- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A man accused of shipping multiple tons of cocaine into the U.S. as one of the leaders of the infamous Norte del Valle drug cartel was captured by Colombian soldiers in a rugged canyon area of western Colombia.

Diego Leon Montoya Sanchez, better known as “Don Diego,” who is on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list, was taken into custody in the cartel’s stronghold of Valle del Cauca state, Colombian Interior Minister Carlos Holguin Sardi said yesterday.

The FBI says Montoya Sanchez, 49, is one of the principal leaders of the Norte del Valle cartel, which the bureau described as the “most powerful and violent” drug-trafficking organization in Colombia that has relied heavily on right-wing paramilitaries and leftist rebels for protection.

He is being sought on charges of conspiracy to import and possess with intent to deliver cocaine, possession with intent to deliver cocaine, money laundering, conspiracy to manufacture or distribute cocaine to the U.S., conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice involving murder, conspiracy to retaliate against a witness by murder and retaliating against a witness by murder.

Montoya Sanchez has been listed as one of the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted Fugitives alongside al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden since May 2004 after a federal grand jury indicted him on charges of smuggling more than 500 tons of cocaine, worth about $10 billion, into the U.S. since 1990.

He was among nine reputed leaders of Norte del Valle cartel named in the indictment, including the organization’s reputed leader, Jesus Henao-Montoya, also known as “El Mocho.” Henao-Montoya was arrested in January by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after his expulsion from Panama.

The indictment accused members of the cartel of being responsible for the shipment of as much as 50 percent of the cocaine smuggled each year from Colombia to the U.S. and Europe. The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs offered rewards of up to $5 million each for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the cartel leaders.

All nine were charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) with operating a cocaine-trafficking enterprise as well as cocaine importation and distribution. They face up to life in prison.

The indictment said the nine cartel leaders used bribery, brutality and murder to enforce their operation and tapped the phones of rival drug traffickers in Colombia.

The cartel has used trucks, aircraft, speedboats and fishing boats to smuggle cocaine out of Colombia and has bribed Colombian law-enforcement officials and legislators to block the extradition of its members, authorities said.

In addition to Montoya Sanchez and Henao-Montoya, the others named are Wilbur Alirio Varela, Luis Hernando Gomez-Bustamante, Juan Carlos Ramirez-Abadia, Carlos Alberto Renteria-Mantilla, Gabriel Puerta-Parra, Jorge Orlando Rodriguez-Acero and Jairo Aparicio-Lenis.

Rodriguez-Acero is a former high-ranking official with the Colombian National Police, authorities said.

The Norte del Valle cartel became Colombia’s most powerful after the dismantling of the Medellin and Cali cartels in the 1980s and early 1990s.

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