A senior paramilitary leader and one of Colombia’s most notorious drug traffickers was sentenced on Friday to serve 198 months in prison for his role leading an international drug trafficking conspiracy responsible for the importation of ton-quantities of cocaine into the United States. DEA Acting Administrator Chuck Rosenberg and Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division made the announcement.
Hernan Giraldo Serna, a Colombian national, pleaded guilty in 2009 to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine knowing and intending that it would be imported into the United States. U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton imposed the sentence.
“DEA agents work every day to attack global criminal networks that use drug trafficking as a means to finance their terrorist activities and we are pleased that this AUC leader will finally face American justice,” said DEA Chief of Operations Anthony Williams. “We will continue to work with our international partners as DEA targets the transnational criminal groups destroying the lives of many people around the world.”
According to admissions in the plea agreement, Serna ascended to a leadership position in 1996 within the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (United Self Defense Forces of Colombia or AUC), a terrorist and paramilitary organization in Colombia. In September 2001, the AUC was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the U.S. Department of State. In May 2003, the AUC was placed on the Significant Foreign Narcotics Traffickers list by order of the President, pursuant to the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act. In February 2004, Giraldo Serna individually was designated as a Tier II Kingpin by the Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, subjecting him to severe economic sanctions under the Kingpin Act.
“The sentence demonstrates the successful and vigorous partnership we have with our law enforcement colleagues in Colombia. We have been able to disrupt the flow of drugs coming from the north coast of Colombia, and punish the narco-traffickers responsible,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco. “This defendant, operating with the resources of an illegal para-military group that controlled drug trafficking in a large portion of northern Colombia, distributed large quantities of cocaine into international commerce, much of which was imported into the United States. International drug traffickers who believe they can operate with impunity learn the hard way that they cannot, and we will continue to work with our international partners to bring to justice those who knowingly transport cocaine to the United States.”
The statement of facts also established that Giraldo Serna became a senior commander in the AUC by 1996, and his armed force controlled a significant part of northern Colombia. In connection with his guilty plea, Giraldo Serna admitted that, from the early 1990s through the early 2000s, soldiers operating under his direction controlled large areas in northern Colombia where cocaine was cultivated, produced and distributed.
Giraldo Serna also admitted to providing security for drug traffickers in the region under his control, including those individuals responsible for coca cultivation and distribution. Giraldo Serna also admitted to knowing that multi-ton quantities of cocaine were manufactured and transiting the region under his control and that significant quantities of that cocaine was transported to the United States. He further admitted his responsibility for the illegal importation of thousands of kilograms of cocaine into the United States.
Today’s sentence does not account for violations of Colombian human rights-related laws allegedly committed by Giraldo Serna, which are being addressed in Colombia through the Justice and Peace process – a legal framework enacted in 2005 to facilitate the demobilization of its paramilitary organizations – and Colombian criminal justice system.
The case was investigated by DEA’s Bogota and Cartagena, Colombia Country Offices, and the DEA Special Operations Division. The government of Colombia provided invaluable assistance through the investigation, prosecution, and sentencing of this case, with specific assistance provided by the Judicial Police of the Prosecutor General’s Office in Colombia and the Colombian National Police.