Colombian man who drugged, robbed US soldiers sentenced to 48 years

by Vern Evans

A Colombian man who kidnapped and assaulted two U.S. Army soldiers in Colombia was sentenced to 48 years in prison.

Jeffersson Arango Castellanos, along with two other individuals, targeted the soldiers and robbed them of their valuables on the evening of March 5, 2020, according to the Department of Justice.

Castellanos was extradited from Colombia to the United States on May 5, 2023, and pled guilty to kidnapping and assaulting the soldiers on Jan. 26 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Criminal Division’s Narcotic and Dangerous Drug Section’s Judicial Attaché Office in Bogota, and the U.S. Marshals Service worked with Colombian law enforcement to arrest and extradite Castellanos, according to the Department of Justice.

On the night of the assault, the soldiers went to watch a soccer game at a bar and were approached in the early morning hours by Castellanos, according to a Colombian National Police investigation that analyzed video surveillance and was described in court documents.

Though unclear when it occurred, the investigation determined that Castellanos at some point laced the soldiers’ drinks with benzodiazepines, a class of drugs that produces drowsiness and incapacitation.

As one of the soldiers approached a woman at the bar around 1:46 a.m., Castellanos intervened, placing his hand on the soldier’s shoulder and leading him to the back of the bar.

Roughly 20 minutes later, the soldier stumbled toward the pub’s exit with Castellanos behind him.

Castellanos went back to the bar around 2:24 a.m. to escort the similarly drugged second soldier out of the bar with two other individuals.

One of the individuals, along with the two soldiers, got into a vehicle while Castellanos visited multiple ATM booths to withdraw cash from the soldiers’ debit cards, which he had stolen.

Castellanos and his partners eventually let the soldiers go, one on the street, where he stumbled and fell on his face. Eventually, law enforcement arrived and transported the soldier to a medical clinic. The other soldier made it back to his apartment but had no recollection of how he arrived there.

During the investigation, the Colombian National Police began surveilling Castellanos’ phone messages and calls and learned that this wasn’t the first time he and his co-conspirators had committed these crimes. They had an ongoing operation in which they frequented bars and identified individuals to drug and rob.

In one call, investigators overheard Castellanos expressing his frustration that the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down bars and made it harder for him to conduct his criminal business.

Riley Ceder is an editorial fellow at Military Times, where he covers breaking news, criminal justice and human interest stories. He previously worked as an investigative practicum student at The Washington Post, where he contributed to the ongoing Abused by the Badge investigation.

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