Lead Defendant Pleads Guilty in Case Targeting International Cocaine Trafficking Conspiracy Involving Corrupt Air Traffic Controllers

LOS ANGELES – The lead defendant in an indictment targeting an international drug trafficking organization pleaded guilty today to conspiring to smuggle tens of millions of dollars’ worth of cocaine by aircraft from Colombia to Mexico for distribution in the United States via the maintenance of secret airstrips and the bribery of air traffic controllers.

Jaison Dávila Amador, 56, a.k.a. “Costeño” and “María Angélica,” of Bogotá, Colombia, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine for the purpose of unlawful importation. Dávila has been in federal custody since September 2021 after his extradition from Colombia.

According to his plea agreement, from at least October 2017 to May 2019, Dávila participated in the cocaine trafficking conspiracy. Dávila and his accomplices carried out their plan by maintaining clandestine airstrips in Colombia where aircraft from Mexico would land to retrieve bulk quantities of cocaine.

To facilitate the scheme, members of the conspiracy bribed air traffic controllers and law enforcement officials to ensure the flights from Mexico could enter Colombian airspace undisturbed.

On November 5, 2017, an aircraft bound from Mexico entered Colombian airspace for the purpose of receiving a cocaine shipment, but it was intercepted and forced down by the Colombian Air Force and then destroyed it with machine gun fire. Near a clandestine airstrip and near the airplane’s wreckage, law enforcement found approximately 515 kilograms (1,135 pounds), which Dávila and his co-conspirators intended to traffic by aircraft. Investigators estimate that the seized cocaine, if sold in the United States, would have been valued at more than $13 million.

Dávila admitted in his plea agreement to coordinating various aspects of the conspiracy, including bribe payments to air traffic controllers, financing for the cocaine shipment, and logistical support for the aircraft that would transport the cocaine from Colombia to Mexico.

United States District Judge George H. Wu scheduled an August 28 sentencing hearing, at which time Dávila will face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in federal prison and a statutory maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

All 13 defendants arrested and extradited to the United States in this case have pleaded guilty to participating in the international drug trafficking conspiracy. Those defendants include:

  • Miguel Hadad Facusseh, 40, a Mexican national previously extradited from Canada, who procured financing for aircraft, pilots, and clandestine airstrips in Mexico to facilitate cocaine shipments;
  • Marta Elizabeth Orozco Acevedo, 57, an air traffic controller in Colombia who used her position to monitor Colombian airspace during the anticipated arrival and exit of the plane from Mexico that would retrieve cocaine shipments; and
  • José Alberto Cantillo Aponte, 58, a Colombian government worker who was employed to bribe or otherwise influence corrupt government officials to permit the aircraft from Mexico to enter Colombian airspace.

Two other defendants were also charged: Eduardo Antonio Bula Correa, a retired colonel in the Colombian National Police who died while awaiting his extradition to the United States, and Francisco Javier Ruelas Tejada, 61, who remains a fugitive and is believed to reside in Mexico.

The investigation into this drug trafficking organization was conducted by special agents with the Drug Enforcement Administration, which received substantial assistance from the Colombia National Police’s Dirección de Investigación Criminal e Interpol (DIJIN) and Colombia’s Fiscalía General de La Nación. This investigation was conducted with the support of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs provided substantial assistance in securing the defendants’ extradition from Colombia and Canada.

Assistant United States Attorneys Alexander B. Schwab of the Major Fraud Section, Chelsea Norell of the Violent and Organized Crime Section, and Elia Herrera of the International Narcotics, Money Laundering, and Racketeering Section are prosecuting this case.

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