HomeNewsLast Man Standing: US Indictments Tell the Tale of Colombia's Otoniel

Last Man Standing: US Indictments Tell the Tale of Colombia's Otoniel


Shortly after the capture of accused drug capo Dairo Antonio Úsuga, Colombia President Iván Duque announced that the country's most-wanted trafficker would be sent to the United States to face charges.

Úsuga, alias "Otoniel," has been on the radar of US prosecutors for more than a decade, and indictments are open against him in three US courts. While much of the information remains under seal, the accusations provide a glimpse of his climb in Colombia's underworld – and show he was also one of the last men standing when it came to the group prosecutors called the "Urabeños."

Úsuga was first indicted in 2009 on drug trafficking and terrorism conspiracy charges in the Southern District of New York. Prosecutors in the case alleged only that Úsuga and his brother, Juan de Dios Úsuga, alias "Giovanni," had "provided logistical support and coordination for narcotics trafficking."  

SEE ALSO: What Does Otoniel's Arrest Really Mean for Colombia?

That indictment was aimed mainly at Daniel Rendón Herrera, alias "Don Mario," who ran finances for a bloc of the right-wing paramilitary umbrella group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia - AUC). Later, Don Mario set up his own drug clan in the northeastern Colombia region of Urabá, from which the group takes its name.

The narcoterrorism charges stem from Don Mario's time with the AUC, which the US State Department had designated a foreign terrorist organization. Prosecutors accused Don Mario of ordering the murders of rebel commanders, taxing drug traffickers to purchase weapons, killing police, and kidnapping civilians. Don Mario was captured in April 2009.

Six years later, Úsuga was indicted again in two separate US courts. In June 2015, he was charged with drug trafficking in the Southern District of Florida. A month later, he was indicted in the Eastern District of New York on criminal conspiracy, drug conspiracy, cocaine distribution, and murder conspiracy charges.

Prosecutors in New York were the first to name Otoniel, alongside Don Mario, as being the principal leader of the Urabeños trafficking organization. According to prosecutors, the group trafficked "multi-ton shipments of cocaine" to Central America and Mexico for importation into the United States. The group also coordinated the "production, purchase and transfer" of cocaine shipments while also taxing cocaine moving through areas under their control, prosecutors said.

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profile

The indictment details – during a nine-year span from 2003 to 2012 – some 30 cocaine shipments, ranging from 1,600 kilograms to 12 tons. The shipments add up to nearly 75 tons of cocaine.

Besides Otoniel, eleven other men were indicted in the 2015 cases. They included seven commanders who, according to prosecutors, collected drug taxes and managed combatants in territory under the group’s control. Charged were Roberto Vargas Gutiérrez, alias “Gavilan”; Jairo Durango Restrepo, alias “Guagua”; Carlos Antonio Moreno Tuberquia, alias “Nicolás”; Aristides Manuel Meza Páez, alias “El Indio”; Luis Orlando Padierna Peña, alias “Inglaterra,” Jobanis de Jesús Ávila Villadiego, alias "Chiquito Malo,” and César Daniel Anaya Martínez, alias “Tierra.”

Three other individuals were also indicted. Yony Alberto Grajales Álvarez, alias "ahijado,” headed a drug debt collection office in the city of Cali. Óscar David Pulgarín Gañán, alias “El señor de los caballos,” laundered money for the group, and Ramiro Caro Pineda, alias  “Nolasco,” controlled airstrips on Colombia’s Atlantic Coast.

All three have since been arrested, and Pulgarín Gañán and Caro Pineda have pleaded guilty to their charges. Of the commanders, four have since been killed, and two have been arrested.

The only one who remains of the core group is Chiquito Malo, and he is possibly in line to take over the Urabeños after Otoniel's capture.

Otoniel will also be following in the footsteps of several of his family members since his sister, two cousins and other more distant relatives have all been extradited to the United States due to their involvement with the Urabeños.

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.


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.


Related Content


Authorities in Spain seized over one ton of cocaine from a Colombian drug trafficking network and arrested dozens of its…

COCAINE / 10 FEB 2021

A recent string of high-profile drug plane interceptions suggests the once tranquil Mexican state of Quintana Roo is being increasingly…

COLOMBIA / 26 MAY 2011

Colombia has announced a $1.1 million reward for information leading to the capture of former guerrilla leader and alleged drug…

About InSight Crime


Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution Met With Uproar

6 MAY 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime launched its latest investigation, Venezuela’s Cocaine Revolution¸ accompanied by a virtual panel on its findings. The takeaways from this three-year effort, including the fact that Venezuela…


Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…


InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…


Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…


Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…