A former high-ranking paramilitary leader in the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC or the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia) was sentenced to 198 months in U.S. federal prison today for conspiring to import into the United States and distribute ton-quantities of cocaine, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
“Rodrigo Tovar-Pupo funded his violent and dangerous paramilitary organization by reaping the profits of manufacturing and shipping thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “His actions did untold damage to the United States and Colombia. This case demonstrates our continued commitment to work closely with our international partners to stem the flow of the international drug trade.”
“The sentence reflects our unwavering commitment to bring to justice leaders of the AUC and other narco-terrorist organizations throughout the world,” said Acting Administrator Rosenberg. “Many terror regimes use drug trafficking profits to expand their global influence. As a top-level AUC commander, Tovar-Pupo led a huge drug trafficking enterprise, overseeing maritime cocaine shipments destined for the United States and other parts of the world. I am proud of the dedicated men and women throughout DEA who have worked tirelessly to bring him to justice.”
Rodrigo Tovar-Pupo, also known as “Jorge 40,” 54, formerly of Barranquilla, Colombia, pleaded guilty in July 2009 to one count of conspiracy to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, knowing and intending that it would be imported into the United States, and was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton of the District of Columbia. Tovar-Pupo was also ordered to pay a $25,000 fine and to five years of supervised release following his prison sentence.
According to court documents and proceedings, including admissions in connection with his guilty plea and additional testimony, Tovar-Pupo became a member of a paramilitary group in 1996 that later merged with other Colombian paramilitary groups to form the AUC. The AUC was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. Department of State in September 2001. The AUC was removed from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations in July 2014. In May 2003, the AUC was placed on the Significant Foreign Narcotics Traffickers list by order of the president, pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. Court documents reflect that the AUC was organized into blocs (or regions) with each bloc having a commander who controlled large areas in Colombia where cocaine was produced.
According to admissions made in connection with his plea agreement and during other court proceedings, Tovar-Pupo quickly became a top-level commander in the AUC, and his forces controlled all aspects of cocaine production and transportation in his region, which included the north coast of Colombia. Tovar-Pupo’s organization and its operations were funded through “taxes” he imposed on cocaine manufacturers and traffickers in his region. In exchange, Tovar-Pupo provided protection and security for the manufacturers and traffickers, including securing coastal areas where cocaine was loaded onto vessels for shipment to the United States and elsewhere. Tovar-Pupo knew that shipments of large quantities of cocaine, amounting to more than 1,500 kilograms, were manufactured in and transited through his region, and that much of the cocaine was transported to the United States.
Tovar-Pupo was arrested in Colombia based on a provisional arrest warrant and extradited to the United States on May 13, 2008, along with 13 other fugitives.
Today’s sentence for violations of U.S. drug trafficking laws does not account for any violations of Colombian human rights-related laws allegedly committed by Tovar-Pupo in Colombia, which are being addressed in Colombia through the Justice and Peace process—a legal framework enacted in Colombia in 2005 to facilitate the demobilization of its paramilitary organizations—and the Colombian criminal justice system.
The case was investigated by the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime Drug Trafficking Task Forces program, led by DEA’s Bogotá and Cartagena, Colombia, Country Offices, and the DEA Special Operations Division. The DEA worked in partnership with the Judicial Police of the Prosecutor General’s Office in Colombia and the Colombian National Police.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Paul W. Laymon of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS), with significant assistance from NDDS’ Judicial Attachés in Bogotá, Colombia, the Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs, and the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Republic of Colombia (Fiscalia), including the Fiscalia’s Transitional Justice program.