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Alleged Drug Kingpin to Face Cocaine Charges in Florida

In a recent federal court appearance in Miami, a notable Colombian individual, identified by U.S. authorities as a major drug trafficker, entered a plea of not guilty to charges related to cocaine smuggling. The individual, 45-year-old Jhon Fredy Zapata-Garzon, has been linked to the infamous Clan del Golfo cartel and faces allegations of conspiring to distribute significant quantities of cocaine into the United States.

Zapata-Garzon, also known by nicknames “Candado” and “Messi,” was formally indicted by a Miami federal jury in 2021. The charges against him involve the alleged conspiracy to distribute at least five kilos of cocaine from January 2009 to November 2017, activities that could lead to a life sentence if he is convicted. Details of his purported involvement in drug trafficking remain limited, as outlined in a concise four-page indictment.

Following his extradition from Colombia this past Wednesday, Zapata-Garzon appeared in court, where his detention pending trial was agreed upon by his defense attorney, without offering further comments to the press.

The prosecution, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellen D’Angelo, builds on the Treasury Department’s 2020 designation of Zapata-Garzon as a significant figure under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin list. This designation came as part of broader sanctions aimed at curtailing the international drug trafficking operations of the Clan del Golfo, a powerful paramilitary group deeply embedded in Colombia’s drug trade.

Additionally, the sanctions have extended to three family members and associates of Zapata-Garzon, along with four businesses they are said to manage or control.

The U.S. authorities have described Zapata-Garzon as a crucial facilitator in the cocaine trafficking operations of the Clan del Golfo, reporting that he managed several large shipments totaling approximately 4,500 kilograms of cocaine in late 2018. Moreover, he is alleged to have supported and financed local political candidates in Colombia on behalf of the cartel.

This case ties into broader efforts by U.S. authorities to combat transnational organized crime, marking the Clan del Golfo as a significant threat. Notably, the organization was first identified under the Kingpin Act during President Barack Obama’s administration in 2013, and later emphasized as a top criminal threat by U.S. Attorney General William Barr in 2018.

Colombian security forces, in collaboration with military units, arrested Zapata-Garzon and seven close associates in a significant operation against the Clan del Golfo from late 2020 to early 2021, capturing over 180 individuals linked to the cartel. Major General Fernando Murillo Orrego of Colombia’s Directorate of Criminal Investigation and Interpol highlighted Zapata-Garzon’s role in managing narcotrafficking and money laundering operations, noting his involvement in establishing drug trafficking routes to Europe and the United States.