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DAUGHTER: I had this one uncle who was called El Diablo, the devil. He is a taller guy and he had receding hairline, black hair, always very well dressed. Nice pants. Some sort of like snake skin shoe silk shirts and that stereotypical macho Latin man type of thing. Unbuttoned down to the middle of his chest with gold necklaces, really evil beadie, black eyes.
Being a child of two or three years old and being in the same room as El Diablo was terrifying. It was a like a negative, negative energy. When he came into the room. He would come over to my grandmother’s house and as soon as he would come over, I would run into my room, close the door, and play with my dolls and stay there until he left. I was terrified of him.
SON: My dad and his brothers, my uncles, they were born in Colombia and inherited huge lots of land in Colombia. I think my dad was the only one that left Columbia to come to the United States. The way that it’s always been in my head was that like he was over here and then one of his brothers was like,
Hey man, you know the land and all that, that mom and dad left us. We figured out something to do with it. Come back and be a part of it cuz we’re making money. The business was to let the guerillas basically use the land to grow cocaine.
MOTHER: It is so hard to break, so hard to get out because all Rodrigo family was on it. I didn’t want to cut the relationship with the family cause they his family. I didn’t like where they were what they were into. But, they’re family. See. Finally it was a break to come to Florida that I couldn’t be happier.
I was– the only thing is, was that my husband was still in the business. Laundering the money. And I knew it. I knew it. I knew it, but I didn’t care what break it was. The whole thing, I was going back to the United States.
DAUGHTER: We left Columbia I think late 1983 or early 1984. And at the age of three we moved to Florida.
MOTHER: And we were coming to a house. It was really nice. It was a beautiful house.
DAUGHTER: A really beautiful house of the pool. And, it was on a golf course.
MOTHER: So we were there and, I got pregnant with my second child. That was Jeff.
SON: My sister has memories of my parents actually being together, but I don’t.
DAUGHTER: parents weren’t divorced at the time. They weren’t separated, so I still had complete attention from my dad.
MOTHER: Anything that that little girl would need anything, he would go out of his way to get her. Even though my husband was dealing with the drugs, he was a very good daddy to them. Had to travel a lot. He had to travel to Texas. He had travel Arizona, Florida, all over the United States.
To make sure that the money was– I remember once that my husband wasn’t there and a guy came. He says, I got all these kilos in the car and I have to, what am I gonna do? He have to tell me what to do with it. And I says, what, what do you have? Yes, I have like a. I don’t really remember.
It was a lot. I almost fainted and it was in the parking lot of my house and I says, oh, you gotta take that stuff outta here. You know, I got the kids here and everything. I says, yeah, but tell your husband to tell me what to do with it. This is how I got away from them.
I was pregnant with Jeff. I was to radio my six, seven month. And one of my husband, friend, a pilot, came to visit us with his wife that I knew from Columbia. They went out and I stayed with the wife and we started talking and I asked her how’s everything? How are you? And she’s telling me about another woman that the husband have and does I say, I says, why don’t you get a divorce?
I was saying, you know this just like Rodrigo. So I used to see him coming with lipstick and the shirt and stuff like that. And she goes to me then, you know, and I said yes, of course, but this is a lie. I didn’t know nothing. I already was suspecting a lot of stuff, but I just, maybe I didn’t want it, you know, to believe it.
Here I am, seven months pregnant, and then she tells me that my husband has a girlfriend. That she– he had a penthouse and a girl was living there. And she told me that the name, her name, and she told me everything, all the information, and I kept it to myself. I kept it to myself. I didn’t tell my husband when he came, nothing.
I hired a private detective and he went to the apartment and yes, she was there. I thought about it just for like, maybe five seconds that I was not gonna say anything until the baby was born, and I did that. So when Jeff was born, I went to a lawyer, and put in my divorce.
I didn’t want nothing, nothing, nothing else, nothing to do. I just want to be left alone. Start a new life with my kids, that’s it.. And that was in a way, it was a way out too. From the family, from everything. Once I close the door, I can just close the door.
DAUGHTER: We were living just the three of us, me and my brother, and my mother for one or two years. When I do remember realizing that my parents had divorced was when my mom started dating another man. He started coming around and staying at our house.
PRODUCER: How old were you at that point?
DAUGHTER: Maybe six or seven. And I remember thinking, wait a second, this isn’t my dad. And this is my dad’s house, and my dad’s paying for this house. And remember being very protective.
SON: I don’t have memories of my life without my stepdad. Like I just don’t, all I knew is that, like when my stepdad came into the picture, that he was a pilot.
