May 17, 2023
Top Ten Fugitive Wilver Villegas-Palomino
On this episode of Inside the FBI, learn about Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Wilver Villegas-Palomino—a ranking member of the ELN who is wanted on charges such as narcoterrorism and international cocaine distribution.
Ellen Ferrante: The FBI has added Wilver Villegas-Palomino to its Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
Villegas-Palomino is a ranking member of the ELN who is wanted on charges such as narcoterrorism and international cocaine distribution.
The U.S. Department of State Narcotics Rewards Program is offering up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest and/or his conviction.
Tune in to this episode of Inside the FBI to learn more about Villegas-Palomino and how you can help us catch this fugitive.
I’m Ellen Ferrante, and this is Inside the FBI.
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Ferrante: The National Liberation Army or Ejército de Liberación Nacional—known as the ELN—is a transnational criminal organization and foreign terrorist organization.
Top Ten fugitive Wilver Villegas-Palomino directs the ELN Northeastern War Front, which is one of six regional ELN war fronts that controls the Catatumbo area of Colombia and Venezuela.
The ELN Northeastern War Front oversees multiple laboratories that collectively produce an estimated 200 tons of cocaine annually that are transported worldwide.
Here’s FBI Special Agent Gil Lopez, assistant legal attaché in Bogota, Colombia.
Lopez: Wilver Villegas-Palomino, also known as Carlos El Puerco, “the Hog,” he’s the chief of the drug trafficking operations for the ELN Northeastern War Front.
And he really owns, controls, and permits the operations of over 70 cocaine laboratories that operate in this area. And he oversees the procurement and manufacturing of cocaine base and cocaine hydrochloride laboratories that manufacture cocaine in the ELN Northeastern War Front-controlled areas in Colombia.
It's important to mention that the cocaine produced in these laboratories is then transported to the Colombian coastline or into Venezuela. And, you know, the final destination is the United States and Europe by other, you know, drug trafficking organizations who purchase the cocaine here in Colombia and Central America or Venezuela.
Ferrante: The proceeds from Villegas-Palomino’s drug trafficking enterprise fund ELN terrorist attacks and buy political influence. They also go towards activities designed to destabilize government institutions and subvert U.S. national security and law enforcement interests in the region.
A federal arrest warrant was issued for Villegas-Palomino on February 13, 2020, in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. Villegas-Palomino was charged with narcoterrorism, international cocaine distribution conspiracy, and international cocaine distribution.
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Nick Zarro is overseeing the investigation out of the FBI Houston Field Office. He explains more:
Nick Zarro: Palomino, he's a grave threat to, you know, the community. He's not only in Colombia, but also here through his cocaine and narcoterrorist empire. Multi-ton quantities of cocaine are produced in Palomino's laboratories, and they end up on the U.S. streets. They plague our local communities. And they just drive the spikes of the violent crime that we have.
Ferrante: ELN's history is deeply rooted in political conflict. Zarro explains:
Zarro: To really understand ELN, we first have to go back, and we've got to talk about FARC. That's the original guerrilla group that started back in the 1950s.
Ferrante: Lopez adds:
Lopez: FARC is the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. In English, it’s the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. And they were back in the day involved in paramilitary operations against the government of Colombia.
Ferrante: After years of criminal activity, in 2012, former president of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos announced peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC.
Zarro: He scheduled and had the meeting in Cuba, you know, but the agreement included that the FARC would no longer exist. People would demobilize in these groups, and they would no longer be the powerful force that it once was. In return, President Santos said he would give them seats in Congress, and they would have stipends for each member who demobilized.
Ferrante: In 2016, FARC and the Colombian government signed a ceasefire accord.
Zarro: Unfortunately, though, just one year later, there was a shift; these leaders from the FARC, they didn't want to be in this type of a deal. So, they joined up with ELN, and this caused, you know, a 900% increase of their group, of ELN.
These same FARC leaders who joined in the peace accord now are linked together with ELN. FARC and ELN combined have caused the deaths of over a quarter of a million people. And six million people are displaced by their battles occurring in the country. They launch sabotage operations, they buy political influence. Their goal is to destabilize government institutions and subvert our national security and our interests in that region.
Ferrante: Villegas-Palomino has taken advantage of political instability and local poverty to recruit people to ELN. Many have few alternative options to support themselves and their families. Often, joining the ELN is a matter of survival. It’s another reason why Villegas-Palomino is a dangerous threat.
Lopez: We got to see the ELN as not only a drug trafficking organization or terrorist organization—we got to see the ELN as an army. And what the army does is recruiting young guys. And the reason, you know, of having this young guy joining the troops is because these kids in Colombia, they don't have opportunities at all.
These kids in Colombia, they're very disadvantaged. They don't have education. They don't have opportunities like any other kids in big cities in Colombia or in any other country in South America.
So, they see the ELN as an example to follow because it’s the only people that they see in Colombia. And when we're talking about Catatumbo, like I mentioned, it’s the jungle area, we also can go to the Pacific region of Colombia, where we have El Chocó, and we have jungles there—and basically these kids, what they’re seeing is people like ELN as an example.
When Villegas-Palomino took place in this organization and where he was in control of the Northeastern War Front, this organization was receiving more money from drug trafficking than the organization had ever received in the whole history. So, what I'm trying to say is that the production of cocaine in his time has been the most remarkable in Colombia since they started. So, that’s how much influence and control Villegas-Palomino has over the region, over the farmers, over the kids, over the government, and with this organization.
Ferrante: The FBI and other law enforcement organizations are working hard to catch Villegas-Palomino.
The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force is a federal drug enforcement program overseen by the U.S. Attorney General and the Department of Justice. The Task Force has named Villegas-Palomino a Consolidated Priority Organization Target. This label is reserved for those involved in the most significant international drug trafficking operations affecting the United States.
Lopez: He has a lot of control in the area; he's well-connected to his network in the criminal organization but also in criminal organizations across Colombia. They are facilitating everything for him. But eventually, working with the local leaders and the military and other organizations, we’re going to be able to identify where he's at with the ultimate goal to capture him.
Ferrante: Villegas-Palomino is 41 years old and has black hair and brown eyes. He is between 5 feet 7 inches and 5 feet nine inches tall and weighs about 190 pounds. He is a Colombian national and speaks Spanish. Aliases include Carlos El Puerco (or Carlos the Hog), El Puerco, Wilver Villegas, and Wilver Palomino.
Zarro: By adding Villegas-Palomino to our FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, this projects the necessary public messaging and credibility to motivate hesitant associates and family members to come forward with tips.
The continued publicity of Palomino’s status as a Ten Most Wanted Fugitive will generate leads and intelligence, disrupt his ability to travel abroad, restrict his ability to meet with international drug trafficking associates, and overall hampers his ability to recruit new members.
Ferrante: If you have any information concerning Villegas-Palomino, please contact the FBI via WhatsApp at (281) 630-0330. Please note that WhatsApp is neither a government-operated nor government-controlled platform.
You may also contact your local FBI office, the nearest American Embassy or Consulate, or you can submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov.
This has been another production of Inside the FBI. You can follow us on your favorite podcast player, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. You can also subscribe to email alerts about new episodes at fbi.gov/podcasts.
I’m Ellen Ferrante from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs. Thanks for tuning in.
Wilver Villegas-Palomino, a ranking ELN member, has been added to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. The State Department Narcotics Rewards Program is offering up to $5 million for information leading to his arrest and/or conviction.