The former military chief of one of Colombia’s most dangerous criminal organizations pleaded guilty to charges of major cocaine trafficking to the United States at a plea hearing in Miami, Florida last Friday.

Diego Perez Henao, alias “Diego Rastrojo,” pleaded guilty last week to the one-count accusation against him, alleging he participated in decades of illegal drug production and distribution from Colombia to the United States, the US Department of Justice announced in a press release.

Diego Rastrojo is the infamous former military leader who gave his name to one of the major players in Colombia’s bloody and ongoing drug trade – Los Rastrojos – a neoparamilitary criminal organization heavily involved in parapolitics, drug-trafficking, extortion and kidnapping.

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PROFILE: Los Rastrojos

At the time of his arrest in Venezuela in June 2012, Diego Rastrojo had a $5 million bounty on his head and was considered to be one of the most powerful leaders of the Colombian underworld. He was subsequently flown back to Colombia and eventually extradited to the United States in August of 2013.

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“Diego Perez Henao was the kingpin of a prolific drug cartel responsible for the production and shipment of over 80,000 kilograms of cocaine into the United States,” US Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Wifredo A. Ferrer stated. “The conviction of Perez Henao concludes one of the most significant chapters in the history of the Colombian drug trade.”

As well as acknowledging his involvement in the trafficking of almost 180,000 pounds of cocaine to the United States during the period from 1994 to 2008, Diego Rastrojo admitted that he and his collaborators transported US-bound narcotics to Mexican drug cartels via airplanes, trucks and semi-submersibles.

Following the killing of Rastrojos’ founder and leader Wilber Varela, alias “Jabon,” in 2008, Diego assumed a greater role in the illegal drug trade. Varela was reportedly assassinated by his primary assistant, Javier Calle Serna, alias “Comba,” with the help of Diego Rastrojo after expressing his opposition to the expansion of the group, which years later would enter a fierce territorial battle with rival Antioquia-based criminal organization Los Urabeños.

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The military commander also admitted to commanding dozens of heavily armed members of the criminal organization and overseeing large-scale cocaine manufacturing.

According to criminal analysis platform InSight Crime, Diego Rastrojo is also under investigation in his native Colombia for at least 66 murders committed between 2008 and 2012 alone.

Today, he faces a sentence ranging from 10 years to life in prison as his case gets underway in Florida, with a judgment expected to be declared this coming June.

Since the fall of its three primary figureheads — Diego Rastrojo and Comba and his brother Luis Enrique, both of whom turned themselves in to US authorities — the Rastrojos has lost strength in recent years.

Rastrojo’s conviction is part of an international on-going mission by the US’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) to eradicate the principal, weapon and money laundering and narcotics-trafficking organizations who “infiltrate our [US] borders and poison our society with dangerous drugs,” stated Michael B. Steinbach, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami bureau.


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