Colombian man extradited on charges he drugged, kidnapped US soldiers

by Vern Evans

Federal authorities have extradited the second of three men charged with drugging, kidnapping and robbing two U.S. Army soldiers in Colombia in 2020.

Pedro Jose Silva Ochoa, also known as “Tata,” made his initial appearance in federal court in Miami on April 18. He faces charges of conspiracy, kidnapping and assault of an internationally protected person, according to court documents.

Authorities extradited Silva Ochoa, of Bogota, Colombia, from Chile to the United States last week, according to a justice department release.

Two soldiers, identified in court documents only by the initials L.G. and E.L., were serving on temporary duty with the U.S. military in Bogota on March 5, 2020, when they visited the Bogota entertainment district.

The pair visited a local pub to watch a soccer match where they bought beers and danced. One of the men later recalled offering to take photos for two women taking selfies and placing his beer on their table when he took the photos, according to court documents. Neither man remembered anything after the encounter with the two women.

Prosecutors allege Silva Ochoa, Jeffersson Arango Castellanos and Kenneth Julieth Uribe Chiran put drugs in the soldiers’ drinks, including benzodiazepines, commonly used as tranquilizers.

Investigators later viewed video surveillance of the area that showed Castellanos and Chiran entered the pub at around 11:25 p.m. Arango approached the two soldiers and moved them toward the rear of the pub. Footage showed one of the soldiers stumbling toward the pub’s exit at around 2:07 a.m., Castellanos followed the soldier out.

Further footage showed the two soldiers stumbling as they walked with Castellanos and Chiran in the street. The defendants then escorted the soldiers to a waiting car driven by Silva Ochoa, kidnapped them and stole their wallets, debit cards, credit cards and mobile phones.

The two soldiers lost consciousness until the following day, finding themselves separated when they regained consciousness.

Receipts and other footage showed Castellanos using the stolen cards at cash machines and retail stores that morning. When apprehended by Colombian police in December 2020, Castellanos admitted to drugging and robbing the soldiers.

Authorities extradited Castellanos from Colombia in April 2023. He pleaded guilty to kidnapping and assault charges on Jan. 26. His sentencing date was set for April 25, but that hearing is being rescheduled, according to court documents.

Uribe has not yet been detained or extradited based on U.S. court records.

Army Times reported in March on a separate case involving U.S. troops and Colombian suspects.

Prosecutors allege that Ciro Alfonso Gutierrez Ballesteros worked with co-conspirators in an attack on American soldiers with the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade at the Colombian 30th Army Brigade Base in Cucuta, Colombia between April and June 2021. Andres Fernando Medina Rodriguez, a medically discharged Colombian Army officer, allegedly helped Ballesteros access the base and conduct surveillance, according to a prosecutor’s release.

Medina Rodriguez bought a white Toyota Fortuner, a sport utility vehicle, at Gutierrez Ballesteros’ direction and rigged it with an improvised explosive device in Venezuela, according to court documents. On June 15, 2021, the pair drove the vehicle and a motorcycle to the Colombian base and detonated the bomb in front of the 30th Brigade Mission Support site injuring three U.S. Army soldiers and 36 people in total.

Both men have since been extradited. Medina Rodriguez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder charges, his sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 11. Ballesteros has a jury trial scheduled on May 20, according to court records.

Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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