Colombia Captures Leader of Violent Drug Cartel
Officials call arrest ‘big blow’ even though violence has continued to rise through the years
CNN Wire Staff
August 08, 2012(CNN) -- Colombian authorities have captured the leader of a criminal group that once worked for Pablo Escobar, a police spokesman said Wednesday.
The arrest of John Ericson Vargas Cardona was announced by Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who called it a "big blow against criminality."
Vargas Cardona, alias "Sebastian," is the leader of a group called the Oficina de Envigado, once affiliated with the kingpin Escobar and now a drug trafficking organization in its own right.
He was captured Wednesday morning by an elite group of police in the department of Antioquia, in northwest Colombia, police said.
Santos' official Twitter account proclaimed it a "triple jump against this criminal organization and gold medal for the police."
According to InSight Crime, a Colombia- and U.S.-based research and investigation outfit that monitors criminal groups, the Oficina de Envigado, named after a small city in the Medellin metropolitan area, are the inheritors of Escobar's drug trafficking empire.
Today, the group is "a hodgepodge of smaller organizations that seeks alliances with street gangs to keep control of their territory and businesses," according to an InSight Crime profile of the group. "It is in near constant flux."
It is one of two rival groups fighting a turf war in Medellin that has seen violence in the area rise.
In 2011, when a U.S. investigation led to charges against 20 people linked to the cartel, a U.S. attorney referred to the Oficina de Envigado as "one of the largest and most dangerous drug cartels in Colombia."
In July, a man who served as security chief for former President Alvaro Uribe turned himself in to U.S. agents in Colombia to face drug trafficking charges in the United States.
Mauricio Santoyo Velascois accused of accepting bribes from a paramilitary group, as well as the Oficina de Envigado.
Journalist Toby Muse contributed to this report.