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A leader of the now-defunct Colombian drug cartel Cali has died in a North Carolina prison

Butner Federal Prison
Federal Bureau of Prisons
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Butner Federal Correctional Complex straddles Granville and Durham counties in North Carolina.

Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, an elderly leader of the former Cali cartel that smuggled vast amounts of cocaine from Colombia to the United States in the 1980s and 1990s, has died in a U.S. prison, his lawyer said Wednesday.

In 2020, a judge had denied Rodríguez Orejuela, who was in his 80s, early release on compassionate grounds from a prison in Butner, North Carolina. His attorney, David O. Markus, had said at the time that the former drug kingpin was suffering a range of health problems.

“We were very sad to learn about his passing last night,″ Markus said Wednesday. ″Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.”

Rodríguez Orejuela and his brother, Miguel, built a huge criminal enterprise that succeeded the Medellin cartel once run by drug lord Pablo Escobar. Both operations used violence and killings extensively for intimidation and enforcement.

The Rodríguez Orejuela brothers were captured in 1995 and imprisoned in Colombia. At that point, Colombian law prohibited the extradition of its nationals. But under pressure from the U.S, Colombia lifted that ban in 1997.

The brothers were found to have been continuing to traffic from prison and criminal charges were filed in Miami and New York. In 2004, Gilberto was extradited; Miguel was extradited the next year.

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