Maximiliano Bonilla Orozco, alias “Valenciano,” was a leader in the Colombian criminal organization Oficina de Envigado, and forged ties with international trafficking organizations such as the Zetas in Mexico. He was captured in Venezuela in November 2011 and later extradited to the United States. In 2016, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison on drug trafficking-related charges.
Bonilla reportedly began working for the founder of the Medellín-based organization Oficina de Envigado, Diego Murillo, alias “Don Berna,” when he was still a teenager. Bonilla’s father had worked for Murillo until he was assassinated in 1985 in Medellín. Murillo took Bonilla under his wing, and the latter started to work as an assassin on behalf of his boss. By the age of 15, Bonilla had turned into one of Murillo’s most lethal and respected assassins.
Murillo’s surprise extradition to the United States in 2008 precipitated a crisis within the Oficina. Murillo’s successor Carlos Mario Aguilar, alias “Rogelio,” surrendered to authorities, and other associates were arrested. The organization split into two opposing factions — one led by Bonilla and another by fellow Oficina boss Erickson Vargas Cárdenas, known as “Sebastián.” Bonilla sought to consolidate his control over Colombia’s drug-trafficking routes by kidnapping and killing most of those allied with Vargas. The ensuing conflict claimed an estimated 6,000 lives in Medellín between 2008 and 2011.
The internal warfare did not prevent Bonilla from aggressively expanding his area of influence The Oficina boss spread his influence into the Guajira, Atlántico and Bolívar departments, filling the power voids left behind after the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
In 2008, he seized an important drug corridor through the Urabá region on the Caribbean coast, after the extradition of Daniel Rendón Herrera, alias “Don Mario.” He gained control of more trafficking routes through Córdoba following the capture of Victor Mejía, who headed up the “Mellizos” drug trafficking organization.
In the months leading up to his capture, Bonilla faced increasing pressure, both from enemies and allies, as some of his associates tried to follow Aguilar to the United States to become co-operating witnesses. In July 2009, his partner, Mauricio Lóopez Cardona, alias “Yiyo,” turned himself in to Colombian authorities. Another leader of the Oficina, Fabio Leóon Véelez Correa, alias “Nito,” was killed by his own subordinates for seeking a similar deal with US authorities.
Bonilla refused to cede power, and the internal feuds within the Oficina grew more aggressive as Bonilla became increasingly paranoid that his associates might be clandestinely negotiating to give him up.
Bonilla was long thought to be hiding on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, but was arrested in November 2011 in the city of Maracay, Venezuela. His capture was the result of years of tracking by the Colombian intelligence services, and he was eventually taken into custody on the eve of a visit by President Juan Manuel Santos. He was extradited to the United States almost immediately and, five years later, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a district judge in New York.
Bonilla became a key figure in the drug trafficking activities of the Oficina de Envigado after starting out as an assassin for the group. In Urabá he set up a network for drug and arms trafficking, as well as the extortion of businesses. According to the US State Department, Bonilla headed a network that shipped several tons of cocaine to the United States.
Bonilla was indicted by US authorities in 2008. He secretly pleaded guilty the same year and reportedly agreed to help track down members of the Zetas in Mexico in exchange for a reduced prison sentence. However, after returning to Colombia he continued his criminal operations and failed to cooperate with North American prosecutors. In 2010, the US State Department offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Bonilla’s arrest. He was eventually captured in Venezuela in November 2011.
While working with the Oficina de Envigado — which has its base of operations in and around Medellín — Bonilla expanded the group’s area of influence, and established drug trafficking routes through the Urabá region. He is thought to be responsible for the escalation of criminal activities in and around Medellín, other areas in the departments of Antioquia and Córdoba, and various areas in the Atlantic Coast, including the cities of Barranquilla, Santa Marta and Cartagena.
Allies and Enemies
Following Murillo’s extradition, Bonilla entered war of succession with another top-ranking member of the organization, Erickson Vargas Cárdenas, alias “Sebastián”.
After Bonilla himself was extradited in 2011, he allegedly helped police authorities to capture his archenemy Vargas, suggesting they should track down alias “Freddy Colas,” Vargas’s security coordinator. It was reportedly thanks to Bonilla’s advice that authorities managed to capture Vargas in August 2012.
One of Bonilla’s allies was Rubén Darío Moreno Urrego, alias “Pichi Grande,” who led the Mondongueros band, in northwest Medellín.
Bonilla’s network extended beyond Colombia’s borders, and Bonilla is said to have worked with criminal groups around the region, including Mexico’s Zetas.
Bonilla was captured in Venezuela in November 2011 and was extradited weeks later. In 2016, a New York court sentenced him to 20 years in prison.