The Miami Herald
Sat, Mar. 12, 2005

2nd Cali chief sent to U.S.

Colombians' feelings were mixed after Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, one of the two leaders of a famed drug trafficking network, was extradited to Miami.


BOGOTA - Amid massive security that included Colombian special forces on the ground and attack helicopters in the air, Colombian authorities extradited Friday the second half of the famed Cali cartel leadership to Miami to face drug trafficking, money laundering and obstruction of justice charges.

In the late 1970s, Miguel ''El Señor'' Rodríguez Orejuela, 61, and his brother, Gilberto, 65, ''the Chess Player'' established a drug trafficking network that eventually stretched from the Peruvian coca fields to the streets of New York City and touched many points in between. Gilberto was extradited in December and is in the Miami Federal Detention Center awaiting trial.

Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela arrived Friday aboard a Drug Enforcement Agency airplane at Opa-locka Airport about 6:15 p.m. amid heavy SWAT-level security. He was loaded into a vehicle and escorted by a motorcade of a half-dozen vehicles to the federal detention center in Miami. Interstate 95 traffic was kept away from the convoy to allow it to move unimpeded.


''For years, the Cali cartel leaders thought they could operate beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement,'' said Michael J. Garcia, assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement at the Department of Homeland Security, in a written statement. ``Today's extradition once again demonstrates the end of that era.''

In their heyday, following the 1993 death of their chief rival, Pablo Escobar, authorities claim that the Cali cartel was responsible for as much as 80 percent of the cocaine that entered the United States. Colombian police captured the two brothers in 1995, and both served close to 10 years in jail here.

But an indictment returned by a Miami grand jury last year stated that the brothers, in conjunction with several associates including Miguel's son, William Rodríguez Abadia, continued to traffic drugs from their jail cells. The indictment adds the group ``would knowingly intimidate . . . witnesses and potential witnesses, by ordering the killing of witnesses and potential witnesses.''

Colombians responded to the extradition with a mix of resignation and indignation. President Alvaro Uribe has sent about 260 suspected drug traffickers abroad to face charges, including close to 200 to the United States, and has repeatedly stated his intention to continue this unprecedented legal cooperation that has won him praise and allies in Washington. But many Colombians complain the United States is violating due process and the extradition treaty. The U.S. Treasury Department, for instance, has yet to authorize Gilberto's lawyer, Miami-based José Quiñón, to receive what it deems as tainted funds from members of the Rodríguez family, effectively denying him private legal counsel.


For his part, Quiñón admits that his would-be client, Gilberto, is guilty of many crimes, but he says they all occurred before Dec. 17, 1997, the date in which the United States and Colombia made effective an extradition treaty.

The arrival of the second of the two pillars of the Cali cartel was the culmination of two multiagency federal investigations into the reputed crime family's activities: ''Operation Cornerstone,'' out of the U.S. Attorney's Southern District of Florida office, and ''Operation Dynasty,'' out of the agency's Southern District of New York office.

Herald staff writers Robert L. Steinback and Jay Weaver, and Herald news partner WFOR-CBS4 contributed to this report.