The boss of a Colombian cocaine cartel that smuggled some $10 billion worth of cocaine into the U.S. pleaded guilty Tuesday to drug charges that will send him to prison for at least 10 years.
Diego "Don Diego" Montoya Sanchez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine, racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The charges carry a minimum 10 year sentence, but prosecutors will recommend he spend 45 years in prison.
For Montoya, who once held down a spot on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, the guilty plea was a godsend, so to speak.
"Thank you and may God accompany my steps, so that I can make amends," he told the federal judge during a brief statement.
Montoya has a lot to make up for.
As the reputed head of Colombia's North Valley cocaine cartel, Montoya, 48, was responsible for exporting some 1.2 million pounds of cocaine over the past decade. Colombian authorities blame him for some 1,500 drug-related killings.
Authorities estimate that at its height the cartel controlled about 60 percent of Colombia's cocaine trade. Beginning in the early 1990s the cartel took over the trade following the demise of the earlier Cali and Medellin cartels.
Montoya was captured in Colombia in September 2007 after an intense manhunt and extradited to the U.S. in December 2008. An extradition treaty between Columbia and the U.S., however, prohibits Montoya from being sentenced to life in prison. U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga scheduled sentencing for Oct. 21.
Montoya's two brothers have previously pleaded guilty to U.S. drug charges. Eugenio Montoya, who handled the cartel's finances and money-laundering work, is serving 30 years. Juan Carlos Montoya was sentenced to 22 years.