“Socalj” for Borderland Beat

US Judge Brian Cogan handed down a 20-year prison sentence against Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, better known as “Chupeta”, a former leader of the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia who supplied Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and later testified against him.

During the hearing held in the same Brooklyn Court that saw the prosecutions of “El Chapo,” and Genaro Garcia Luna, the judge recognized that “Chupeta” had been a key part of the cases against traffickers such as “El Chapo” who was convicted in July 2019, in addition to Jesús “El Rey” Zambada, brother of “El Mayo.” According to the statements from his defense attorney, “Chupeta” has participated in 75% of the high-level cases in the Eastern District of New York related to Colombian and Mexican drug traffickers.
“If you put cooperation on a scale of one to ten, [Ramírez Abadía] is an 11,” his defense attorney told Judge Cogan in an attempt to obtain consideration for his client.
However, his participation with authorities did not allow him to evade Cogan’s sentence, since among the crimes for which he was facing justice in the United States are homicide, drug trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering.

“This amazing and unpredictable cooperation does not erase the crimes, but it shows that he tried to make amends for having committed them,” replied Brian Cogan, who recalled the responsibility of “Chupeta” in at least 150 murders.

Possible Release in 2024

Past cooperating traffickers have usually received between 5-10 years on charges they could have received 20 to 50 years or life sentences for had they not plead guilty and cooperated (as was the case with “El Chapo”.) The sentences are handed down, usually with credit for time already served, even for time detained prior to their extradition to the US. As a result, several of the cooperating witnesses are released and enter the witness protection program not long after having been finally sentenced. “El Rey” Zambada, who also testified against “El Chapo” and entered the witness protection program. He had been arrested in 2008 and in March 2020, was sentenced to 12 years, time served. His nephew, “Mayito Gordo”, one of the sons of “El Mayo” received a sentence of 9 years in 2022, and was released from prison a month after his sentencing and has since been seen in the San Diego area.
Given that “Chupeta” was arrested in 2007, and with credit for good behavior, he could be released next year from federal prison and according to his lawyer, due to the plastic surgery concerns would likely be relocated into the program in an urban area. 
While the 20-year sentence, and statement made by Judge Cogan during sentencing, may show the higher level of punishment for his crimes outweighing much of his cooperation; it does follow similar sentencing of prior cooperating traffickers and cartel leaders with the sentence being close to the time they have already been in custody and therefore being released shortly afterward.
“Chupeta” had initially signed a plea deal for 25 years in prison…that was until “El Chapo” was captured and went on trial with the Colombian trafficker as one of the key witnesses having supplied the Sinaloa Cartel with vast quantities of cocaine over the years.

Former Norte del Valle Cartel Leader

Born in 1963 in Palmira, “Chupeta” Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía became one of the most powerful criminal leaders in Colombia in the late-1990s. The US government traced the beginning of his criminal career to 1986 when he began to get involved in drug trafficking.

By the mid-1990s, “Chupeta” was already heading the Norte del Valle faction of the Cali Cartel, heading an organization that sent large shipments of cocaine to Los Angeles and San Antonio through Mexico. 

Ramírez surrendered in March 1996 to Colombian officials and was sentenced to 24 years in prison. The leaders of the Cali Cartel had been negotiating their surrender to the Colombian authorities. But they were eventually all arrested. The two Rodriguez-Orejuela brothers were both extradited a decade later, while two other Cali leaders were murdered after their fall from power and breakaway and formation of the Norte del Valle Cartel.
The US believes Ramírez continued his operation and control over smuggling throughout his time in prison and continued upon his early release in 2002 having served only 6 years of his 24 sentence. In 2003, the US State Department believes Ramírez expanded his operation and began smuggling heroin into the US through ships. It is also believed Ramírez became a leader in the Norte del Valle cartel upon his release from prison.
The US Department of Justice stated that between 1989 and his capture in 2007, he managed to export more than 500 tons of drugs, equivalent to $10 billion.

Botched Plastic Surgeries

“Chupeta” became a wanted man and his attempts to evade arrest and extradition to the US included fleeing in 2004 to Venezuela and eventually Brazil, bribing governments, and undergoing three plastic surgeries to alter his appearance. In his testimony during the trial against “El Chapo,” he stated that he had undergone at least three plastic surgeries to modify his jaw, cheekbones, eyes, ears, and nose.

Before receiving the sentence from Judge Cogan, his lawyer said that “Chupeta” would need “exotic” surgeries to repair the biopolymers wrongly used to fill his face. He has been warned that the botched surgeries could lead to blindness or a stroke.

Although Ramírez Abadía’s appearance made him unrecognizable, he was captured in Brazil in August 2007 thanks to intelligence work and voice recognition technology. He had continued to coordinate shipments of cocaine to the Sinaloans while outside of Colombia. In a joint operation between the Brazilian Federal Police and the DEA, the South American authorities recorded his voice by telephone. They sent the recordings to the US to confirm his identity.

Testimony Against “El Chapo”

“Chupeta” was extradited to the US on August 22, 2008. Later, he pleaded guilty to having led an organization dedicated to cocaine trafficking and having amassed a fortune of more than $1 billion. His lawyer said that all together since his arrest “3 different governments got a total of $1 billion in real estate, securities accounts, cash, and precious metals.”

He testified to this at the trial of “El Chapo,” alongside the son “Vincentillo” and brother of “El Mayo” and other Colombia traffickers. His testimony stated that starting in 2002, after his early release from Colombian prison, he began sending shipments of cocaine, called “Juanitas” to the Sinaloa Cartel. He sent 10 large shipments for the next 5 years until he was arrested in 2007. He named the ‘investors’ in his cocaine shipments including “El Chapo,” “El Mayo,” “El Rey” Zambada, the Beltran-Leyva brothers, “Nacho” Coronel and for a short time during the Federation’s alliance, Vicente Carrillo, former leader of the Juarez Cartel.
He testified that for the first shipment, “Nacho” coordinated the logistics of the shipment of around 3,600 kilos of cocaine (3.6 tons). The Beltran-Leyva brothers, and even “El Chapo” himself handled the logistics of future shipments. The largest shipment of cocaine that “Chupeta” organized and invested in with members of the Sinaloa Cartel/Federation was 12.5 tons.
The manufactured cocaine would be delivered by boat to the Sinaloa Cartel out at sea, at “Chupeta’s” expense. Normally, “Chupeta” offered 37-40% share to Mexican traffickers. The Mexicans would smuggle and distributed/sell the cocaine in the United States and the money would funnel back along the chain. With “El Chapo,” the share for Sinaloa increased to 45% as he promised quicker routes and turnaround time for the payment, with 55% of the money from each load going to “Chupeta.”