WASHINGTON -- Two Colombians who headed the Cali cartel pleaded guilty yesterday to drug trafficking and money laundering in a complex deal that U S officials said marked the end of the gang that once terrorized Colombia and dominated cocaine smuggling into the United States.
As part of their plea deal, reached after months of negotiations, Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, 67, and his brother Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, 63, agreed to forfeit billions of dollars in assets linked to their drug trade.
Wearing pinstriped business suits , each was sentenced to 30 years in a U S prison during the pleading in a Miami courtroom.
``The brothers' guilty pleas effectively signals the final, fatal blow to the powerful Cali cartel," Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said at a news conference . ``This is a day of pride for the people of Colombia and for international law enforcement."
A separate deal described in court will protect six of the brothers' relatives in Colombia from prosecution on obstruction of justice and money laundering charges. That agreement also could permit 28 people with ties to the brothers to keep property and other assets not tainted by drug money.
As described by Gonzales and Adam J. Szubin, director of the Foreign Assets Control office at the Treasury Department, the 28 people will be required to turn over any assets acquired with drug trafficking, such as houses, bank accounts, and businesses. Once those assets are surrendered, the Orejuela family members could eventually be removed from a U S list freezing their assets and blocking them from doing business with U S entities.
U S District Judge Federico Moreno accepted the guilty pleas and approved the sentencing agreement between prosecutors and defense lawyers.
The brothers agreed to forfeit to the United States $2.1 billion in assets linked to drug trafficking, but the two made many times that amount during the cartel's heyday in the 1990s. Gonzales and the eight other U S and Colombian officials at the news conference were unable to estimate how many illegal billions of dollars the cartel made during the more than 20 years the two brothers ran it.