Druglord Pablo Escobar’s top smuggler — a wild and wily cocaine trafficker named Carlos “Crazy Charlie” Lehder — has been quietly launched from jail in Florida and deported to witness safety in Germany, his lawyer introduced this week.
Lehder — who has twin German-Colombian citizenship and received his begin as a teen promoting pot by the a whole bunch of kilos in New York City — is now 70, and after serving 33 years in federal custody, is reportedly sick.
But in his heyday, he flew Colombian cocaine into the US by the ton from a Bahamian island he owned simply 200 miles off the Florida coast, deploying a sneaky fleet of low-flying small planes and bribing native pols to look the opposite means.
And as a backstop, Lehder joined forces with at least corrupt dictator Manuel Noriega to funnel nonetheless extra cocaine and drug cash via Panama.
By the time he was captured in 1987, Lehder had revolutionized the beforehand inefficient, drug-mule technique of smuggling and risen to the top of Escobar’s Medellin cartel.
The good-looking women’ man and cold-blooded killer was accountable for 4 out of each 5 luggage of cocaine that reached the US, prosecutors stated on the time.
“He was to cocaine transportation what Henry Ford was to vehicles,” the US Attorney in Tampa who prosecuted Lehder, Robert Merkle, would inform jurors in his opening assertion.
“He noticed America as a decadent society. He noticed cocaine because the wave of the long run within the Unites States.”
Lehder was additionally linked to a wave of violence in opposition to Colombian judges, police and journalists — fueling a concern of reprisal assassinations that unfold to the U.S. after his seize.
“He has stated if he was caught, he would kill a [US] federal choose every week till he’s freed,” Merkle was quoted warning in a Feb. 6, 1987, New York Post story detailing Lehder’s extradition, at age 37, through an armed helicopter to Florida.
But the Colombia-born Lehder was as erratic as he was ruthless — a coke-addled Medellin cartel billionaire and self-proclaimed “Nazi” with a fascination for Adolf Hitler and a hair-trigger mood.
In Colombia, he owned a neighborhood newspaper and crammed it with weird beliefs, together with that Coca-Cola was “the one advantage of imperialism” and that Hitler was historical past’s “best warrior.”
The Jews, he wrote, weren’t killed by the Nazis throughout World War II, however fairly “died solely working in fields and factories.”
He staffed his Bahamian property on the island of Norman’s Cay with German bodyguards and Doberman pinschers.
And in Colombia, he reportedly commissioned a bronze statue of his favourite rock star, John Lennon, for his residence district of Armenia.
The statue depicted the Beatle holding a guitar and carrying nothing however a Nazi helmet.
Lehder’s personal military referred to as him “Commander Rambo” to his face.
But they referred to as him “Crazy Charlie” behind his again, in cautious tribute to the unstable charisma captured on the Netflix sequence “Narcos” and by the actor Jordi Molla within the 2001 film “Blow.”
“Maybe I did betray you a bit bit,” the Lehder character, “Diego,” cackles to Johnny Depp’s character, George Jung, in a single scene from the film.
In actual life, as youngsters, Lehder and Jung had shared a Danbury, Conn., federal jail cell for a time, forging their fractious longtime partnership.
Betrayal would reduce each methods.
Lehder did certainly attempt to reduce Jung out of the profitable enterprise on Norman’s Cay. And Jung could be first on the witness stand in opposition to Lehrer, telling jurors how they met in a Danbury jail as teenagers.
Lehder’s his final night time of freedom got here in 1987, when the trafficking mastermind, on a fleeting impulse, shot useless one in every of Escobar’s personal hitmen throughout a raging social gathering at a sprawling jungle hacienda in Rio Negro, 18 miles exterior Medellin.
The hapless sufferer had occurred to knock on Ledher’s door whereas the trafficker was having fun with the corporate of a prostitute and a pile of cocaine.
Lehder was livid over the interruption; the ensuing pictures rang out above the pulsing salsa music.
“Lehder apologized to Escobar, the physique was disposed of, and, after all, the social gathering went on,” as DW.com famous in a current profile.
But Lehder’s unpredictability was an excessive amount of, even for Escobar, who, hoping to get into the Feds good graces, instantly tipped the Colombian police off to Lehder’s whereabouts.
Lehder — who as soon as stated he would favor a tomb in Colombia to a jail cell within the U.S. — was captured the subsequent day after a gunbattle between native police, federal brokers and his 15 probably hungover bodyguards on the Rio Negro ranch.
He was the primary of a number of hundred drug smugglers Colombia would extradite to the US.
But he would have few rivals when it got here to arrogance. Lehder even wrote a jailhouse letter to then-Vice President George Bush providing to cooperate in return for immunity.
“This was not one of many run-of-the-mill drug traffickers,” Mike Vigil, a former DEA worldwide operations director who interviewed Lehder after his arrest, informed Business Insider.
“He was all the time searching for angles … most likely one of the vital crafty drug traffickers that I’ve ever met.”
After a seven-month trial in federal courtroom in Jacksonville that left some jurors shaken and in tears, Lehder was sentenced to life in jail plus 135 years.
The sentence was vastly decreased in a post-conviction deal — nonetheless working angles even in jail, Lehder, at age 42, turned states’ witness in opposition to Noriega, the Panamanian despot and drug boss.
Described in press accounts as dapper in a sensible grey go well with and crimson necktie, Lehder testified that Escobar met personally with Noriega within the early ‘80s after Bahamian authorities started cracking down on using Norman’s Cay.
Together, Escobar and Noriega organized “safety and safety” for cocaine passing as a substitute from Colombia via Panama.
Noriega, he testified, acquired a money fee for each kilo shipped via his nation and for each greenback laundered in a Panamanian financial institution.
Lehder’s decreased sentence culminated in his release on Monday.
He wound up outliving each of his extra highly effective companions. Escobar died in a police shootout in Medellin in 1993, and Noriega died of a mind tumor in a Panamanian jail in 2017.
This week marks the second time Lehder had been deported from the U.S.
He had lived in New York as a teen — despatched there by his German engineer father and Colombian mom upon their divorce at age 15.
At age 18, he was arrested in New York for attempting to promote 200 kilos of marijuana, incomes two years in a detention middle, and after his release, he was deported to Colombia, the place he continued within the enterprise.
Later he boasted of getting made his first $1 million by age 23.
On Monday, after 33 years in jail, Lehder was taken to Berlin, to be cared for by a charity, stated his lawyer, Oscar Arroyave.
Lehder had retained German citizenship via his father, the lawyer stated.
“He was all the time loopy however he was additionally very sensible,” stated Richard Gregorie, a former U.S. lawyer in Miami who indicted Noriega.
Now, “He’s previous, however I ponder how a lot craziness he nonetheless has left.”
With Post wires