STEPDAD: All I can tell you for example, is the best cocaine come from Bolivia per, but the Peruvians make the best base. We would go to Peru to bring it back to Colombia because the Colombians had the cocaine kitchen. The best cooks come from Colombia. Hey, I’m Carlos and from Colombia. I’m Carlos from Colombia, Bogota.
I’ve always been interested in planes. I think it started early. I remember as a kid moving into a small apartment with my parents, only one bedroom and one bathroom. It was close to the airport. And we go to the coast to the sea and past the airport, and my parents would say, Carlos wants to be a pilot.
He wants to be a pilot. I wanted to be proud of something in my life and I did it. And I consider myself a good one. Well, it all began with marijuana, and that was along the coast basically in Sierra Nado de Santa Marta, the Colombians. That’s where it began.
Like anything, it’s like the guy that has a drink today, tomorrow, he’ll want two, and who wants two, will want three, and so it goes. So then this other thing is discovered, cocaine. How it is discovered, I don’t know. That much I don’t know. Once everyone figured out how to make it, everyone begins to make their own versions.
The problem is who sells it? How do we transport it? It’s all a chain. It’s all a chain. I began having contacts with pilots that were on the inside, mafia. I started to be friendly with them without really wanting to, so they’d say like, Hey, let’s go get a drink at this place, so and so is there.
And I would be like, Hey, what’s up to this mafioso? And he’d say, ah, don’t worry about it. I got this round. Or I’ll help you out. And so it went. Things weren’t going well at this time. I was in the midst of losing a home I’d purchased.
So, one day one of those friends, a pilot, tells me, Carlos, do you remember how I once mentioned if you come along with me as a co-pilot, sometime you’d make some good money? And I said, oh. Yes, yes, yes, yes. And he said, well, I need you tomorrow.
SON: How was the operation?
STEPDAD: The operation? Well, I didn’t know really. I didn’t know how they cultivated cocaine or how they covered it or cooked it. I know absolutely nothing about the operation. I didn’t even know what it was. I knew it was very good money. Then you start and get a taste of what it really is. You fly from Colombia to the jungles of Bolivia, to the Amazon without anything.
You take off at two or three in the morning without lights. There’s nothing. Also to be able to return, you had to leave early. And in those times we didn’t even have radar when it did come. The American radar, we know that the radar would be on at a certain time on this day or that day, and that they be focused on certain areas. However, the Amazon were just too big.
They couldn’t really locate us there in Peru, Ecuador. So we orient ourselves and navigate through the areas where there be no other planes patrolling. These jobs usually weren’t paid immediately, but since the person I was connected with had money already, I got paid right away. The first thing I did was buy a nine inch color TV for my mom. Oh. And the car.
SON: So where did you go on the plane? Where? Which countries did you fly to?
STEPDAD: Mexico, Peru, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Ecuador, and Venezuela. Mostly in the south. In Peru, you’d have a lot of encounters with cattles during takeoff. We were going there to pick up the base for the cocaine. That’s why we went, we would bring it back to Colombia to get cooked.
When we went to Mexico, the sale. Peru for the base, Colombia for the cooking and Mexico was the product. The owner of these drugs makes an investment. There’s growers, that’s the one that makes the paste. There’s the one that cooks it, the one that transports it, the one that sells it.
There’s the person that had to stash the money, the one that picks up the money, and the one who returns the money. We’re talking about, seven people who have a staff of five, six, or 10 people. So now we’re talking about 70 people.
PRODUCER: Are they paying you a salary or are you doing getting paid per per ride or are they paying?
STEPDAD: Yeah, and it increased for every transport. It could be 500 then to a thousand, then to 1,500. It depending on who you work with. At that moment in my life, I did everything with God in mind. In fact, if you look through my luggage, you’ll see with me that I’m carrying my Christ from my first communion.
He has accompany me everywhere. I go. Through all my flights, everywhere. I entrust myself with him. I’d say about 1983, about two years into it was when I started to see what cocaine was about. Before that, there wasn’t any research or reports on what this stuff did. What cocaine was really.
All they’d say is, you’re gonna feel really pleasant sensation, you’re gonna feel good. We didn’t do it. They gifted it to us, and the guys that protected the kitchens, they would give it to me.
At one point, I wound up having a kilo in my apartment. I think, or something like that. What’s even more startling, there were buddies that I would often see disappear. There was one in particular who even had his own business and all that. He was a good friend and a pilot. He left and never returned. There was a lot that left and never returned, especially when they were transporting money. We didn’t like transporting money.
SON: Do you know who, who the top person is that you’re working for at the time?
STEPDAD: I know we didn’t just talk to them, we talked to all of them.
