Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, along with his brother Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela and José Santacruz Londoño, formed the Cali Cartel in the 1970s. They were initially primarily involved in marijuana trafficking. In the 1980s, they branched out into cocaine trafficking. For a time, the Cali Cartel supplied 80% of the United States through Rodriguez's son, Jorge Alberto Rodriguez, and 90% of the European cocaine market.
The Cali Cartel was less violent than its rival, the Medellín Cartel. While the Medellín Cartel was involved in a brutal campaign of violence against the Colombian government, the Cali Cartel grew. The latter cartel was much more inclined toward bribery rather than violence.
After the demise of Pablo Escobar, the Colombian authorities turned their attention to the Cali Cartel. The police campaign against the cartel began in the summer of 1995. President Samper dispatched a "joint task force" code named "Search Bloc", formed by top police and elite commandos headed by Police General Rosso Jose Serrano, declaring an all out war against the drug cartels.
On June 9, 1995, Gilberto Rodriguez-Orejuela was arrested by the Colombian National Police (PNC) during a house raid in Cali. When the police had searched the home several days earlier, Rodriguez-Orejuela had escaped detection by hiding in a hollowed-out bathroom cabinet with an oxygen tank.
He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was temporarily freed in early November 2002, due to a controversial judicial order issued by deputy judge Pedro José Suárez. He was recaptured by Colombian authorities in Cali, in March 2003.
On September 26, 2006, both Gilberto and Miguel were sentenced to 30 years in prison, after pleading guilty to charges of conspiring to import cocaine to the U.S. They took this deal in exchange for the United States agreeing not to bring charges against their family members. Their lawyers David Oscar Markus and Roy Kahn were able to obtain immunity for 29 family members.
On November 16, 2006, the brothers pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to engage in money laundering. Both were sentenced to an additional 87 months in prison. The two prison terms were set to run concurrently.