César Emilio Peralta, alias “El Abusador,” is one of the Dominican Republic's most notorious drug traffickers. Heading up his own network, Peralta rose from being a small-scale distributor in the 1990s to one of the Caribbean’s most important cocaine traffickers by the mid-2010s. He linked South American suppliers to distributors in Puerto Rico and the US mainland.
Enjoying strong political connections, allegedly including former Dominican president Danilo Medina Sánchez (2012 – 2020), Peralta’s network also became involved in heroin trafficking, human trafficking and money laundering. He was captured in December 2019 in the city of Cartagena, Colombia, after attracting the attention of US authorities and faces likely extradition to the United States.
Peralta began working as a low-level domestic drug distributor in the 1990s. He began his career working for drug trafficking gangs led by major Dominican drug traffickers including Rolando Florían Féliz, Pascual Cordero Martínez, alias “El Chino,” Manuel Emilio Mesa Beltré, alias “El Gringo,” and Quirino Ernesto Paulino Castillo.
He was arrested on drug-related charges in 2001, 2007 and 2008, yet quickly released each time. His 2008 arrest was in relation to a 258 kilogram shipment of cocaine seized in the Dominican Republic's southern province of Peravia.
Up until 2013, Dominican authorities still regarded him as a “small-scale distributor,” working on behalf of other traffickers. But after the capture of "El Chino" in late 2015 and "El Gringo" in early 2016, Peralta stepped up to become one of the Caribbean's main traffickers. As he ascended to a leadership role, the Dominican Republic was becoming a key hub for US-bound drugs moving via the Caribbean route which had reacquired its importance.
Taking over his bosses’ contacts, Peralta’s network began receiving shipments of Colombian cocaine and heroin from Venezuela, which he then sent to Puerto Rico and the US mainland from the Dominican Republic.
By 2017, Peralta was allegedly transporting up to 20 kilograms of cocaine weekly from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico by plane, while also sending the drug to Miami by sea.
This success, however, rapidly put him on the radar of US law enforcement officials. In April 2019, Peralta was indicted by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
On August 20, 2019, he was also designated as the leader of an international drug trafficking organization by the US Treasury Department under the Kingpin Act. On the same day, a team of over 700 soldiers, police officers and prosecutors were deployed in a mass operation, which led to the arrests of three of his lieutenants in the Dominican Republic.
Peralta himself is believed to have fled to Colombia that month, where he was arrested in Cartagena in December 2019.
He was in prison in Colombia's capital city of Bogotá until December 2021 when he was extradited to Puerto Rico.
Peralta's organization appears to have consisted of a small hierarchical core within a looser network. It was involved in three main criminal pursuits: drug trafficking, money laundering and human trafficking.
The organization smuggled Colombian cocaine and heroin from Colombia and Venezuela to the Dominican Republic. The drug was then sent to Puerto Rico and the US mainland. Between 2008 and 2017 Peralta allegedly trafficked at least 1,120 kilograms of cocaine to Puerto Rico and the US mainland, though many believe the total amount trafficked was likely much higher.
To launder his illicit earnings, Peralta used front men to control a diverse portfolio of businesses, real estate and luxury goods. This operation became extensive enough that his organization created a money laundering division made up of at least 23 family members and associates who moved? laundered? around $60 million, according to documents from the Dominican Republic's Attorney General's Office seen by InSight Crime.
With an affiliate, Peralta also worked through a separate money laundering network which allegedly laundered over $260 million between 2017 and 2020.
This led to the Peralta Drug Trafficking Organization (Peralta DTO) running or cooperating with a human trafficking network. The network allegedly sent women from Colombia and Venezuela to the Dominican Republic to work in several large nightclubs the group used to launder money. According to media outlet Listín Diario, citing a senior Cartagena police official, Colombian authorities believe Peralta also had operations exploiting women in Colombia.
Peralta’s participation in these criminal economies was underpinned by corruption. His organization included several former military officers and he allegedly paid off at least one Dominican politician. In an intercepted phone call, Peralta also stated that he had contributed millions to the electoral campaign of former Dominican president Danilo Medina Sánchez. Medina acknowledged that he had received campaign contributions from Peralta, but claimed he did not know the money had come from drug trafficking.
Both Peralta and the Peralta DTO were based in the Dominican Republic's capital city of Santo Domingo. Besides sending drugs from South America to Puerto Rico and the US mainland, Peralta’s network was involved in wholesale distribution across the Dominican Republic.
He is also reported to have used other Caribbean islands such as Antigua, Barbados and St. Maarten for his operations, though it remains unclear if his network maintained a permanent presence there.
Peralta relocated to Colombia after pressure from authorities started to increase in 2019. He is believed to have been based in the country – first in Barranquilla, then Cartagena - for three months prior to his arrest in December 2019.
Allies & Enemies
Like many Dominican drug trafficking organizations, Peralta’s network operated independently of any large transnational crime group. It relied on a small circle of partners and contractors to traffic drugs and launder money, while favoring cooperation with prospective competitors over violence.
As such, he had more "business associates" than allies or enemies per se.
Domestically, he maintained ties to some of the country’s most infamous drug traffickers, including Ramón Antonio del Rosario Puente, leader of the Cártel del Este, a trafficking group based in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic. He also had ties to Sergio Gómez Díaz, an affiliated trafficker linked to Colombia’s Norte del Valle Cartel.
Peralta has also been linked to intermediaries with strong ties to political elites in Venezuela, a country he received drug shipments from. A yacht belonging to Venezuelan businessman Francisco Enrique Flores Suárez was found in the Dominican Republic carrying 52 kilograms of cocaine which were thought to belong to Peralta.
According to Colombian authorities, Peralta was once connected to the Urabeños in Colombia. However, this relationship is thought to have soured. Before his December 2019 arrest in Cartagena, Peralta and his henchmen had allegedly been hiding from both law enforcement officials and Urabeños hitmen in Barranquilla.
He was also linked to the possibly defunct Curicheros, an organization formerly based in Colombia's northeastern department of La Guajira.
Peralta’s future prospects are poor. Political protection was likely key to his ability to work in the cocaine trade for over two decades. Yet since US authorities designated him a major drug trafficker under the Kingpin Act, his political patrons will have hastened to sever all ties to him.
Meanwhile, the judicial case against 23 people accused of laundering drug profits for Peralta, including his wife, is ongoing in the Dominican Republic. Peralta was extradited to Puerto Rico in December 2021 to face charges of drug trafficking.
As for his routes, contractors and contacts, it is likely that other traffickers will step into the power vacuum Peralta left behind and resume operations in the Dominican Republic just like he did.