SON: But did you work for different people?
SON: Who was there? Was there a main person?
STEPDAD: No, basically one person. Every once in a while I do a flight for someone.
SON: What about Pablo Escobar?
STEPDAD: That I leave to your imagination, okay? In those days, there were a lot of giants in the cartel business and many second to them, I am talking about giants. I never stopped flying. What happened was, at the time things started to get tense, planes began to get more attention. We could keep flying, but with who or what flight or who would we listen to?
This is how it came about, whether I should go to Florida. So I came to the USA. This guy had a flower business, so he would send four or five kilos of cocaine with the flowers to the US. Mostly to Florida, and they would distribute it. But he’d stash the merchandise in the cargo.
He was alone and he called another friend who was a very good friend of mine, and at the moment of truth, it was like, tell that guy Carlos to come with you to Florida. He’ll be part of the deal we have going on. So I came to Miami. We lived in a nice apartment, in a real nice place in the city.
And I remember there used to be a restaurant where the Bee Gees used to eat. My friend told me, let’s go see this guy. This was Rodrigo. So we had a nice time. We ate well and we drank and we listened to music and we had a nice time. That’s when I started an affair with my current wife, Rocio.
MOTHER: I remember meeting him like maybe a month before the divorce came final. It was my birthday, we went out, this really good orchestra from Venezuela was gonna be there. And I love the, my salsa and my merengue, and all that kind of stuff. Carlos was there with some friend of ours and and I danced with him.
STEPDAD: Then we started to chat about the moon, the water, this and that music. Oh, I like music too. I like to dance. Well, then let’s dance.
MOTHER: I danced with him once and then we danced twice, and I don’t know, it was just like, damn you know. I like the way he dances. I like the way he talks. I like the way he look. I mean, I like the guy.
STEPDAD: And like this, we became entangled. It was something organic happened very quickly.
MOTHER: He was married. He was married still. He was not in a very great relationship, but he was married. When we talk on the phone, back and forth and we talk on the phone.
STEPDAD: The relationship started then and began to grow and grow.
MOTHER: And he says, I need to find out if this is gonna work out or it’s not gonna work out because, he was some friend of my ex-husband. So, everybody knew each other.
SON: Was there a problem between you and my dad?
STEPDAD: Well, he didn’t want it to be.
SON: Oh, okay.
STEPDAD: He said with anyone else, but not with me. But that’s what your mom would tell me. I don’t know.
SON: But you and dad never talked about it. Nothing.
MOTHER: He felt good and then I saw him again and again and again. Then that’s when we started and then the divorce came through and he came and moved in with me. I was maybe 28, 29, but by that time I was already in love with him. So here I go again. He was the one that raised my kids really.
DAUGHTER: I never knew that he was my father’s friend until many years later. I was a teenager and I was going through some pictures in a box. And I saw a picture and it was a polaroid picture of my mom and my dad with my dad’s arm around my stepfather.
They looked like they were at a nightclub and they looked to be really good friends. And I was like, holy shit, I cannot believe they knew each other. Like what? And I grilled my mom on it. I remember my mom just kind of shrugging it off and be like, oh yeah, they were friends.
When I was young, so she wasn’t very forthcoming. But my father never told me that they knew each other. And I wonder if they like withheld it because of, potential weirdness or who knows. But, like I couldn’t believe it that my mom would like be so sneaky and date my dad’s friend, breaking bro code.
SON: I think when my mom ended up with my stepdad, there was no hard feelings cuz he was like, well, it’s better than someone I don’t know. Like him and my mom were still close. It wasn’t unheard of for him to come over to the house at all. We didn’t live together, but he lived in the same neighborhood as my mom. I’d see him every weekend, or he’d come over. And then around when I was like eight years old. All of a sudden he just disappeared.
DAUGHTER: My mom told me that he was in New York and that he was gonna be there for a long time, and explained very simply that he had gotten in trouble and he had to go to court. And I didn’t see him for a few months.
One day I came home and I went up to her room looking for her and found all of these papers on her bed. The papers were all of the memos, the lawyers’ memos that said the State of New York versus my dad. Then I confronted my mother and she told me that he had been stopped and taken to jail.
SON: Back then, I didn’t fully understand what it was that he did. They were like, he got caught trying to like bring drugs into the United States and that was like heavy. It was like really confusing.
DAUGHTER: My mother is not very emotional, so when she told me, she was like, yep, so your dad’s in jail because he was selling drugs and that’s it, whatever, no big deal. And like walked away.
MOTHER: I wasn’t gonna expose that to my kids, he never was enough. I wanted to do the legal stuff, that would what I used to be. I want my kids to be proud.
