File photo of Cali Cartel boos Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela
Colombia Extradites Suspected Drug Cartel Member To U.S Photo by Luis Acosta/AFP via Getty Images

Former Colombian drug cartel leader Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela reportedly died in a United States prison on Tuesday.

"The children and wife of Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela regretfully inform that yesterday, Tuesday, May 31, 2022, at 6.54 pm, our father and husband died of a lymphoma," the family said in a statement shared by Rodríguez's daughter Alexandra. The family plans to repatriate Orejuela's remains to Colombia.

Orejuela, the 83-year-old former Cali cartel leader, smuggled massive amounts of cocaine from Colombia to the U.S. during the 1980s and 1990s. In 2020, a judge had denied Orejuela an early release on compassionate grounds from a prison in Butner, North Carolina. According to David O. Markus, the drug kingpin's lawyer, Orejuela suffered from several health problems.

"We were very sad to learn about his passing last night. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time," Markus said on Wednesday. "God has a new chess partner," the lawyer said. Orejuela has been nicknamed as "the chess player" for his reputation for outsmarting and defeating his rivals.

According to a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration report, he once controlled 80% of the global cocaine market. Orejuela and his brother, Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela, started a known criminal enterprise that fought with Pablo Escobar for the power and control of Colombia's entire drug trade. The Cali cartel focused its violence on rival crime operations. The Orejuela brothers reportedly deployed bombs and vigilantes; they were believed to be the masterminds of the Pepes group, who are responsible for the deaths of more than 60 of Escobar's relatives and associates.

They admitted to financing political campaigns, including the 1994 run of Liberal Party president Ernesto Samper, who firmly declined to have any involvement with the donations at the time.

The Orejuela brothers were captured in 1995 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. During the arrest, Colombian law prohibited the extradition of its nationals, but under pressure from the U.S., Colombia lifted that ban in 1997. Both were found to be continuing to traffic from prison; criminal charges were filed in Miami and New York. In 2004, Gilberto was extradited while Miguel was extradited the following year.

Former drug Cali cartel boss Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela
Former drug Cali cartel boss Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela leaves Cumbita prison after a judge released him on good behavior November 7th, 2002 in Tunja, Columbia. Rodriguez was arrested in1995 along with his brother, Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, after confessing that he was the cartel boss. Photo by Getty Images

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