DEA Press Release

September 4, 1996

Surrender of Last Cali Mafia Leader

“Pacho Herrera’s surrender to the Colombian National Police is the result of their untiring efforts to bring the last of the Cali cartel kingpins before the bar of justice. We congratulate them on yet another success,” stated Thomas A. Constantine, Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). “While little known outside of Colombian and American law enforcement circles, Herrera is one of the most influential and violent members of the Cali Cartel leadership. His surrender after months of being on the run is additional proof that these gangsters are not invincible,” Constantine added.

The Government of Colombia announced the surrender of Helmer “Pacho” Herrera- Buitrago on Sunday, September 1, 1996. Herrera is one of the charter members of the Cali Mafia and was the only remaining “Kingpin” being sought by Colombian authorities. Herrera had been the subject of an intensive manhunt by the Colombian National Police (CNP) and the Drug Enforcement Administration for the past year.

“Pacho” Herrera, considered to be one of the highest ranking members of the Cali leadership started his criminal career selling relatively small amounts of cocaine in New York where he was arrested in 1975 and later in 1979. He is now a major supplier of cocaine for both New York and Southern Florida. The Colombian charges against Herrera were based upon the seizure of 3,500 hundred kilograms of cocaine in Tarpon Springs, FLA in 1988. “The violence and suffering caused by Herrera’s criminal activities ranged from the jungles of Colombia to the neighborhoods of Florida and the streets of New York. The evidence against Herrera is the result of a long term, systematic investigation and the hard work of both American and Colombian law enforcement. This investigation proves once again that a strategic, long term law enforcement approach is viable and necessary if we are to successfully engage these international gangsters,” Constantine stated.

Herrera’s organization is large and well organized. Herrera has multiple sources for cocaine base from both Peru and Bolivia and an excellent transportation organization which delivers cocaine base to numerous conversion laboratories in Colombia. DEA intelligence reports indicate that Herrera has used his close association with various guerilla groups including M-19 and FARC for the protection of remote laboratory sites. Herrera’s organization stages multi-ton cocaine shipments from clandestine airstrips in Colombia or from North Coast ports through Central America and the Caribbean to various U.S. ports of entry. To insure the rapid return of his cocaine distribution profits to Colombia, Herrera operated one of Cali Cartel’s the most profitable money laundering operations in New York.

“The arrest of the leaders of the Cali Mafia is only the beginning. To be meaningful, they must be stripped of their wealth and sentenced to prison terms commensurate with the suffering and pain they inflicted. Ideally, they should be extradited to the United States where they could be judged by the very citizens they harmed the most,” stated Constantine.

“Bringing Herrera to justice in the U.S. is important because of the light sentences and concessions for “surrender” and “cooperation” provided under the Colombian judicial system, which has been attacked, tampered with and weakened by drug traffickers and their hired attorneys and legislators,” Constantine added.

“For example, compare the 27 year Federal Penitentiary sentence for Pacho’s brother Ramiro who was arrested in New York and convicted of distributing approximately 2000 kilos of cocaine in 1991 with the 5 1/2 year sentence confessed narcotrafficker and one-time Medillin Cartel Kingpin Juan David Ochoa Vasquez received after surrendering to Colombian authorities in November 1990,” he added.

According to the Bogota daily newspaper, El Espectador, at the time of Ochoa’s release Colombia’s Minister of Justice Carlos Medellin characterized the sentence received by Ochoa as “ridiculous.”

Francisco Helmer “Pacho” Herrera is currently the subject of two indictments in the Eastern District of New York and was most recently indicted on drug related charges in Federal District Court in the Southern District of Florida in June, 1995.

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