DEA agent gives inside look at Escobar

February 16, 2008 1:44:12 PM PST
Actors Christian Bale and Javier Bardem lead the cast of a movie just greenlighted on the life of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. One author called Escobar the richest, most powerful criminal in history. Movies often embellish, but, one DEA agent in the Bay Area knows what really happened. ABC7's Eric Thomas sat down with Javier Pena, who shared the story of Pablo Escobar's life and death.

In his 24 years with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Special Agent Javier Pena has done everything from making undercover buys on the street, to supervising the San Francisco DEA office. But, the hunt for Pablo Escobar and his Medellin drug cartel will always be the highlight of his career.

"It was a very complex drug distribution organization which relied heavily on terrorism, on killing people, on blowing up innocent women and children," said Javier Pena, DEA.

Escobar's life ended violently in December of 1993, the day after his 44th birthday, on the roof of an apartment building in Medellin -- gunned down by a Colombian special forces team. But, in the two decades before that, he worked his way up from a small time thief stealing tombstones, and cars, to an enforcer for a local dealer. By the time he was through, Escobar had amassed a fortune worth $4 billion dollars -- enough to get him on the Forbes magazine list of the world's richest men. At one point, Escobar was thought to be responsible for 80 percent of the cocaine flooding into America.

"Escobar had people in Miami, in New York, in L.A., in Europe. He had distribution cells that would receive cocaine in these areas," said Javier Pena.

And Escobar wasn't afraid to take on Colombia's criminal justice system. He bribed some cops and judges. Those that wouldn't take money he kidnapped and killed. The toll: 30 judges, 400 police officers, even popular presidential candidate Luis Galan -- assassinated after declaring war on the drug lords. Eventually Escobar agreed to serve some prison time -- as long as he built the prison.

"It was a farce, it was a complete farce, it was his country home," said Javier Pena.

Later Escobar escaped from his prison. Pena got a look inside at the stuff he left behind: gold bars, piles of cash, even a gold plated .45. It was dangerous duty, especially when Pena was assigned to an elite hand-picked Colombian police unit with orders to get Escobar dead or alive.

How did Escobar get so powerful? Why did the people of Medellin treat him like Robin Hood?

"Pablo's rise to power is a story about the weakness of the Colombian government," said Roxanna Altholz, human rights attorney.


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