Image: Diego Montoya Sanchez
Fernando Vergara  /  AP
Diego Montoya Sanchez is seen while under Colombian custody in 2007.
updated 10/21/2009 3:18:00 PM ET 2009-10-21T19:18:00

A top Colombian kingpin who shipped billions of dollars worth of cocaine to the United States and ran a private army was sentenced Wednesday to 45 years in prison.

Diego Montoya Sanchez, aka "Don Diego," was once on the FBI's 10 most-wanted list alongside Osama bin Laden. He had a $5 million bounty on his head, but eluded capture for years by paying off military and police leaders.

Colombian officials say Montoya is responsible for at least 1,500 killings over a two-decade career.

The 48-year-old drug lord pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to import cocaine, racketeering conspiracy and obstruction of justice. He was also sentenced to pay $500,000 restitution.

Montoya said through an interpreter he had a rough childhood and regretted his criminal career. He said he began to make bad decisions after his family abandoned him at age 14.

"I am really repentant of my actions," he said. "I hope my sentence will bring some measure of peace to the victims and their families."

It's not clear where Montoya will serve his time, but his attorney William Clay asked that it be as close to Miami as possible. Judge Cecilia Altonaga can make a recommendation, but the federal Bureau of Prisons will make the decision.

A U.S. indictment unsealed in 2004 against Montoya and another, now deceased Norte del Valle cartel boss said over 14 years the cartel exported more than 1.2 million pounds of cocaine worth more than $10 billion. It went from Colombia to Mexico — and ultimately to the United States — for resale.

The North Valley cartel rose in the mid-1990s from the once-dominant Medellin and Cali gangs. Montoya began as a cocaine lab "chef," working his way up through transport, export and money-laundering, authorities have said.

When he was captured in September 2007 by Colombian police commandos hiding out on a remote ranch, Montoya headed a private army of several hundred gunmen.

Montoya was the last of Colombia's major fugitive drug lords, with the trade now split among smaller groups and much of the profit and violence moving to Mexican-run organizations.

More on: Colombia's drug cartels

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