Juan David Ochoa Vásquez, a founder of the violent and powerful Medellín cartel in Colombia, which ruled the international cocaine trade in the 1980s, died on Thursday in a medical clinic in Medellín. He was 65.
The cause was a heart attack, The Associated Press in Bogotá reported.
Mr. Ochoa was one of three brothers who raised horses and ran restaurants before their family built a brutal, billion-dollar business smuggling drugs to the United States and other countries.
The Ochoas — Juan David was the oldest, followed by Jorge Luis and Fabio — were perhaps less infamous than some of their partners.
Another co-founder of the cartel, Pablo Escobar, was linked to hundreds of murders before he was killed by the police in 1993. Another partner, Carlos Lehder Rivas, who smuggled drugs from a private island in the Bahamas before joining the Medellín, was convicted of drug trafficking and is serving a life sentence in federal prison in the United States.
In the early 1990s, all three Ochoa brothers surrendered and pleaded guilty to certain crimes under an agreement with the Colombian government that included limited sentences to be served in Colombia. The brothers served about five years in prison, where they lived together, sewed saddles and ate their mother’s cooking — in part because she was worried that another cook might try to poison them.
Juan David was the last of his brothers to agree to the plea deal, which was offered at a time when the Colombian government was increasing pressure on drug lords, including Mr. Escobar.
“My mother, my sisters kept saying, ‘Get out of this — save yourself,'” he told The New York Times in an interview from prison in 1995.
The Ochoas had all been released by 1996, but Fabio later returned to prison after being charged with new crimes in the late 1990s. He was eventually extradited to the United States, and in 2003 was convicted of two counts of drug conspiracy. He is serving a 30-year sentence.
The family fought Fabio’s extradition with an aggressive but unsuccessful legal and public relations campaign. Juan David and Jorge Luis avoided extradition, but other governments found at least some ways to punish them.
In 1987, federal authorities in the United States seized a ranch and 39 Paso Fino walking horses that Juan David owned in Central Florida. Later, after his release from prison, he returned to raising horses and, he said, respectability.
“Everyone loves us; the doors open for us all over,” Juan David Ochoa said in an interview with The Times on the day his brother was extradited. “Unfortunately, in a bad time and bad hour, when we were younger, we got into that business.”
By WILLIAM YARDLEY
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