||The lead section of this article may need to be rewritten. The reason given is: Basically a list of names instead of a summary of the article. (March 2013)|
|Founder||Brothers: Gilberto and Miguel|
|Founding location||Cali, Valle del Cauca, Colombia|
|Territory||Colombia, United States, Central America, Mexico, Spain, Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Panama|
|Ethnicity||Colombians and international people out of Colombia|
|Criminal activities||Drug trafficking, bribery, money laundering prostitution, extortion, kidnapping, murder and arms trafficking|
|Allies||Los Pepes, Sinaloa Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, The 400, Juárez Cartel, Gulf Cartel, Russian Mafia.|
The Cali Cartel was a drug cartel based in southern Colombia, around the city of Cali and the Valle del Cauca Department. The Cali Cartel was founded by the Rodríguez Orejuela brothers, Gilberto and Miguel, as well as associate José La Cruz Londoño. Later Cali cartel principals included the son of Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, Jorge Alberto Rodriguez, as well as Hélmer Herrera, Jairo Ivan Urdinola Grajales, Julio Fabio Urdinola Grajales, Henry Loaiza Ceballos, Victor Patiño-Fomeque, Phanor Arizabaleta-Arzayus, Raul Grajales Lemos, Luis Grajales Posso, Bernardo Saenz, Juan Carlos Ortiz Escobar, Javier Marlin Rojas, and James Andrae. With connections to British mercenaries, allies among international countries, countless spies and informants in the government and its vast intelligence and surveillance network throughout the city of Santiago de Cali, The cartel was once renowned and compared to the Russian KGB by the American DEA, calling it "The most powerful crime syndicate in history", later praised as "The Cali KGB".
- 1 Foundation
- 2 Organization
- 3 Activities
- 4 Medellín cartel relations
- 5 Law enforcement
- 6 Legacy
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
The Cali Cartel was formed by the Rodriguez brothers and Santacruz, all coming from what is described as a higher social background than most other traffickers of the time. The recognition of this social background was displayed in the group's nickname as "Cali's Gentlemen."
The group originally assembled as a ring of kidnappers known as Las Chemas, which was led by Luis Fernando Tamayo Garcia. Las Chemas were implicated in numerous kidnappings including that of two Swiss citizens, a diplomat Herman Buff and a student, Zack Jazz Milis Martin. They reportedly received $700,000 dollars in ransom, which is believed to have gone on to fund their drug trafficking empire.
The assembled group first involved itself in trafficking marijuana. Due to the product's low profit rate, and larger amount required to traffic to cover resources, the fledgling group decided to shift their focus to the more lucrative drug, cocaine.
In the early 1970s the cartel sent Helmer "Pacho" Herrera to New York City to establish a distribution center. This action came during a time when the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was not fully pursuing cocaine, and viewed the drug as less critical than heroin, at one point releasing a report stating of cocaine "it is not physically addictive ... and does not usually result in serious consequences, such as crime, hospital emergency room admissions or both."
The dome of Cali Cartel was made up Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela El Ajedrecista (The Chess Player), Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela El Señor (The Lord), José Luis Santacruz Londoño El Estudiante (The Student), or Chepe Santacruz, Jorge Alberto Rodriguez "Don Cholito", Helmer Herrera Buitrago Pacho, Victor Patiño Fomeque El Quimico (The Chemist) or La Fiera (The Beast), Henry Loaiza Ceballos El Alacrán (The Scorpion) Phanor Arizabaleta Arzayuz and the former guerrilla José Fedor Rey Alvarez Javier Delgado.
The lax attitude of the DEA on cocaine is believed to be what allowed the group to prosper, but also to develop and organize itself into multiple "cells" that appeared to operate independently, yet reported to a "celeno" or manager, who reported to Jorge Alberto Rodriguez, who in turn reported back to Cali. In the mid-1980s Jorge formed an independent drug cell called The 400, which grew to eventually oversee all shipments and distributions of narcotics imported into the United States by the Cali Cartel. The independent cell structures is what set the Cali Cartel apart from the Medellín Cartel. The Cali Cartel operated as a tight group of independent criminal organizations, as opposed to the Medellíns' structure of a central leader, Pablo Escobar.
It was believed each cell would report to a larger group, who would then report to the leaders of the cartel. The groups as cited by former Cali accountant Guillermo Pallomari are:
- Narco-trafficking: Control over processing labs, shipping methods and routes.
- Military: Control over security, punishment/discipline and bribery in relation to military or police officials.
- Political: Responsible for forging governmental links, Congressional members, federal officials and local authorities.
- Financial: Control over money-laundering, front businesses and legitimate business ventures.
- Legal: Control over representation for captured traffickers, hiring of lobbyists and overseas representation.
The Cali Cartel, whose brief roots began in trafficking marijuana, soon shifted to cocaine due to its ease of transporting and greater profit margin. The cartel would be known for innovation in trafficking and production by moving its refining operations out of Colombia to Peru and Bolivia, as well as for pioneering new trafficking routes through Panama. The Cartel also diversified into opium and was reported to have brought in a Japanese chemist to help its refining operation.
According to reports and testimony of Thomas Constantine to the United States Congress, "Cali would be the dominant group in trafficking South American heroin due to their access to the opium growing areas of Colombia." Debate over the cartel's participation in heroin trafficking remains. It is believed the cartels leaders were not involved in heroin trading; however close associates to them were, such as Ivan Urdinola-Grajales. Their relationships, it is believed, led to cooperation with heroin distribution centers.
At the height of the Cali Cartel's reign, they were cited as having control over 90% of the world's cocaine market and for being directly responsible for the growth of the cocaine market in Europe, controlling 90% of the market. By the mid-1990s, the trafficking empire of the Cali Cartel was a multi-billion dollar enterprise.
In order to launder the incoming money of the trafficking operations, the Cali cartel heavily invested its funds into legitimate business ventures as well as front companies to mask the money. In 1996, it was believed the Cartel was grossing $7 billion in annual revenue from the US alone.
With the influx of cash comes the need to launder the funds. One of the first instances of the Cali Cartel's laundering operations came when Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela was able to secure the position of Chairman of the Board of Banco de Trabajadores. The bank was believed to have been used to launder funds for the Cali cartel, as well as Pablo Escobar's Medellín Cartel. Cartel members were permitted, through their affiliation with Gilberto, to overdraft accounts and take out loans without repayment.
Capitalizing on this basis, Gilberto was able to found the First InterAmericas Bank operating out of Panama. In an interview with Time, Gilberto admitted to money's being laundered through the bank; however, he attributed the process to only legal actions. The laundering, which Gilberto states was "in accordance with Panamanian law", is what led to the US authorities' pursuing him. Gilberto later started the Grupo Radial Colombiano, a network of over 30 radio stations and a pharmaceutical chain named Drogas la Rebaja, which at its height amassed over 400 stores in 28 cities, employing 4200. The pharmaceutical chain's value was estimated at $216 billion.
Russian state connections
Saint Petersburg Immobilien und Beteiligungs AG or SPAG is a real estate company registered in Germany in 1992 and suspected by German police of facilitating Saint Petersburg mobsters, Colombian drug lords, and transcontinental money laundering. The company's co-founder Rudolf Ritter was arrested in Liechtenstein for laundering cocaine cash for the Cali cartel.
- Leonid Derkach: Leonid Danilovich. We've got some interesting material here from the Germans. One of them has been arrested.
- Leonid Kuchma (reading aloud): Ritter, Rudolf Ritter.
- Leonid Derkach: Yes, and about that affair, the drug smuggling. Here are the documents. They gave them all out. Here's Vova Putin, too.
- Leonid Kuchma: There's something about Putin there?
- Leonid Derkach: The Russians have already been buying everything up. Here are all the documents. We're the only ones that still have them now. I think that [FSB chief] Nikolai Patrushev is coming from the 15th to the 17th. This will give him something to work with. This is what we'll keep. They want to shove the whole affair under the carpet.
Later in the conversation Derkach states that "they've bought up all these documents throughout Europe and only the rest are in our hands".
Political violence was largely discounted by the Cali Cartel, as the threat of violence often sufficed. The organization of the cartel was structured so that only people who had family in Colombia would handle operations that involved both Cali and U.S. sites, keeping the family within reach of the cartel. Family members became the cartel's insurance against members going to the officials or refusing payments of product received. The threat of death also hung over those who made mistakes. It is believed the cartel would often kill junior members who made gross errors.
In his book End of Millennium, Manuel Castells states the Cali Cartel had participated in social cleansing of hundreds of thousands of "desechables" (English: discardables). The desechables included prostitutes, street children, petty thieves, homosexuals and the homeless. Along with some of the locals, the Cali Cartel formed parties self named grupos de limpieza social (English: social cleansing groups) who murdered the "desechables," often leaving them with signs on them stating: "Cali limpia, Cali linda" (English: clean Cali, beautiful Cali). The bodies of those murdered were often tossed into the Cauca River, which later became known as the River of Death. The municipality of Marsella in Risaralda was eventually bankrupted by the cost of recovering corpses and conducting autopsies.
In the early 1980s and 1990s, the left-wing paramilitaries had struck at the drug cartels. In 1981, the then-paramilitary group, Movimiento 19 de Abril (English: 19th of April Movement) (M-19), kidnapped Marta Nieves Ochoa, the sister of the Medellín Cartel's Ochoa brothers, Jorge, Fabio and Juan David. M-19 demanded a ransom of $15 million for Marta's safe release, but were rejected. In response to the kidnapping, the Medellín and Cali cartels, as well as associated traffickers, formed the group Muerte a Secuestradores (English: Death to Kidnappers) (MAS). Traffickers contributed funds, rewards, equipment and manpower for MAS operations. Leaflets soon after were dropped in a football pitch in Cali announcing the formation of the group. MAS began to capture and torture M-19 members in retaliation. Within 3 days, Marta Nieves was released. The group MAS, however, would continue to operate, with hundreds of killings attributed to them.
In 1992, the guerrilla faction Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (English: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) (FARC) kidnapped Christina Santa Cruz, the daughter of Cali Cartel leader José Santacruz Londoño. FARC demanded in exchange for the safe return of Christina a ransom of $10 million. In response the Cali Cartel kidnapped 20 or more members of the Colombian Communist Party, Patriotic Union, the United Workers Union, and the sister of Pablo Catatumbo, a representative of the Simón Bolívar Guerrilla Coordinating Board. Eventually, after talks, Christina and the sister of Catatumbo were released. It is unknown what happened to the other hostages taken by the cartel.
During the narco-terror war waged by Pablo Escobar on the Colombian government, it is believed a hired assassin attempted to kill Herrera while he was attending a sports event. The gunman opened fire using a machine gun on the crowd where Herrera was sitting, killing 19. However, he did not hit Herrera. In response to the attempted assassination, the Cali Cartel responded by kidnapping and killing Gustavo Gaviria, Pablo Escobar's cousin. Herrera is believed to be a founding member of Los Pepes, a group who operated alongside authorities with the intention of killing or capturing Pablo Escobar.
The Cali cartel hired a member of Colombia's military named Jorge Salcedo. They wanted him to help them plot an assassination on Pablo Escobar. They hired him because they heard that Jorge had befriended and hired a group of soldier of fortune mercenaries to wage war against the left-wing guerrilla forces. The operation was sanctioned by Colombia's military generals. The group was made up of former special operations soldiers including the British SAS. But at the last minute the higher ups decided to cancel their operation.
