Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Rise and Fall of Carlos Lehder Rivas


'Homegrown Hitler' Abandons Wild Parties,
Baby Daughter and Anti-Semitic Political Group

Miami Herald
September 18, 1983

Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas is a 34-year-old admirer of Adolf Hitler with $270 million, tons of cocaine, nine aliases, 12 bodyguards, and a Mercedes limousine. And now he is on the run again.

Left behind are a political scandal and thousands of chanting adherents of a new nationalistic movement with anti- Semitic overtones that he bankrolled.

Also abandoned are his newspaper, adoring women, wild parties, infant daughter, hotel, farms, airplanes, lions, llamas, parrots, unpaid bills -- and a prominently displayed nude statue of the late John Lennon. The sculptor thoughtfully fashioned a gaping bullet hole through Lennon's back.

U.S. officials say Lehder's massive cocaine smuggling operation remains intact, but in the Bahamas, his island base on Norman's Cay, where he once entertained fugitive financier Robert Vesco, is a ghost town. Its only occupants are a very bored contingent of Bahamian police and a pig and two dozen sheep running wild.

Lehder ran from U.S. cocaine charges two years ago.

Now, for the first time, the Colombian government is also after him.

He is one of the first Colombians ordered to trial in the United States under a new extradition treaty. Lehder addressed this issue at a press conference a few days before he disappeared:

"Over my dead body," he snarled.

Supporters and detractors in Colombia spare no hyperbole in describing Lehder.

"He has turned into a martyr, just as Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States, as Gandhi, as Jesus Christ in the Catholic Church," asserted Lionel Davila Marin, press secretary for Lehder's National Latin Movement.

"A homegrown Hitler," charged Miguel Sanchez Mendoz, the Colombian deputy attorney general in charge of the narcotics unit of the judicial police.

The Lehder affair, augmented by a new cocaine consumption problem, is shaking the country as never before. Colombians, long complacent if not secretly satisified with doper wealth, now wonder openly if cocaine is sapping the strength of their society.

Lehder is a giant among drug smugglers, although no other quite shares his flair for publicity.

He smuggles a staggering five tons of cocaine annually into the United States, using a tightly knit organization of pilots, drug labs and island bases, according to Johnny Phelps, the United States' chief drug agent in Colombia.

Lehder's cargos equal 10 per cent of the total imported into the United States, according to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Lehder's wealth is equally astounding.

Lewis Tambs, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, pegs it at $270 million. During a no-questions-asked tax amnesty in Colombia, Lehder himself admitted assets of $20 million.

* * *

Lehder was born Sept. 7, 1949, to a Colombian mother and a German father. The couple divorced when he was young.

He grew up in Armenia, a mile-high city of 180,000 sitting in rich rolling coffee country between two ranges of the Andes. He attended school in Armenia and in Bogota.

Three childhood stories are cited as clues to his personality.

Two come from his father, Wilhelm Lehder, an engineer who lives in Armenia.

At age eight, Lehder showed the intelligence that has enabled him to master aviation and construction. All by himself, he designed a water pump, his father said. "It was perfect. It would have worked."

His son also showed a yearning for public attention. Once he wrote to a Hollywood film company. He wanted to be an actor. "We always asked if he would go to Hollywood to be an actor," his father said.

Lehder demonstrated an early defiance of authority.

He hurled an inkwell at the blackboard when a teacher tried to discipline him, said Luis Fernando Mejia, a friend. He was expelled.

At age 18, Lehder left Colombia for New York "to see the capital of the world." He married an American woman; the couple later separated. His friends do not know her name or whereabouts.

On July 17, 1972, he began a rap sheet.

Police arrested him in Mineola, N.Y., charging him with the unauthorized use of a motor vehicle.

That same year, FBI agents in New Haven, Conn., suspected that Lehder was transporting stolen vehicles to South America. Lehder traveled back and forth to Canada frequently.