STEPDAD: We got married January 13th, 1988. Now we’ve been together for 30 years. Relationships will grow with time, not from one day to the next. Everything takes time.
MOTHER: I had a mortgage and a house. After the divorce it was my deal to keep paying for the house.
STEPDAD: During that time, I wasn’t doing anything. I didn’t have any work. I didn’t have any work because I didn’t have authorization to work here. I wasn’t legal. With my savings and my things. We still had some funds, but unfortunately it was a short time. So one day in Miami, there’s a person that recognized me and says, Carlos, I know you have some connections.
Help me find something so I can make a deal. I’ll give you something in return Man, but you help me out. I said, let’s go talk to my connection. I don’t remember how much that stuff cost here, but it was at least a deal of 25,000 or 30,000. I didn’t need it. It was this person that needed to work. I wasn’t going to get anything out of it really.
He went in, made his deal. He ran into some problems. He had gotten caught. The guy who had been given the kilo got busted, and of course I inherited the debt. I didn’t have a way to pay the connection, so I gave him my car. I gave him the car because I was responsible for the money that the guy owed. I didn’t want to have any problems.
MOTHER: And then we repay the money and I’ll take my car back. The car was used for transporting drugs. They use it to go, I don’t know where.
STEPDAD: Two or three months later, I got a letter from the FBI saying my car had been confiscated because it was used to transport drugs. I said, wait a minute. I have nothing to do with this. I’m going to the FBI.
MOTHER: They’re weren’t arresting us of nothing. They know that we didn’t have nothing to do with it. My husband says, well, let’s come out clean. Tell the truth.
STEPDAD: Simple I went to the FBI office in Miami. At the window I said, I just received this letter. I want to talk to someone about it. Of course, I got their attention. 20, 30 minutes later, I don’t know, two agents come out and a secretary. I remember clearly that they started asking questions.
MOTHER: They asked my husband that he was Colombian and what profession that he has. He says, A pilot. And he says, yes, a pilot. I used to fly, I used to fly for the oil company and politicians and I used to fly for drug lords. He told them.
STEPDAD: The first meeting was pretty long because when they said, maybe you can help us, what do you know, I told them, yes, I can help you. I flew for a long time. That’s how our relationship was born.
MOTHER: I guess he was already tired, lying, and in a way he, he felt a little relief. When you live like this and so much hiding and you always lying, cause you, your life becomes a lie. You always have to put a, different face, a different mask, to different people.
If it’s the government, if it’s your neighbors, whoever that work with you, you become one person here, you become another person here. It gets tiresome. It gets tiresome.
STEPDAD: The situation I was in, I was looking for future, and all I was thinking about in that moment was about supporting my kids. I understood what drugs were by then. So thinking about the future for my kids, I observed that and I didn’t want that. I knew I had to look after the welfare of my family.
PRODUCER: So he came clean. Carlos came clean. So what did the FBI say?
MOTHER: He opens the door and says here, and big, big map, and Columbia was there. Picture of every single people that we know was there. People, drug lords and people that used to be our friends. Little arrows pointing to another group and then people that they were tracking and my husband saw the people that he worked with.
And right there, I look, I saw some of my ex-husband brothers, three of them. My husband said, if anything that I could help, I will. Then he look at me and he says, but nothing with this family. That family are my kids’ family. That’s what my husband told them. And I said the same thing.
STEPDAD: What I gathered from the FBI was that they were a company that would cover me, help me in that sense. Of course, they did their investigation and went through with the process they had to do to check me out. In the United States I’m clean, super clean, so it wasn’t a problem. And then I began to work with them full-time while they did their processes and paperwork.
MOTHER: So that’s what we did for many years, like seven or something like that. It was a lot of years working with the government.
STEPDAD: The process was to open an office and import export business. Then I run the business and I got a salary. I was helping them as long as there was money to pay me. The information was very straightforward. I would go to Colombia or wherever and propose a deal.
I would talk to the big boss. I’d say, I have this deal, interested? Since they knew me, they knew I had been a pilot for all kind of people and all the big bosses from Cali, Medellion, Bogota, so they trusted me. So we get together, we discuss meet the cartel reps, where to deliver it, and from there, the FBI can follow them, tap their phones, and do those types of things. All the detective work, let’s say.
The first job we did, if I remember correctly, it was 88. I have to check my papers to be sure, but I’m giving you an idea. The first time I went with my plane was when I had to do an emergency landing at Guantanamo Bay. The cartel sent an 18 wheeler and we did the swap in the airport. The truck arrived and we put the cocaine on the hanger and later it was delivered.