Jorge accepted the deal to bring the group (which had left Colombia) and help plan the operation to kill Pablo. The group of soldiers accepted the offer. The cartel provided food, housing, and weapons to the group. The plan was to attack Pablo at his Hacienda Nápoles compound. They trained until they heard Pablo was going to be staying at the compound. A few months later they heard that Pablo was going to be staying at the compound, celebrating the fact that his soccer team had won a tournament. They were going to be inserted by use of 2 helicopters and surprise attack Escobar during the early morning. They made the helicopters look like police helicopters to further confuse them. They took off and headed towards the compound but one of the helicopters ended up crashing into the mountainside minutes away from the compound. The pilot was killed during the crash. The plan was aborted and they had to later conduct a rescue mission up the dense mountainside.
The second plot to kill Escobar was when Escobar was in prison a long time after the failure of the first plot. The plan was to bomb the prison by using a plane. They had a connection in El Salvador, a general of El Salvador's military. They managed to buy 4 500 pound bombs to be used in the assassination attempt. Jorge flew over to El Salvador to oversee the plan to pick up the bombs and take them to an airfield where a jet would land to pick them up and take them back to Colombia. But when the jet landed at the airfield they found that the plane was too small. They attempted to load them, in what was planned to be a few minutes it took them over 20 minutes to load them. By this time there was a crowd of civilians that had gathered at the airfield curious about what was happening. Three bombs were in the plane but the pilot, seeing the crowd of people scared and told Jorge and his crew that he was leaving immediately before law enforcement came. The plane left with only three bombs and Jorge had to get rid of the fourth one. He sank it in a river nearby and went back to his hotel. The morning after, the activities of the night before was all over the news. They had discovered the bomb he sank into the river. Some of the people involved in the operation were arrested and they told authorities about the plot to kill Escobar with the bombs. That was also later reported in the news and the cartel decided to abort the plot.
The counter-intelligence efforts of the Cali Cartel often surprised the DEA and Colombian officials. It was discovered in a 1995 raid of Cali Cartel offices, that the cartel had been monitoring all phone calls made in and out of Bogotá and Cali including the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá and the Ministry of Defense. The laptop, reportedly acquired through Israel, allowed Londoño to eavesdrop on phone calls being made as well as analyze phone lines for wiretaps. While officials were able to discover the use of the laptop, it is reported they were unable to decrypt many of the files due to sophisticated encryption techniques. Londoño was also believed to have a person within the phone company itself, which the officials realized when he was able to recognize a phone tap, one that had been placed directly at the phone company, instead of at his residence. Londoño's lawyer soon sent an official notice requesting the legality and requesting the warrant if one was produced.
Included in the list of government officials and officers on the Cali Cartel payroll were a reported 5,000 taxi drivers. The taxi drivers would allow the cartel to know who was arriving in the city and when, as well as where they were staying. By having numerous taxi drivers on the payroll, the cartel was able to monitor the movements of officials and dignitaries. It is reported by Time Magazine, in 1991, DEA and U.S. Customs Service (now ICE) agents were monitoring a shipment being offloaded in Miami, only to find out later that the DEA agents were the target of Cali surveillance at the same time.
Jorge Salcedo, a member of Colombia's military was put in charge of Intelligence and later provide security to Miguel. He would later, ironically, be crucial in helping to destroying the cartel and pinpointing where Miguel was hiding. He designed and set up a large hidden radio network across the city allowing members to communicate wherever they were. They also had many people inside law enforcement working for them. Including a high-ranking member of the Bloque de Búsqueda (search block) who were looking for the Cali Cartel's top leaders. When law enforcement had finally cornered Miguel inside an apartment, the double agent was in the apartment along with other law enforcement including 2 DEA agents trying to find the secret compartment in which Miguel was hiding. Law enforcement failed to find him in time and were forced to leave the apartment. They maintained a perimeter around the building to prevent his escape. The double agent was crucial in helping Miguel escape, as he hid Miguel in his car and drove away from the scene untroubled.
