I thought I would switch things up this week. The show Narcos on Netflix is a hit. It has brought back the 1980’s cocaine world with a sterilized Hollywood view. The show tells the story of Pablo Escobar, the Medellín Cartel (which included Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha, Jorge Ochoa and his brothers Juan David, Fabio, the DEA Agent who pursued them). The movie Blow told the same story from the view of an American pilot. I thought some of you would want to know what it was really like inside the Cartel on a day to day basis. They all show the drug lords sending off tons of cocaine and then bringing home bags of cash. How was the cocaine distributed and the money picked up? I urge you to read From the Cartel to Christ: How God restores stolen dreams. This book will take you into the dark world that was the cocaine trade of the 1980’s.
Why would I write about this book? I will tell you the story.
In 2005 when I was writing Breakshot I started reaching out to people from my past. I ended up speaking to someone who I've known since high school. She dated a man named Jack Rausch, who I became good friends with in the 1980’s. I liked Jack and had not planned on writing about him. I also figured he was either dead or locked up forever. If Jack was not locked up, I figured he might be living in Medellín, Colombia where he grew up. The way they deal with people in that city is not good and I did not want to cause him any problems. So I did not include him by name in my book. Jack had been a player with the Medellín Cartel for years in the 1980’s and the early 1990’s.
In 2009 I was put in touch with Jack and we decided to meet for lunch. I left my office and went to El Polo Loco in Lake Forest. This was a long way from our old days of Sushi and nightclubbing. I was a little nervous because I rarely saw anyone from my past and I was not sure how he would receive me. When he walked inside I knew I made the right choice. He greeted me with a strong handshake and a smile. The years had been good to Jack, or so I thought.
We sat down to lunch and he told me the story that was his life since I last saw him. He continued doing the same thing that he always had in the 1980’s. He had been arrested for his part in moving a 10,000 kilo load of cocaine. He was charged with delivering 500 kilos of that load himself. For your information that is 1102.31 pounds of cocaine. He had been locked up since the mid 1990’s but according to him, his life was good. He told me he had found Christ and that is when I rolled my eyes inside my mind. I thought, “Oh great, another criminal who found God when he was in trouble.” I figured some kind of pitch was coming in a minute. It never came. The more I spoke to Jack, the more I realized that he was speaking the truth. He was not in trouble, he was no longer a criminal and he was everything he said he was. He was a working guy who also worked at a ministry. He never pushed it on me and now I know he knew I was not ready for it yet. He was happy and that was the thing I first picked up on. In the 1980’s neither of us were ever happy, even with large amounts of cash coming in daily. Then he brought up that he was writing a book. I thought that it would be great for him to get it out. From the Cartel to Christ came out last year and it is a must read for anyone interested in the 1980’s Southern California drug world.
I read it and it made me feel a little sick to my stomach. It brought me back to a place and time that I was not sure I wanted to go back to at this time in my life.
Jack’s story begins in Medellín where Jack grew up after his father left his mother. Jack's father had started a couple of profitable banana plantations in the jungle regions of the country. Jack however had no interest in school or bananas. He wanted to be a mafioso. A mafioso in Colombia is not the same as we know it. Colombians had historically been known as smugglers in South America but as tastes changed, they moved into cocaine and they became known as mafioso. Jack was in the right place at the right time if you consider that life good. Times were changing in the way they smuggled cocaine to America. It went from the mom and pop use of mules (aka people who carry the cocaine into the country) to airplanes filled with kilos in the 1980’s.
Jack begins when the Cartel was born and he is one of the few who made it out alive.
Jack’s first job had him waiting in the jungles of northern Colombia when a small Cessna plane made a quick landing on a makeshift runway carved out of the jungle. Jack waited for a tractor loaded with canvas sacks full of kilos to pull up. Another crew quickly refueled the plane as Jack and another man threw the sacks into the seatless plane. The plane quickly accelerated and took off just barely clearing the trees.
Jack was paid 100,000 pesos or about 300 dollars in the early 1980’s. That was not bad money for his age or the times, but that is not what he wanted. He was a newly licensed pilot and he wanted in on the transportation money. Pilots could net 5,000 a kilo for transporting it to the US and they could carry about 400 kilos on a small plane. They made a lot but they lived short lives. The planes would run out of fuel and drop into the ocean or crash in the jungle never to be seen again. Jack made a couple of runs but life as a pilot did not work out. He was instead sent by the traffickers to the US to oversee the loads that came into the country from Colombia. They had started working together to put together huge loads that would serve to spread out the risk. The system worked because before if a 500 kilo load was sent by one group and it was lost it was a huge hit. The new way the load was split between five groups and that softened the hit if it was busted. The Cartel itself was not just the men whose names we know but a lot of small traffickers and later Traqueteroros, drug traffickers from good families that wanted to dabble. They would pool investors cash and daddys money to put together loads. He started working in Miami until things changed there and the Colombians started migrating to Southern California. He was told that the office handling distribution in California had become available. What that really meant was the guy who ran it before was dead or under arrest. So Jack was soon on a plane to SoCal but just before he boarded the flight in Miami some DEA Agents grabbed him and had his baggage brought to them. It was bad to be a Colombian flying from Miami to Los Angeles in the 1980’s. Once Jack landed at LAX he was picked up by another DEA team and searched again. Once freed Jack made his way to a cheap airport hotel where he rested and watched TV. A few days later he went to a payphone and made a call to the Miami office. The next day his contract picked him up at the hotel and he disappeared into urban sprawl that is SoCal. The Colombians had set up a system of offices to handle the importation, distribution and the handling of the cash.
People have to remember that that cellphones were a few years away. Pagers just beeped and you had to call into a service who gave you a message. I paid 800 dollars for a pager and it was not even a display pager it just beeped. Payphone calls were dime then and they all took incoming calls. They set up a number of offices in Colombia that were a kind of logistical support. Guys like Jack had the numbers memorized and they would call in with their code names. They would be given contact names and numbers. They also set up other offices here in the US to serve the same purpose. These offices never came into contact with the product aka cocaine so they didn't have the heat. Jack and others would get here and chill in hotels until they felt there was no heat. They would then get fake papers and IDs then move to a nice middle class neighborhood. They would rent houses or condos buy cars and live normal lives until they got the call. They would then go someplace and be handed a set of keys for a truck. They would then drive the truck to a house they rented and unload the kilos of cocaine. They would unpack it to protect the shipping method and separate the kilos for different groups here in the US. Then they would drop off the truck and somebody would pick it up. A week would be spent dropping off the load and then it was time to close down the house and find another. They would also get calls to pick up cash. Rule number one was the cash and the drugs were never in the same place at the same time. That is why the way it is portrayed in the movies with guys standing around with machine guns when a deal goes down is stupid and wrong. What do a bunch of Harvard guys know about the drug world but what they imagine? Waiting for a load was a time for many like Jack to relax and have fun.
Jack rented a home in Orange County and started going to school. Life was normal until he had to pick up a load. Then it was unpacking the Kilos marking down the symbols or stamps. They would be wrapped blocks stamped with a penny or a queen with numbers and each one of these would be recorded into a ledger book. Then they would divide them up according to deliveries. They would drop off hundreds and then even lower amounts like 20 kilos which were closer to the street level dealer. Jack had to make a number of trips back to Medellín because the business was very much hands on and what happens there affects what went down in SoCal.
Next week I will write about what was going on in Colombia when El Doctor was running the business. I suggest buying the book if this topic interests you and you want a more detailed account.
From the Cartel to Christ on Amazon: