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Accused Colombian cartel leader Otoniel to change plea in U.S. drug case


The accused leader of a prominent Colombian criminal group plans to change his plea in a U.S. drug trafficking case after pleading not guilty last May, records in Brooklyn federal court showed on Friday.

Dairo Antonio Usuga, better known as Otoniel, is scheduled on Jan. 25 for a change-of-plea hearing, which normally signals a forthcoming guilty plea, before U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry in Brooklyn.

No further information about the plea hearing was immediately available.

Alexei Schacht, a lawyer for Usuga, declined to comment. A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Breon Peace in Brooklyn had no additional information.

Usuga was arrested by Colombian armed forces in October 2021 near the Colombia-Panama border, and extradited to the United States the following May.

Peace has said Usuga, as the leader of the Clan del Golfo cartel, had been “one of the most dangerous, most wanted drug kingpins in the world,” and smuggled “outrageous” amounts of cocaine into the United States from June 2003 until his arrest.

Usuga pleaded not guilty to engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiring to manufacture and distribute cocaine, and using firearms to further drug trafficking.

He faced up to life in prison on those counts, and has been jailed at Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center.

Usuga has also been indicted on drug-related charges in Manhattan and Miami. Those cases have been transferred to Brooklyn, and are part of the defendant’s change-of-plea hearing, court records show.

Extradition to the United States is among Bogota’s main weapons to fight drug trafficking.