NEW YORK — A federal judge attacked a ruthless Colombian drug lord when she sentenced him to 45 years behind bars, calling him “more prolific” than notorious drug trafficker Pablo Escobar and comparing him to famed mob boss John Gotti.
Brooklyn District Court Judge Dora Irizarry handed down the sentence for Dairo Antonio Usuga David, who, as Supreme Leader of Clan del Golfo, commanded a 6,000-strong paramilitary force responsible for numerous killings and sending of multi-ton shipments of cocaine to the US.
Usuga David, 51, was captured in Colombia in 2021 after an intense, years-long manhunt, and extradited to the US in May 2022. He entered a guilty plea for Irizarry in January that covers charges in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Florida.
Irizarry scoffed at Usuga David’s claims that he grew up in poverty and was caught up in the conflict and civil war around him.
The judge noted that countless people around the world grow up surrounded by violence — whether it’s mob violence in the Bronx or civil war in Colombia — without living a life of crime.
“You used (your) intelligence, and quite frankly, your willingness to be ruthless, to ignore the value of human life to rise through the ranks, going through these different organizations,” Irizarry said.
She also resisted when Usuga David’s lawyers tried to criticize prosecutors for comparing him to Pablo Escobar – who at the height of his power in the 1980s and 1990s held Colombia in a ruthless grip and was blamed for 80% of the cocaine smuggled into the US. US
“There are many drug dealers who were more productive than Pablo Escobar, including your client,” she said.
Usuga David admitted to being responsible for trafficking nearly 100 tons of cocaine to the US, a number that is “extraordinary and in all likelihood probably underestimates the actual volume,” the judge said.
That amount of drugs came with a huge cost of human misery, including “the impact on families of losing people to the overdoses, to the violence that the drug trade generates,” Irizarry said.
“People are shooting each other in the street, people are dying in the street, and we see it day by day,” she said. “We have innocent bystanders, babies, old people, people on their way to work, people coming home from work, getting caught in the crossfire.”
Irizarry said she was not convinced by letters from community members in Colombia praising his virtues and good deeds.
“I wouldn’t expect them to write anything other than statements of support for fear of retaliation,” she said.
The judge added: “John Gotti was loved by his community. He threw block parties in Howard Beach… And in one breath he’d get someone killed.”
The notorious Gambino crime family boss, once known as the “Teflon Don,” ruled the nation’s largest crime family until a federal jury in Brooklyn convicted him of racketeering in 2002.
Usuga David, who also went by the name “Otoniel,” led a militarized cartel of 6,000 members that controlled vast areas in the Urabá region of Antioquia, Colombia.
He ordered his subordinates to “probably commit countless murders of civilians and law enforcement officials,” assistant attorney Francisco Navarro said.
Usuga David wielded his power by occupying and shutting down entire communities. After his brother was killed in a police raid in 2012, he ordered his cartel’s forces to close down the cities under his control. The residents were told to stay in their homes for several days, and anyone who violated his curfew would be executed.
At one point, he put a bounty on the head of every police officer in Colombia — and dozens were killed as a result, Navarro said.
“He paid a $70,000 bounty to a police dog who assisted in significant drug seizures,” the prosecutor said.
In a statement to the judge, Usuga David apologized to the US and Colombia, to his victims and to his family.
“I was born in a region of great conflict and grew up in this conflict,” he said. “To the people and youth of Colombia, I would like to advise them not to follow the path I have taken. … I hope to contribute every grain of sand I can to peace.
Irizarry’s sentence was in line with the government’s request that Usuga David be jailed for 45 years.
Under the terms of Usuga David’s extradition from Colombia, the government agreed not to seek life in prison. He still faces a long sentence in Colombia if he ends his time in the US
Usuga David’s lawyers asked for 25 years behind bars, and one of his lawyers accused prosecutors of trying to punish him for the decades-long Colombian civil war, but Irizarry interrupted that argument.
“I’m sorry, but you can’t separate violence from drug trafficking,” Irizarry told defense attorneys.
In a statement, Brooklyn attorney Breon Peace said: “The human misery caused by the defendant’s incredibly violent, vengeful and bloody reign as leader of the Clan de Golfo drug trafficking organization can never be fully calculated due to its magnitude.”