They also had many wiretaps in use, including all police hotlines. They had a person working for them in Colombia's largest telecommunications company.
Medellín cartel relations
First InterAmericas Bank
The Godfather to Jorge Alberto Rodriguez, Jorge Ochoa, a high ranking Medellín financier, and Gilberto Rodriguez had been childhood friends and would years later co-own the Panamanian First InterAmericas Bank. The institution would later be cited by United States officials as a money laundering operation, allowing both the Cali Cartel and the Medellín Cartel to move large amounts of funds through the bank. Only through diplomatic pressure, on then Panamanian President Manuel Noriega, could the U.S. put an end to the bank's use as a money laundering front. In a Time magazine interview, Gilberto Rodriguez admitted to laundering money through the bank, but noted that the process broke no Panamanian laws.
Muerte a Secuestradores (Death to Kidnappers)
The two cartels would participate in other joint ventures in later years, such as the founding of MAS, who successfully returned Ochoa's kidnapped sister, Marta Nieves Ochoa. Expanding on the prior success of MAS, the cartels and independent traffickers would meet again. The second meeting is believed to have been the start of organization in trafficking between the primary participants, the Medellín Cartel, and Cali Cartel. The two cartels divided up the major United States distribution points, with the Cali Cartel's taking New York City and the Medellín Cartel's taking South Florida and Miami; Los Angeles was left up for grabs. Through their affiliation in MAS, it is also believed the cartels decided to work together to stabilize prices, production and shipments of the cocaine market. The strategic alliance formed with the foundation of MAS in 1981 began to crumble by 1983-1984, due to the ease of competition. As the cartels set up infrastructure, routes, transport methods and bribes, it became easier for competition and establish similar deals, or make use of those already in place by other cartels. By 1987, the cooperation forged by the formation of MAS has no longer existed. Contributing to the demise was the Medellín Cartels' Rodriguez Gacha, who attempted to move in on the New York City market, previously ceded to the Cali Cartel, and the 1986 arrest of Jorge Ochoa at a police roadblock, an arrest the Medellín Cartel believed was suspicious and which they attributed partly to the Cali Cartel.
In later years as Pablo Escobar's narco-terror war escalated against the Colombian government, the government began to strike back in ever escalating battles. As the Medellín cartel weakened due to the fighting and constant pressure, the Cali cartel grew in strength, eventually founding Los Pepes or Perseguidos por Pablo Escobar (English: People Persecuted by Pablo Escobar). Los Pepes was specifically formed to target the Medellín cartel and bring about the downfall of Pablo Escobar. It is believed Los Pepes provided information to Bloque de Busqueda (English: Search Bloc) a police/army unit specifically created to track down Medellín leaders. In exchange for information Los Pepes received assistance from the United States counter-terrorism unit, Delta Force, through its links to Search Bloc. By the time of Escobar's capture and eventual death in December 1993, Los Pepes have been responsible for the deaths or executions of over 60 associates or members of the Medellín cartel. The death of Pablo Escobar led to the dismantling of the Medellín Cartel and the rise of the Cali cartel.
While the Cali Cartel operated with a degree of immunity early on, due to its ties to the government, and the Medellín Cartel's narco-terrorism war on the Colombian government, they were still subjected to drug seizures. In 1991 alone, law enforcement agencies seized 67 tons of cocaine, 75% originating from the Cali Cartel. In total, the US Customs Service (USCS) alone had spent 91,855 case hours and 13 years in investigations against the Cali Cartel, seizing 50 tons of cocaine and $15 million in assets.
