The Colombian Cocaine Story
A true story involving one of my Colombian customers
Written 4/2010 and rewritten 05/10/2016 unedited
During the 1980’s to the 1990’s our company Automotive Parts Industries was very busy exporting automotive parts to Central and South America. Our being located in Miami Florida, was the perfect location for us to export parts into South America.
We had parts dealers and brokers from all of the various Latin American Countries coming to Miami to do business with us. Many of the Spanish speaking importers liked doing their business in Miami, because they didn’t need to speak English, all of their business could be transacted in Spanish. However there were some of the more enterprising Spanish businessmen who would only make Miami only their first stop, before heading up north to do business in other places like New York City.
Usually they would stop in to see us, buy something, and we would see them again when they returned to Miami, as Miami was their last stop before flying back to their own countries.
Some of these customers would make purchases in several cities, and then they had everything shipped to Miami where we would consolidate it into one shipment for them.
It was quite a heady time for us, as sometimes we had so many Spanish speaking customers waiting their turn, that we didn’t have enough office space or desks to sit them all down at. On some days, we would have several customers visit us, all coming from the same country, and they didn’t want each other to know what they were buying, or how much they were paying.
In those days, it was normal procedure for the overseas customers to come to Miami with an attaché case filled with U.S. currency. However their getting U.S. currency in their countries was not so easy. One of the most common ways was for them to get American money was from U.S. tourists visiting their country, or they could buy U.S. currency from money brokers. Money brokers were guys that had agents chasing after American tourists in the streets, trying to buy their dollars. Our customers told us they had to pay a premium of 15% to 20% just to get the U.S. dollars from the money changers. Thus, when the importers finally got to us in Miami they had lots of bundles of wrinkled, and well used $1.00, $5.00 and $10.00 bills, but they had no choice, it was the only currency that was available that they could buy.
So to get enough U.S. Currency to make a trip to Miami was always a real problem for them, and it was a costly problem as they had to pay so much to the money brokers, and the problem was even worse as the importers never knew what the money would cost them from day to day, as currency prices changed daily.
Now, traveling to the U.S. with an attaché case full of U.S. currency was legal, but was also a big risk, as there were criminals just looking for South American and Central American people that they knew were carrying a lot of money in their attache cases.
So to solve all these problems, the Colombian Cocaine drug dealers came up with a solution. They had lots of U.S. currency that was already in the United States, and as drug dealers they ran a big risk when sending the U.S. money back to South America, the money could be detected and confiscated by U.S. government.
So the Colombian drug dealers devised a scheme that was perfect for the Latin Americans that needed U.S. Currency. You would call a telephone number in Colombia and tell them how much money you needed in U.S. currency. Then you told them where they could find you in the U.S. The Colombian businessmen would then pay only a 10% premium and they could pay for it in their local currency. This money exchange business was good for the drug dealers, especially in Colombia, as they didn’t have to ship the U.S. currency back to Colombia, and they made an additional 10% profit.
This was also good for our Colombian customers as they knew their exact cost of U.S. currency was going to be 10%, and they no longer had to shop for money, or deal with the money brokers on the streets. Nor did they have to carry large sums of money when traveling to the States and run the risk of having it stolen from them.
By 1995, our export parts business was starting to slow down, due to several reasons. One reason being that the Japanese automobiles were now replacing the American cars in the Caribbean, Central and South America, and another reason was that the local currency in many South American Countries had been devalued, making many formerly wealthy customers into poor people. The currency devaluations were so bad, most of our long time South American customers couldn’t even afford to fly to the U.S. anymore.
One day, we were surprised to see that one of our regular customers named Omar had come to see us. Omar was from the Colombia and we always remembered him because he carried an attaché case with all sorts of colorful automotive company decals plastered all over it.
That morning Omar had arrived at our office with a friend, and we all sat down in our office talking over old times and how the automotive business was changing.
Neither Omar nor his friend spoke a word of English, but they told us they had made arrangements to receive $35,000.00 in U.S. currency when they arrived in New York City. Omar said that he wanted to look over our stock of parts that we had for sale, and then he was going on to New York City. He said that it was in his hotel room in New York where he was going to pick up the $35,000.00 in U.S. currency that he had purchased from the drug dealers back in Colombia. He said that he would pay us for what he bought on his return trip from New York when he had the U.S. dollars.
About a week passed and I received a call from Omar, he said he was in New York City. He asked if I would please send him $300.00 by Western Union just as soon as possible. He needed the money for food and bus fare to Miami and he said he would explain everything when he got to Miami and saw me.
Omar and his friend arrived at my office a couple of days later, and he told me the following story.
When they arrived in New York City, they headed to their regular hotel, where they always stayed. Omar said he always reserved the same room, and it was that room where he was supposed to receive the $35,000.00 in U.S. currency that he had paid for in Colombia.
The hotel clerk said that Omar’s regular room was under renovation, but they could have the room next to it. Omar said he thought it strange, as he wasn’t told about any of this when he had called in his reservation a week earlier. So he told the desk clerk to be sure and advise the delivery boy when he came, that there had been a room change, the desk clerk assured him that it would be taken care of.
The next morning there was a knock on their hotel room door, it was a delivery boy carrying a bowling ball bag. Omar knew his money was in it, so he invited the boy in and they opened the bag on the bed to count it. In the bag were bundles of U.S. $20.00 bills, which Omar then spread out on the bed to count, he wanted to make sure it was all there.
At that moment their hotel door came crashing open and a swat team with guns drawn stormed into the room. Omar, his friend, and the delivery boy, were thrown on the floor and handcuffed, and while this was going on a huge German Shepard dog jumped on the bed and chewed on the bag and the money. Omar said he was so scared, he thought he was having a heart attack right there on the floor. They were all placed under arrest and taken to the police station, and as Omar and his friend spoke no English, an interpreter was called in to translate for them.
The Interpreter explained to Omar that the money had traces of cocaine on it, and they were to appear before a Magistrate in New York City that very evening.
That evening, they explained to the Magistrate through the interpreter, that they had bought and paid for the money in Colombia, and Omar explained that they were in the auto parts business, not the cocaine business. The Judge appeared very sympathetic to their story, and told them that they would be released. But the drug money was to be held as evidence. They would be informed when there would be a hearing, to set a trial date, and Omar could then hire an attorney if he wanted to.
Omar said he was in a state of shock, the money was all his working capital, and he really didn’t fully understand what was going on, and that’s when he called me for me to send the $300.00. Omar said he didn’t know what happened to the courier, but he did know he couldn’t afford to hire an attorney, and he couldn’t afford to return to New York for a trial. Omar was afraid that if they found him guilty, he could end up going to jail. He said that he also knew he couldn’t complain to the drug dealers in Colombia as that could be worse than the Police in New York. Omar said, all he wanted to do now was get on the next flight home to Colombia.
Omar never mentioned the $300.00 I had lent them, and I have never seen Omar again.