Who is Don Mario? Colombian drug cartel kingpin and paramilitary leader gets 35 years in US prison

Who is Don Mario? Colombian drug cartel kingpin and paramilitary leader gets 35 years in US prison
Daniel Rendon Herrera, popularly known as Don Mario was extradited to the US in 2018 (YouTube/Teleantioquia Noticias and screenshot/CBS News video)

ANTIOQUIA, COLOMBIA: Notorious Colombian drug kingpin and paramilitary leader, Daniel Rendon Herrera was sentenced to 35 years in a US prison, federal prosecutors revealed on Monday, October 17. Herrera who is popular by the name Don Mario, pleaded guilty last year to running a criminal enterprise and supporting a terrorist organization called the Clan del Golfo, or Gulf Clan. Prosecutors said that the Gulf Clan employed "hitmen, who carried out various acts of violence, including murders, assaults, kidnappings, and assassinations to collect drug debts, maintain discipline, control and expand drug territory and to promote and enhance the prestige, reputation, and position of the organization."

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The prosecutor for the Eastern District of New York, Breon Peace, said that the sentence, "marks the end of the criminal career of Rendon Herrera," once the "most feared narco-terrorist in Colombia." Rendon Herrera used to be a leader of the right-wing paramilitary group United Self-Defence Forces (AUC). The United States government declared the group as a global terrorist organization in 2001. 

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The US Justice Department said in a statement that Herrera admitted in court "to providing material support to a designated terrorist organization that brutally killed, kidnapped, and tortured rival drug traffickers and civilians." 

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“Daniel Rendon Herrera was one of the most prolific drug traffickers to ever operate in Colombia,” stated DEA Special Agent-in-Charge Tarentino. “As leader of the AUC and Clan del Golfo, Don Mario was responsible for not only importing multi-ton quantities of cocaine into the United States, but also for terrorizing the citizens of Colombia for financial gain. Today’s sentencing underscores DEA’s commitment to bringing to justice drug traffickers at the highest levels who cause the most harm throughout our communities.” 

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Who is Don Mario? 

Don Mario or Daniel Rendon Herrera was born to a poor family in 1966 in Antioquia. He is one of 14 children and one of his brothers is a former paramilitary leader named Freddy Rendón-Herrera, popularly known as "El Aleman." Daniel Rendón Herrera was second in command, after his brother, of the Elmer Cárdenas block of the ACCU, a paramilitary group that belonged to the AUC. He was a friend of the top commander of the AUC, Carlos Castaño Gil, and in his honor named one of his organizations, called Heroes of Castaño. It later became a block of a new narco-paramilitary organization which was created by himself and took command of 400 men in the Urabá region and controlled the drug traffic, through alliances made with the guerrillas. 

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Some of Colombia's most gruesome massacres were caused by AUC members. The group's violence displaced tens of thousands of Colombians. Many of the group's members, including Freddy Rendón Herrera, demobilized under a 2003 peace deal. But unlike his brother, Don Mario refused to lay down arms and instead co-founded the Gulf Clan, a criminal gang. The Gulf Clan became the most feared gang in Colombia under his ruthless leadership. In 2009, just before he was caught, he offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who killed a police officer. 

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Don Mario, 57, was captured in 2009 while hiding in a jungle. At the time, he was the most wanted kingpin in Colombia. He was extradited to the United States in 2018 and last year pleaded guilty to trafficking more than 80 tonnes of cocaine to the US. Don Mario's sentence will run concurrently. As part of the sentence, the Court ordered Rendon Herrera to pay $45,750,000 million in forfeiture. Don Mario once had a $5 million bounty over his head. 

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