On the morning of August 14, Judge Brian Cogan handed down a 20-year prison sentence against Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, alias “Chupeta,” a former leader of Colombia’s Norte del Valle cartel who collaborated with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and later testified against him in the so-called “trial of the century.”
During the hearing held at the Brooklyn courthouse, the judge acknowledged that “Chupeta” had been a key player in cases against the likes of Guzmán Loera – convicted at the same precinct in July 2019 – and Jesús “El Rey” Zambada.
However, his participation with the authorities did not allow him to avoid Cogan’s conviction since among the crimes for which he faced US justice were homicide, drug trafficking, organized crime, and money laundering.
According to the defense attorney’s statements published by journalist Keegan Hamilton, “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 10, [Ramírez Abadía] is an 11″, he said before Judge Cogan in an attempt to gain benefits for his client.
“This astonishing and unpredictable cooperation does not erase the crimes, but it shows that he tried to make amends for committing them,” responded Brian Cogan, who recalled “Chupeta’s” responsibility for at least 150 murders.
The story of “Chupeta” and his drastic change of face
Born in 1963 in Palmira, Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía became one of Colombia’s most powerful criminal leaders towards the end of the last century. The US government traced 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 Cartel, an organization that shipped large cocaine shipments to Los Angeles (California) and San Antonio (Texas) via Mexico.
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The US Department of Justice identified that between 1989 and the capture of this capo (2007), the North Valley Cartel exported more than 500 tons of drugs, equivalent to 10 billion dollars.
Due to the high rank that Ramírez Abadía obtained in Colombia’s criminal sphere, he was forced to bribe different authorities in that country to evade justice and even opted to change his face.
In his testimony during the trial against “El Chapo,” the Colombian ex-narcotics trafficker said he had undergone at least three plastic surgeries to modify his jaw, cheekbones, eyes, ears, and nose.
Before being sentenced by Judge Cogan, his lawyer said that “Chupeta” would need “exotic” surgeries to repair the biopolymers mistakenly used to fill out his face. The surgical procedures proved so disastrous that he even warned that he could die of a stroke or go totally blind.
Although Ramirez Abadia’s appearance made him unrecognizable to the naked eye, the capo was captured in Brazil in August 2007 thanks to intelligence work and voice recognition technology.
In a joint operation between the Brazilian Federal Police and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the South American authorities recorded his voice over the phone and sent the material to the US to confirm that it was him.
“Chupeta was finally extradited to the US on August 22, 2008, to face criminal charges in the Eastern District of New York and the District of Columbia. He subsequently pleaded guilty to leading a cocaine-trafficking organization and amassing a fortune of more than $1 billion.