BOGOTA, Colombia -- One of Colombia’s most sought after gang leaders, who is accused of running an international drug empire and leaving the nation’s second-city awash in blood as he fought off rivals, was captured Wednesday.
Authorities arrested Erickson Vargas Cardona, a former hit-man better known as Sebastián, in Girardota, about 17 miles northeast of Medellin. He had risen through the ranks of Medellin’s underworld to control a network of criminal gangs known as la Oficina de Envigado.
“This is the biggest hit we’ve given criminal gangs and narco-traffickers this year,” Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzón said, predicting that his capture would resonate throughout Latin America where Sebastián had ties to Mexico’s Zetas and other cartels.
Sebastián started his career as a Medellin sicario, or hit man, who ran a small gang called La Milagrosa. When he was 18, he was handpicked by Envigado’s godfather Diego “Don Berna” Murillo to be his right-hand man, authorities said.
When Don Berna was extradited to the United States in 2008, Sebastián and another Envigado leader, Maximiliano “Valenciano” Bonilla, fought for control of the organization.
“The terror of Medellin, the terror of Antioquia and the terror of a large part of Colombia has fallen,” Police Commander Gen. José Roberto León said Wednesday, after Sebastián was brought to the capital to await extradition to the United States.
Sebastián was caught on a farm along with his wife and bodyguards. At least one guard died as 40 police swarmed the area, León said. Police also captured eight weapons, including a grenade launcher. Authorities had a $660,000 bounty on Sebastián, and León said there was an informant who would be eligible for the reward.
Sebastián’s arrest, along with that of Valenciano, who was captured in Venezuela in November, and at least four other gang leaders in recent months, represents the end of the Oficina de Envigado, León said.
If that’s true, it would put an end to one of Colombia’s most storied gangs. The Oficina de Envigado is thought to have started off in the 1980s as a hit-squad loosely allied with Pablo Escobar, the notorious founder of the Medellin Cartel. The gang and Escobar ultimately turned on each other and, according to the think-tank In Sight-Organized Crime in the Americas, Sebastián may have contributed information that lead to Escobar’s death in 1993.
President Juan Manuel Santos, who has seen his poll numbers fall amid perceptions that the nation’s security gains are slipping, hailed Wednesday’s arrest and warned other criminals to repent. “Sooner or later, you will fall,” he said. “Many who thought they were untouchable are either in jail or in the grave.”
Sebastián will be sent to district court in New York where he is wanted on drug trafficking and other charges, León said.