The involvement of U.S. Customs Service in the Cali Cartel's trafficking came in July 1990 after Jorge Alberto Rodriguez, under federal investigation, was arrested after attempting to import 100 kilos of cocaine into Tallahassee, Florida through the assistance of an undercover U.S. Customs agent. Jorge was brought to trial in October 1990, and refused to testify or identify anyone he was criminally affiliated with. He was convicted and sentenced to serve 25 years in federal prison, where he continued to operate and manage his criminal empire. In 1991 a shipment was intercepted with the aid of a drug sniffing dog. The cocaine was hidden inside concrete posts. The interception of the concrete posts at the Miami seaport led to seizure of 12,000 kilograms of cocaine and several arrests, as well as the beginning of what the US Customs Service would dub "Operation Cornerstone". A year later in another seizure, an USCS wiretap on Harold Ackerman, whose affiliation was derived from the '91 seizure, enabled the arrest of 7 individuals and 6,000 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a load of broccoli. Accounting ledgers were seized in related arrests which allowed the identification of another shipment being sent to Panama hidden in tiles, this information was passed to Panamanian authorities and led to the seizure of 5,100 kilograms.
The following year in 1993, the US Customs Service struck again at the Cali cartel, this time seizing 5,600 kilograms while pursuing Raul Marti, the only member of the defunct Miami cell to remain. It is believed these successive raids forced the cartel to funnel its shipments through Mexico, however that did not stop the US Customs Service. Three maritime ships were intercepted in '93 with a total of 17,000 kilograms. Operation Cornerstone lasted 14 years, targeting the Cali Cartel's drug trafficking operations.
Between June and July 1995, the remaining six of the seven heads of the cartel were arrested. Gilberto was arrested in his home, and Henry Loaiza, Victor Patino and Phanor Arizabaleta surrendered to authorities. Jose Santa Cruz Londoño was captured in a restaurant, and a month later Miguel Rodriguez was apprehended during a raid. It is widely believed that the cartel continued to operate and run trafficking operations from within prison.
The Rodríguez brothers were extradited in 2006 to the United States and pleaded guilty in Miami, Florida to charges of conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States. Upon their confession they agreed to forfeit $2.1 billion in assets. The agreement, however, did not require them to cooperate in other investigations. They were solely responsible for identification of assets stemming from their cocaine trafficking. Colombian officials raided and seized the Drogas la Rebaja pharmacy chain, replacing 50 of its 4,200 workers on grounds they were "serving the interests of the Cali Cartel".
It is alleged that the Norte del Valle Cartel was formed after an event where the brothers Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela and Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela, leaders of the Cali Cartel, came to an agreement with the Colombian government that if they surrender themselves and their organization to the Colombian justice system they would be given perks as imprisonment in Colombian prisons for not more than 5 years and with the promise of no expropriation of their large amount of property. It is stated that they organized a meeting with their lieutenants, main subordinates and junior partners in the business, to inform them that the decision has already been taken to stop all the illicit business immediately. There were members who refused to this sudden dissolution, including Carlos Alberto Rentería Mantilla, Juan Carlos Ortiz Escobar, Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, Diego León Montoya Sánchez and Orlando Henao Montoya. Those who wanted to continue with the business were the ones who shaped the Norte del Valle Cartel (North Valley Cartel).
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- "Transcript of Press Conference Announcing Guilty Pleas by Cali Cartel". United States Department of Justice. 2006-09-26.
 Lawyer Luiz Felipe Mallmann de Magalhães (1) http://books.google.com.co/books?hl=en&lr=&id=hDJnWZAoh5QC&oi=fnd&pg=PR9&dq=ernesto+samper&ots=emHSrIcXNH&sig=VLQ4pZ40Nv_UiUTtlBa8eGdJQLY#v=onepage&q=ernesto%20samper&f=false
- Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela
- Miguel Rodríguez Orejuela
- Jorge Alberto Rodriguez
- U.S. vs Jorge Alberto Rodriguez: 981 Federal Reporter 2d, Page 1199
- Chepesiuk, Ron (2005). Drug Lords: The Rise and Fall of the Cali Cartel; Milo Books.
- Rempel, William (2011). At the Devil's Table: The Untold Story of the Insider Who Brought Down the Cali Cartel; Random House Pub.