mendieta, a commander of FARC's 24th Front and a member of the group's Estado Mayor (operational leadership council), admitted that he had directed other FARC members to purchase hundreds of thousands of kilograms of cocaine paste, some of which was imported to the U.S. Mendieta also transferred billions of Colombian pesos from cocaine proceeds to other FARC officials, according to the Department of Justice.
The U.S. government has also alleged that Mendieta plotted to retaliate against American law enforcement officers conducting the narcotics-trafficking investigation that ultimately led to the charges filed against him. He was arrested by Colombian authorities in late 2004 and extradited to the U.S. in November 2007.
Ramirez, commander of FARC's 1st front from 1998 to July 2008, similarly directed others to manufacture and distribute thousands of tons of cocaine which was later imported to the U.S., according to the Department of Justice.
In late 2001 or early 2002, Ramirez, Mendieta and other FARC leaders resolved to increase cocaine trafficking routes to the U.S. and encouraged their followers to kidnap U.S. citizens. Ramirez was captured in July 2008 when members of the Colombian military, disguised as FARC rebels, freed three American hostages and twelve others – including former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt – who had been held by the FARC for more than five years.
The Colombian Supreme Court extradited Ramirez to the U.S. in July 2009 on the narcotics conspiracy charges. Although the U.S. government indicted him in March 2006 for his involvement in the hostage-taking, he will not be tried on those charges.
As part of its extradition requests, the U.S. government assured the Colombian government that it would not seek the maximum sentence of life in prison for either defendant.
Other FARC members have been charged for narco-terrorism and other illegal activities in the U.S. In September 2009, twelve other FARC members were indicted in New York for kidnapping an American citizen and procuring weapons and explosives for the Colombia-based terrorist organization.