Mauricio Santoyo, the Colombian police general who once served as chief of security for former President Alvaro Uribe, pleaded guilty to aiding paramilitary forces, raising the question of what kind of damning intelligence he will give to US authorities to earn a shorter prison sentence.
Santoyo pleaded guilty to aiding the demobilized paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) in Virginia’s Eastern District Court on August 20. He is the first Colombian police general to be charged by a US court for collaborating with the AUC, which the US has designated a terrorist organization.
His indictment was unsealed in June, and charged him with feeding intelligence obtained from police wiretaps to the AUC, among other activities. He was also charged with aiding the AUC's drug trafficking operations. Santoyo’s defense initially said they would plead innocent and go to trial.
As InSight Crime’s timeline below shows, Santoyo was promoted to police general in 2007 despite facing several criminal investigations against him. Both the Attorney General’s Office and the Inspector General’s Office investigated him for ordering illegal wiretaps in Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellin. The Inspector General’s Office even banned him from holding public office, but this decision was overturned by judicial body the Council of State.
Between 2003 and 2006, Santoyo served as President Uribe’s chief of security in the presidential office the Casa de Nariño. According to the US indictment, Santoyo is charged with collaborating with the AUC and with Medellin-based criminal syndicate the Oficina de Envigado between 2000 and 2008, which covers the same time period he was Uribe’s head of security.
InSight Crime Analysis
Santoyo had time to think carefully about his decision to plead guilty. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) told him as early as 2011 that he was under investigation, and Santoyo met with the agency on at least three occasions in Aruba and Washington D.C., Colombian newspaper El Tiempo reported. So when the indictment was unsealed in Alexandria, it was far from a surprise for the retired police general.
The case against Santoyo appears to be partly based on testimony by former AUC warlords, currently serving prison sentences in the US. However, Andean regional director for the DEA Jay Bergman has said that the Santoyo case is built on other evidence besides the testimony from the AUC inmates, and praised collaboration between the US and Colombian police and Attorney General’s Office. This is one indication that the charges against Santoyo do not solely rest on the allegations by imprisoned paramilitaries, and that Colombian authorities were also keeping tabs on him.
When Santoyo appeared in court in Virginia on July 6, he originally pleaded not guilty. By changing his plea, he now faces a maximum of 15 years and a minimum 10 years in prison, a sentence which could be reduced even further in exchange for Santoyo’s collaboration with US authorities. But Santoyo will likely only earn further reduced penalties if he names other AUC collaborators who held high-level positions of power, whether in the government or the security forces. And given that Santoyo already held the rank of police general, there are only so many higher-ups whom he could possibly implicate.