HomeNewsBrief8 Years After Indictment, US Sentences Colombia Crime Boss
BRIEF

8 Years After Indictment, US Sentences Colombia Crime Boss

COLOMBIA / 21 OCT 2016 BY MIMI YAGOUB EN

A US court has sentenced a top Colombian drug trafficker years after he negotiated his way back to criminal life in Colombia, in a case that highlights weaknesses in the justice system of both countries. 

Maximilian Orozco Bonilla, alias "Valenciano," formerly one of the leaders of the Oficina de Envigado criminal organization, was sentenced to 20 years behind bars on drug trafficking-related charges, Reuters reported.

The ruling by a New York court comes eight years after he first made contact with US authorities regarding his criminal charges, and five years after he was arrested and extradited.

SEE ALSOCoverage of Extradition

According to El Colombiano, the length of his sentence was at least partly due to the fact that he deceived the US judicial system years prior. In 2008, Bonilla was indicted by US authorities and secretly negotiated a plea bargain in exchange for a reduced sentence.

"When he arrived with his lawyer, he offered us the entire Zetas organization in Mexico," El Colombiano quoted prosecutor Bonnie Klapper as saying. Klapper was responsible for securing the deal with Bonilla.

"With that information, we decided that it was worth letting him go, because he could turn over the bosses of that cartel to us."

Once Bonilla returned to Colombia, however, he continued his operations in the transnational cocaine trade.

After his mentor and top Oficina leader Diego Murillo, alias "Don Berna," was unexpectedly extradited to the United States in 2008, a bloody battle for succession raged in Medellín. One faction was headed by Bonilla -- who had secured control of the Oficina's drug trafficking activities -- and the other by Erickson Vargas Cárdenas, alias "Sebastián," who had more influence over the city's street gangs.

An international hunt for Bonilla forced him to flee to Venezuela, and Vargas eventually gained the upper hand. With a $5 million price tag on his head, Bonilla was arrested in Venezuela in November 2011. 

According to US investigators, by 2008 Bonilla was considered to be one of the world's main cocaine traffickers, moving drugs from Colombia's Atlantic Coast for a range of illegal armed groups, from Colombia's National Liberation Army (Ejército de Liberación Nacional - ELN) to Mexico's Zetas.

Despite his crime profile, according to El Colombiano authorities in Colombia only have one case against Bonilla, for criminal association.

InSight Crime Analysis

Bonilla's case lays bare long-running flaws in the Colombian and US justice systems. The trafficker's manipulation of US authorities illustrates the changing relationship between US justice and wanted men: once feared, submitting to the United States is increasingly being perceived as the more lenient option for criminals. In the past few years, Colombian lawbreakers have traded prosecution at home for near impunity in the United States. As well as striking deals for surprisingly light sentences, defendants and their families have also been allowed to remain in US territory once their jail time is up.

At the same time, the fact that Colombian authorities have apparently not built any criminal cases against Bonilla despite decades of underworld activity points to the judicial system's continuing weaknesses and dependency on US institutions.

Bonilla's exit from Colombia has also marked a key shift in the local crime scene.

SEE ALSO:  Oficina de Envigado News and Profile

After the fratricidal war and the arrest of its leaders, the fracturing of the Oficina was irrevocable. Today, the organization operates as a far more horizontal system than in years past. Numerous Oficina bosses have been captured, making drug capos like Don Berna a thing of the past. 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

EXTRADITION / 10 OCT 2016

Five members of the weakened Valles drug trafficking organization are facing extradition to the United States, highlighting the Honduran government's…

BRAZIL / 4 MAY 2021

Brazil, Colombia and Peru have deployed their armies to fight deforestation and other crimes in the Amazon rainforest.

COCA / 30 JUL 2016

Verdad Abierta presents a close-up of the small mountain town Colombia has selected to pilot an internationally-supported…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Guatemala Social Insecurity Investigation Makes Front Page News

10 DEC 2021

InSight Crime’s latest investigation into a case of corruption within Guatemala's social security agency linked to the deaths of patients with kidney disease made waves in…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…

THE ORGANIZATION

Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…

THE ORGANIZATION

Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…