BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) – An alleged major Colombian drug trafficker whose paramilitary organization controls coastal and border smuggling routes surrendered to U.S. drug agents in Aruba and was flown to New York, where he faces criminal charges, Colombian authorities said Monday.
Jose Antonio Calle was indicted in New York’s Eastern District last year for the alleged international distribution of 25 metric tons of cocaine, money laundering, racketeering and murder, according to a news release the local U.S. attorney’s office issued at the time.
The U.S. government had a $5 million reward out for Calle, who deputy Colombian police director Gen. Jose Roberto Leon said turned himself in U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents on Friday in Aruba, off the Caribbean coast of Colombia and Venezuela.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney in New York’s Eastern District, Robert Nardoza, said he could neither confirm nor deny Leon’s statement that Calle was flown to New York. Nor would Nardoza discuss why the indictment was not available in the U.S. federal court system’s online electronic database. The DEA also declined comment.
The 43-year-old Calle allegedly heads a violent cocaine-trafficking paramilitary force called “Los Rastrojos,” or The Leftovers.
His brother and alleged accomplice, Juan Carlos Calle, was captured in Ecuador in March and sent to the United States. A $5 million reward had also been offered for him by the U.S. State Department.
The Rastrojos emerged roughly a decade ago from the dissolution of Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel, and allegedly shipped tons of cocaine northward through Mexico.
The brothers, originally hired guns for Norte del Valle bosses, gained the nickname the “Comba,” short for combatants, as their criminal gang expanded its influence over drug-trafficking routes, corrupting local officials and battling a rival offshoot of the cartel called the “Urabenos.”
The U.S. State Department said Javier Antonio Calle Serna has since 2005 allegedly run “Los Rastrojos” and “been linked to kidnappings, tortures, and assassinations in Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama.”
A former guerrilla fighter, he is believed associated with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, and its late nemesis, the far-right United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, both designated terrorist organizations by the U.S. government, the State Department says on its website.
Colombian police officials say drug traffickers often create alliances of convenience with the countries’ competing illegal armed groups, placing business over ideology.
The March 2011 U.S. press release announcing the indictment of Javier Antonio Calle along with nine other alleged members of Los Rastrojos said that in addition to partnering with Mexican drug cartels to ship cocaine from Colombia to the United States via Mexico, Venezuela and Central America, the organization levied a “tax” on other Colombia traffickers on drug shipments traveling through territory under its control.
That territory includes parts of Colombia’s Pacific coast and the border with Venezuela, Colombian police say. A recent study by the Nuevo Arco Iris think tank that Los Rastrojos coexist in the Colombia-Venezuela border region with criminal organizations including Mexico’s Zetas.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak contributed to this report from Lima, Peru
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