A former Colombian military intelligence official was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years in prison for his participation in a conspiracy to distribute cocaine for importation into the United States.
According to court documents, from August 2017 through April 2018, Fabian Humberto Tovar Caicedo, 41, a sergeant in the Colombian Army Intelligence, assisted a drug trafficking organization (DTO) and conspired to send multi-thousand-kilogram shipments of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico for eventual importation into the United States. Tovar Caicedo offered various corrupt services to the DTO, including providing police in the Port of Santa Marta willing to facilitate the export of cocaine in exchange for payment, suggesting the use of the same phones that the DEA uses for security, offering his military training to encrypt those phones for additional security, and attempting to sell a list of DEA cooperators to the DTO.
Tovar Caicedo organized multiple meetings in furtherance of the cocaine distribution scheme. He and his co-conspirators plotted to send multiple shipments, starting at 1,000 kilograms of cocaine and moving up to as many as 10,000 kilograms of cocaine per shipment. According to the statement of facts, a member of the DTO traveled to Mexico to negotiate the receipt of the cocaine with a high-ranking Mexican military official.
One of Tovar Caicedo’s co-conspirators, Fabian Andres Leyton Vargas, used his position as a Colombian Air Force officer in the Colombian Ministry of Defense to identify and contact security and law enforcement officials in the Port of Santa Marta for bribes. Once these officials received their corrupt payments, they would ensure that cocaine-laden cargo containers passed uninspected through the port. Using this method, Leyton Vargas, along with co-conspirators Antonio Aldemar Avila Acevedo and Jose Mauricio Castaneda Garzon, attempted to ship 1,773 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to Guatemala en route to the United States in July 2017, as well as 2,081 kilograms of cocaine from Colombia to Mexico en route to the United States in March 2018. Colombian law enforcement seized both shipments before they could depart the port.
A related defendant, Jose Maria Fragoso D’Acunti, used his former position in the Colombian National Police, along with personal connections, to identify and bribe security and law enforcement officials in the port of Cartagena in Columbia to aid his organization’s cocaine trafficking. Fragoso D’Acunti and his co-conspirators planned to traffic multi-hundred-kilogram quantities of cocaine, valued at millions of United States dollars, to Europe by causing such cocaine to be secreted aboard commercial shipping containers. In November 2018, in the port of Savannah, Georgia, U.S. law enforcement seized 516 kilograms of cocaine sent by Fragoso D’Acunti’s DTO from Cartagena that were destined for Antwerp, Belgium. The cocaine was comingled with pineapples in a shipping container. In December 2018, again in the port of Savannah, Georgia, U.S. law enforcement seized an additional 205 kilograms of cocaine sent by Fragoso D’Acunti’s DTO from Cartagena, that were also destined for Belgium. The cocaine was comingled with limes in a shipping container. In support of the conspiracy, Fragoso D’Acunti paid 1 billion Colombian pesos, equivalent to more than $300,000 U.S., in bribe money to a port security officer.
Fragoso D’Acunti, Fabian Andres Leyton Vargas, and Antonio Aldemar Avila Acevedo were sentenced to 12 years in prison. Co-conspirator José Mauricio Castaneda Garzon was sentenced to seven years and four months in prison.
The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) supported these cases. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, and multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Jessica D. Aber for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Special Agent in Charge J. Todd Scott of the DEA Louisville Division made the announcement.
The DEA Louisville Division and Cartagena Resident Office investigated the case, with substantial assistance from the DEA’s Office of Special Intelligence’s Document and Media Exploitation Unit and Special Operations Division’s Bilateral Investigations Unit, as well as the DEA’s offices in Bogota, Panama, Guatemala City, San Jose (Costa Rica), Brussels, Mexico City, Madrid, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Rome, The Hague, Vienna, Hong Kong, Islamabad, Savannah, Detroit, Tampa – PANEX, and New Orleans. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) National Targeting Center also provided substantial assistance. The Colombian National Police, the Belgian Federal Police, the German Zolfahndungsamt, the National Police of the Netherlands, and the Italian Guardia di Finanza also provided critical support.
Trial Attorneys Douglas Meisel and Janet Turnbull of the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section (NDDS) and Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony T. Aminoff for the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case.
NDDS Trial Attorneys Meisel and Teresita Mutton and Assistant U.S. Attorney Aminoff for the Eastern District of Virginia are prosecuting the case against Fragoso D’Acunti.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Aminoff (then with NDDS), Katie Rumbaugh, and Dave Peters for the Eastern District of Virginia prosecuted the case against Leyton Vargas, Avila Acevedo, and Castaneda Garzon.
The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs and the Judicial Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Bogota provided substantial assistance in securing the arrest and extradition of the defendants.