We loaded it into the truck and with the furniture. Okay. Goodbye. Nice to meet you halfway through the trip the Highway Patrol right around West Palm Beach or Vero Beach. They get pulled over and asked for papers and what the representative was transporting. Eh, no, nothing. I can’t open because it’s sealed. What they did was open the truck, take out the merchandise, take it and say thank you very much. Goodbye.
So the guy left and said that the police had stolen it. I traveled to Colombia. Sometimes I would have deals that would fall apart. I talk to the FBI all the time because they didn’t know how to do things, truly. They know about the rules, laws. But how it worked, no. Let’s say it was 300 kilos at 30,000 a kilo. The FBI didn’t know these things.
MOTHER: They didn’t have a clue. Trust me, they didn’t have a clue. How to deal with Colombians, they didn’t have no clue at all. The way the Colombian — how they use the words to name some things that nobody else will know. You know, unless you are a drug dealer. Code, yes. And my husband know all those codes.
STEPDAD: For example, did you put the merchandise away? You couldn’t say that. Instead, you say what happened with the family? Where did you put them up? Oh, I put them up in my house. I’m hosting them in my house and they’re doing well. Tomorrow I’m planning to take them for a drive in the city. In other words, I brought the merchandise in, I started and tomorrow I’m gonna take it out and distribute it. That’s how you’d say it.
MOTHER: Me, I was just going with the wave, I’m just the wife. But I would help out because it was more credible. For me, it was an act cuz I could get into it a lot like that. I mean, I’m good at it. My role. It was a lot of different kind of things. Build trust, accommodate them, to feel at ease. I’m the wife of Carlos, feel more at ease if you’re gonna go to a meeting and then, there is, oh, his wife, there’s the husband. Not only the husband alone.
And everything natural, like I speak the language, I got connections. Talk about the family, talk about whatever. I guess a woman got that ability. You are there to set them up. But my husband, he was, the one that knew, that had the experience, with mainly the Colombians. And they saw that he was so good at it. And he played different kind of parts or whatever it was, the situation. It was for him to be, the owner of a building, the owner of a hangar.
Whatever was the need for that person, Carlos, was like the main guy. He enjoyed it because he knew that he was helping and that he knew that he was going to be able to stop any drugs coming and which he did. He did, and it was a lot.
STEPDAD: What happened was I had gone as far as I could because you make deals that are not legal. Another that is not legal. Then another and another. How is it possible that someone that does illegal things doesn’t get caught? I had to be the one to go back to Colombia and answer for that.
Where there would be bodyguards, hitman, 14, 20 people asking questions, and worse. It wasn’t easy. Always, I would go to Colombia. I would say, here I am. But I’d have to drink a bottle of scotch to work up the nerves so they believe my story. I’m not an aggressive guy. I’m a bad liar. First of all, I turn red. Right there that gives me away.
That’s why I had to have some drinks. All the money we were investing, which drugs we’re talking about, the last amount was. 700 kilos at $30,000, which amounts to 21 million, so they would lose 21 million. What happened? They’d ask. It got lost I’d say.
MOTHER: The only moment that I’ve only felt scared was– and I was in Colombia. We were doing this drug lord, very young guy, fine looking with a lot of money. We were in his house outside of Cali. Really beautiful house too. We were there and in the morning we went out to see his cattles and everything.
And he goes to a little one and put a knife into into her and killed her right there. That was a guy that was having doubts by the way. He, you know, they always do that. They don’t trust nobody. And he says, this is what I do to people that are snitches or whatever like that. And he just went, boom. And get her right there in front of me.
She screamed and fell on the ground and the blood was coming in and I felt scared, yes. But I wasn’t reacting, scared. I was just, yeah, you should be that way, if you snitch, you should kill them like that too. You just show no fear.
STEPDAD: The last trip to Colombia was the most difficult because there was no more bodyguards. Mafiosos put weapons on the table. Why did this merchandise get lost? Why did that get lost? This person is missing. That person got arrested and you are still here. I have to say everything is there and I’m here. You think if I had something to do with it, I’d be here.
During this last trip, the second in command, one of the bosses, he said, we have this guy here. What do we do with him? That’s when I thought it was over. I don’t know what his response was, but they let me go. From there I returned and that’s when they said, no more.
Being in a informant, had just run its course. I can get up to a certain point, like Al Capone, he made it to a certain point. But after that you can’t get any further or else will kill the head. That’s when I decided what’s the best thing for my family. The first thing I needed to think about was how do I protect my family? So let’s get out, let’s get out. The only escape was witness protection.