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US soldiers were kidnapped and robbed in Bogotá — and a man was just sentenced in Miami

A gavel cracks down. (Airman 1st Class Aspen Reid/U.S. Air Force)

A Colombian man who pleaded guilty to kidnapping and robbing two U.S. Army soldiers after drugging them at a bar in Bogotá was sentenced Thursday in Miami federal court to 48 years in prison.

Jeffersson Arango Castellanos — whose nickname is “Harry Potter” — was effectively sentenced to life in prison by U.S. District Judge Michael Moore after he pleaded guilty in January to a six-count indictment charging him with conspiracy to kidnap an internationally protected person and related offenses.

Moore gave Arango a harsher sentence than the 30 years federal prosecutors sought in a sentencing memo, in which they said that one of the U.S. soldiers has suffered “multiple mental health illnesses” and was forced into early retirement from the military.

Arango, 36, was extradited to the United States in May 2023. One of his co-conspirators — alleged partner Kenny Julieth Uribe Chiran — remains at large. The alleged getaway driver, Pedro Jose Silva Ochoa, was extradited to Miami in April and has pleaded not guilty.

According to a factual proffer reflecting the prosecution’s case, the two unnamed soldiers were at the Colombian Pub, a sports bar in the upscale Zona T area, around 11 p.m. on March 5, 2020, just around the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Silva, driving a green Renault 9, dropped Arango and Uribe off at Colombian Pub and drove off and waited.

At the bar, the couple found their targets — the U.S. soldiers.

According to Colombian National Police, video surveillance showed Arango and Uribe approaching the two soldiers several times at Colombian Pub.

“At some point, [Arango] approached the victims in the pub and, without their knowledge, incapacitated, intoxicated, and otherwise rendered the victims defenseless by putting drugs in their drinks,” according to the proffer filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Bertila Fernandez. In a statement to law enforcement, Arango “explained that he used drugs in a paste or liquid form to put into his victims’ drinks.”

Toxicology screenings found that the two soldiers had benzodiazepines in their system.

Benzodiazepines are depressants that slow down the central nervous system and may cause sleepiness and a relaxed mood, but if overdosed can cause extreme drowsiness, confusion, impaired coordination, decreased reflexes, respiratory depression, coma and possible death, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“The victims recounted buying a couple of beers, listening to music, and dancing by themselves,” according to an FBI affidavit. One of the victims “remembered seeing two women taking ‘selfies,’ and that he offered to take photos for them. He recalled asking if he could place his beer on their table to take the photos. Neither victim could remember what happened after that encounter.”

Around 2:30 a.m. March 6, the soldiers and the couple left Colombian Pub together. The drugged soldiers stumbled and had difficulty keeping their balance, according to the proffer. Uribe put her arm around the waist of one of the soldiers and he had his arm on her shoulder. Arango and Uribe steered their victims to Silva’s awaiting Renault 9 and they drove off with the soldiers inside the car.

There, according to prosecutors, the trio took the soldier’s wallets, debit and credit cards, and cellphones. Uribe “further manipulated” one of the soldiers to reveal his debit card’s PIN code.

For the next few hours, the trio drove the intoxicated soldiers around Bogotá and used the purloined credit and ATM cards at numerous locations where they extracted cash — $350 from two transactions and another total $250 from two other transactions of about $125 apiece. The credit card was used later that morning at a meat store and a tire store.

Around 6:45 a.m. the trio dropped one of the victims off on the street marked Calle 25. Video footage shows the soldier stumbling and falling down on the street and Uribe lifting him off the street and guiding him to a sidewalk where he was left. A passerby saw the victim staggering and called the police, who then took the soldier to a hospital where he was treated and released. He eventually made his way back to his apartment where he was met by U.S. Embassy personnel, according to the proffer.

The second soldier was also dropped off in the same neighborhood and was found by a taxi driver who helped him get to his apartment, where video footage showed him stumbling on the way to his apartment.


© 2024 Miami Herald

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