Acting on an FBI warrant, the U.S. Border Patrol arrested Lehder Jan. 9, 1973, as he drove from Windsor through the Detroit tunnel. Lehder was released on a $25,000 bond. He did not appear in court to answer charges.

Miami arrest

He was arrested again, this time in Miami on Sept. 21, 1973. The charge: Possession of 200 pounds of marijuana. He got four years in the Danbury Correctional Institute in Connecticut.

On March 14, 1975, he was released. Immigration agents put him on a Braniff plane to Bogota and deported him.

"At that point," said the DEA's Phelps, "he became the phantom who floated in and out of the islands."

Federal officials discovered their phantom had multiple identities: Joe Lemon, Joe Leather, Carlos Lihper, Roselio Cessnica, Roselio de Grullaid, Ruben Montes, Carlos Enrique, Rivas Carlos and Rivas Enrique.

One island he floated to was Norman's Cay.

"On this island, 1,200 miles from our coast," Lehder bragged recently, "the Colombian flag waved invincible for four years."

Planes flew in and out at all hours. Rock music blasted the island. Lehder's private commandos chased away drop-in visitors, once even a Bahamian legislator who came to investigate.

In 1981, DEA agents thought they had nailed Lehder.

An indictment accused him of smuggling bulk shipments of Colombian cocaine: 200 to 400 pounds a crack. It came through Norman's Cay headed for airstrips in northern Florida and southern Georgia. The government caught 12 defendants. All pleaded guilty. It didn't catch Lehder.

In the heyday of the Norman's Cay operation, the FBI began to receive information linking Lehder to Vesco, according to Arthur Nehrbass, then special agent in charge for Miami.

Vesco visited Lehder at Norman's Cay, a prosecutor said. "They are pals. They are buddies."

A federal intelligence report, made public two weeks ago by NBC News, said that Lehder had paid off Bahamian officials, including Prime Minister Lynden Pindling, with $100,000 a month for protection. Pindling angrily denied the allegation.

Lehder visited Miami, stopping in at the Hotel Mutiny in Coconut Grove, he said.

Life of drug czar

In Armenia, Lehder lived the life of drug czar.

Accompanied by cars carrying 10 to 15 heavily armed bodyguards, Lehder traveled in a Mercedes limousine. The local bishop denounced him as a narcotraficante.

All of his security wasn't enough. Kidnapers shot and wounded him in 1981 during an unsuccessful attempt to abduct him. "He pretended to be dead," said his friend Mejia. When no one was looking, he escaped.

His retaliation was effective.

Lehder joined an organization, comprising mainly smugglers, known as Muerte a los Secuestradores

Death to Kidnapers, he acknowledged in a July interview.

MAS took out full-page ads in Colombian newspapers shortly after its creation in 1981. The ads pronounced a death sentence on kidnapers.

Lots of people get killed in Colombia and no one knows precisely how many deaths might be the work of MAS.

However, Colombian officials, human rights groups and press reports put the number in the hundreds. One Colombian prosecutor listed the names of 163 MAS members, including 59 on active duty in the military.

U.S. agents say Lehder is a MAS founder.

To the upper crust families of Armenia, Lehder soon posed an entirely different problem: Their daughters began keeping company with him.

"It is well-known in Armenia," said Dr. Gabriel Echeverria Gonzalez, private secretary to the governor of Quindio, "that a number of young girls of good family are believed to have run away to stay with Lehder, perhaps as many as 20. This has caused resentment and ill will." The mayor's office said the same thing.

One who fell for Lehder was the daughter of the senator from Quindio, according to the Armenia correspondent of Bogota's El Tiempo. The reporter said he saw her at Lehder's house during a visit two years ago.

The house, filled with hi-tech electronics gear, reverberated to loud Beatles music, said El Tiempo's man.

"Lehder is a young and handsome man. They're attracted by his power and his money," explained Marin, a friend. Lehder has an infant daughter by an Armenia woman, said Mejia, another friend.


