updated 8/7/2009 8:33:47 PM ET 2009-08-08T00:33:47

Diego "Don Diego" Montoya, reputed boss of Colombia's notorious North Valley cocaine cartel who was once on the FBI's most-wanted list, is set to plead guilty next week to U.S. drug charges.

U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga scheduled a change of plea hearing Tuesday for Montoya, who was extradited from Colombia to the U.S. in December. Montoya had previously pleaded not guilty to charges that include cocaine conspiracy and racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice.

Montoya's attorney, William Clay, confirmed that his client will submit "guilty pleas to certain charges" but declined to elaborate. The extradition treaty between the U.S. and Colombia prohibits any life sentence from being imposed on Montoya, 58.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, the North Valley Cartel rose to become Colombia's dominant cocaine smuggling organization, taking over from the Cali cartel whose leaders also were prosecuted in Miami. At its zenith, authorities estimate North Valley controlled about 60 percent of Colombia's cocaine trade.

Prosecutors said indictments filed in both Miami and Washington were consolidated for Montoya's plea hearing.

"The parties have worked out an agreement under which the defendant will enter guilty pleas in both cases," Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Davis said in court papers. The U.S. attorney's office declined further comment Friday.

Clay said some of the counts would be dropped as part of a plea agreement, but would not say which ones. All of the charges involve Montoya's alleged role atop the North Valley cocaine empire.

Brothers also in custody
Montoya was on the FBI's most-wanted list and the subject of an intense manhunt before his September 2007 capture in Colombia. He had remained free for years by paying bribes to military and police officials and forming a private militia of several hundred gunmen.

Montoya's two brothers have previously pleaded guilty to U.S. drug charges. Eugenio Montoya is serving 30 years and Juan Carlos Montoya was sentenced to 22 years.

Colombian authorities blamed Diego Montoya for some 1,500 killings in his career as a drug trafficker.

The brothers who once headed the Cali cartel — Gilberto and Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela — are serving 30-year U.S. prison sentences after pleading guilty to federal charges in Miami in 2006. Several chieftains of its powerful 1980s predecessor, the Medellin cartel, were also tried and convicted in Miami federal court.

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