Violent Trafficker Flown to Florida to Stand Trial

Colombian National Police Wednesday captured Carlos Lehder Rivas, the most flamboyant and violent of Colombia's drug traffickers and a leader of the cartel that provides 80 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States.

Authorities immediately put him on a plane and extradited him to stand trial in Florida.

"The Virgin has smiled on us," National Police Col. William Lemus told his superiors in an early morning telephone call. "We have captured Carlos Lehder."

National police Wednesday afternoon shipped Lehder and 14 of his captured bodyguards to a military air base at Bogota's El Dorado International Airport. At 5:08 p.m., Lehder boarded a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Turboprop Aero Commander destined for Tampa. -Miami Herald, February 5, 1987.

Miami News, Feb. 5, 1987.
(Click image to enlarge.)

CARLOS LEHDER RIVAS THOUGHT HE WAS safe from arrest. In fact, in all of Colombia, there were probably only a handful of officials who believed that he or any of a half-dozen other billionaire cocaine traffickers could be reached by the law. After all, the ''mafiosos,'' as they are known locally, had repeatedly defied the Government, murdering anyone, from Cabinet Ministers to Supreme Court justices, who stood in their way. Through terror and corruption, they had become in many ways more powerful than the state.

It was, therefore, a shock when Lehder, a handsome and arrogant 39-year-old, was arrested, along with 14 bodyguards, at one of his homes on Feb. 4. Within hours, he was on board a United States Government plane en route to Florida to face a long list of drug-related charges. For the first time in a decade of booming cocaine exports, the head of one of the three biggest Colombian dope ''families'' had been forcibly retired. -New York Times, March 8, 1987.


Colombian Trafficker Could Face Life Term For Shipping Drugs

Carlos Lehder Rivas, a 38-year-old Colombian called by prosecutors the "Henry Ford of the cocaine business," was convicted Thursday of running a criminal enterprise that perfected the mass transportation of the drug into the United States.

The verdict came at the end of a 7 1/2-month trial billed as the most important drug prosecution in U.S. history. The jury deliberated 42 hours over seven days.

"In the immortal words of James Brown, I feel good," said U.S. Attorney Robert Merkle in a news conference after the verdict. "This is a victory for the good guys, and by the good guys, I mean the American people."

Lehder, who once bragged that marijuana and cocaine were "the Achilles' heel" of North American imperialism, looked down but otherwise showed no emotion when the verdict was read at 11:10 a.m. His aunt, Ana Pla, from New York wept after the verdict.

The jury of four men and eight women found Lehder guilty on all 11 drug counts against him. Three women jurors wept as they were polled about their verdicts.

"Mr. Lehder and we are obviously disappointed at the verdict," defense attorney Edward R. Shohat said four hours after the verdict was read. "We fully intend to appeal. . . . Mr. Lehder is in very good spirits. He feels very, very strongly about his legal position."

Lehder faces a maximum penalty of life plus 150 years in prison. Lehder's co-defendant, Jack Carlton Reed, was convicted of conspiracy with Lehder. Reed, 57, of San Pedro, Calif., faces a maximum 15 years in prison.

Sentencing was set for July 20. -Miami Nerald, May 20, 1988.


Carlos Lehder Rivas, one of the founders of the Medellin Cartel, was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life Wednesday for his role in importing more than 3 tons of cocaine to the United States.

"The truth of the matter is, your main goal was to make money, and you did so at the expense of others," U.S. District Judge Howell Melton told Lehder. "You show no concern over the destruction you have wrought. . . .

"This sentence is a signal that our country will do everything in its power and within the law to battle the drug problem that threatens the very fabric of our society."

Melton ordered Lehder to a life sentence without parole on one count -- running a continuing criminal enterprise. He gave Lehder 15 years each on nine other counts, with those sentences to run consecutively, and fined him $325,000.

Lehder showed no emotion when the sentence was read. -Miami Herald, July 21, 1988.

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