Some Colombian villain stories end in a spectacular calamity as criminals lose their edge for beautiful women who guide them straight to the hands of authorities.
Criminals run, but they can’t hide forever. Even the masterminds of crime find practicing the art of invisibility hard. They avoid cell phones, change identities, fake their own deaths or even burn their fingerprints off. But all too often, it comes crashing down for a much more prosaic reason. For many Colombian criminals it’s their soft spot for women that sees them breaking their strictest security protocols.
Last month, Colombian police announced the arrest of Marcos Figueroa, ‘Marquitos’, one of the country’s most politically influential drug lords. His story adds to the long list of leading Colombian criminals who were caught off-guard due to their intemperate fondness for women. From most wanted drug-traffickers to guerrilla leaders and paramilitary perpetrators the Achilles heel is always in the same place. For police, it’s manhunt 101.
1. Marcos Figueroa, a.k.a. “Marquitos”
Figueroa is one of the most successful drug traffickers from Colombia’s Caribbean coast, and the boss of a criminal gang operating around the Venezuelan border. He was arrested in mid-October, hiding away in northern Brazil.
Thanks to the work of two undercover officers, who infiltrated the inner circle of his organization, it was confirmed that Figueroa frequently communicates with his wife and up to eight of his girlfriends, with whom he has no less than 26 children. It was one of his lovers that turned out to be key to success of the arrest.
The agents spent months establishing links between the criminal and a 25 year-old woman alias “A” from northeastern Colombia. The relationship was confirmed when her son was recognized as the youngest child of Marquitos.
As “A”made her way to Brazil with one of the criminal’s main men, the authorities followed close behind. In spite of refined methods to lose any potential “tails”, the woman led them straight to a luxurious mansion in the town of Boa Vista where Figueroa impatiently awaited his girlfriend.
2. Guillermo Leon Saenz, a.k.a. “Alfonso Cano”
When heavy bombardment coupled with bullet spray from the National Army forces killed the supreme commander of Colombia’s largest rebel group FARC, “Alfonso Cano,” in November 2011, the country was in shock.
More details of the lengthy “Odysseus” operation against Cano surfaced in the weeks following the assassination. It was revealed that one of the ways through which the authorities traced the location of the guerrilla leader was by intercepting various calls from a female FARC fighter, alias ‘Jennifer’.
Jennifer was Cano’s confidant, and it was often suggested she was his life partner. In wiretapped conversations with her younger brother she allegedly conceded the exact whereabouts of Cano. It was further verified by infiltrated FARC members, who led the troops to the commander’s hiding place in the mountains of Cauca state. At the scene, the soldiers found Jennifer walking and playing with two of Cano’s beloved dogs. It was the final giveaway, as the FARC commander never moved without her and his pets.
Cano’s death was the hardest blow for the guerrillas in recent history.
3. John Freddy Manco, a.k.a. “El Indio”
Drug lord “El Indio” is a former member of the paramilitary group AUC and their successors “Los Urabeños.” He remained on the run for four years, changing his identity and whereabouts. He was apprehended in 2013, mostly as a result of his reckless romance with a model Sara Builes.
After a two-year-long investigation, the intelligence officers found themselves on the trail of Torres, when following Builes on her trip to Madrid. Her lavish voyage didn’t add up with her modest financial background.
Keeping sight of the model soon gave them access to El Indio, as the couple traveled together between major European cities and Brazil, with the soccer-obsessed criminal going from one stadium to another. Later, the chief of the operation explained that “we [the police] paid special attention to the people El Indio trusted the most, his family and his lover. It has generally been the weakness of all drug traffickers. It’s always women and booze that bring them to us.”
As for Builes, she continued her celebrity model career. In an interview accompanying her nude session for fashion magazine SoHo she insisted she had no idea about Indio’s criminal background.
4. Camilo Torres Martinez, a.k.a. “Fritanga”
When in 2012 Martinez, “El Indio’s” cousin and a flamboyant drug-trafficker, married the alleged love of his life (she happened to be a model too), he couldn’t expect his freedom was going to end before the honeymoon even started. “Fritanga” had covered all the tracks faking his own death two years earlier, but the temptation to celebrate the wedding in style led him to all kinds of troubles.
When the authorities crashed the extravagant party on the island of Mucura at the Caribbean coast, the unsuspecting newlyweds and celebrity invitees were in the middle of their salsa spins. The party was only just beginning and supposed to last for a week. According to the police reports it cost a total of $2.500 million.
Fritanga’s prison days turned out to be equally entertaining. An INPEC (National Penitentiary and Prison Institute) report on inmates’ behavior mentioned visits from oodles of women equipped with Viagra, as well as deliveries of luxury food, alcohol, and even an orthopedic mattress right to Fritanga’s cell’s doorstep. However, in 2013, he was extradited to the US and it is presumed his living conditions worsened.
5. Colonel Jorge Eliecer Plazas
Colonel Plazas lasted eleven long years on the run. Having escaped from the Artillery School in Bogota where he was serving his 40-year sentence for murder of Israeli businessman Benjamin Khoudari in 2003, Plazas disappeared without a trace.
In the meantime, new investigations against the former ally of the paramilitaries were opened and Interpol issued a red notice for his arrest. He was charged with the killing of a comedian and peace activist Jaime Garzon, and accused of involvement in a number of other high-profile assassinations. As it later turned out, Colonel circumvented enforcement agencies by taking the role of a small farmer deep in Colombia’s countryside.
His lucky spell lasted until earlier this year. The authorities got on his trail in San Martin in state of Meta in the center of Colombia, where he had a relationship with an unidentified woman who worked as a civil servant. Members of the intelligence community were able to put up a surveillance system in front of her house from where they observed her every step, but in the beginning Plazas was nowhere to be found. He was finally detained when approaching one of the fake grocery stores installed by the police.
6. Domenico Mancuso
The name Mancuso became widely known in Colombia for the bloodbaths perpetrated by one of the leaders of the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC): Salvatore Mancuso.
However, his cousin Domenico played an important role in the atrocities of 1990s as the head of the infamous Catatumbo bloc. According to prosecution his criminal record includes 132 murders in four massacres and 90 displaced families, and 3,200 people dispossessed of their lands. Unlike Salvatore, Domenico refused to demobilize during the Justice and Peace process and fled to Imperia in the north of Italy.
In Italy, he spent years living the life of an innocent person. He made sure not to stand out, and he avoided the sumptuous lifestyle his pockets could afford. However, the authorities managed to locate Mancuso when he got involved with a young Colombian model, also residing in Imperia.
To make matters complicated, around the same time, the woman was in a parallel relationship with an undercover police officer. Thanks to this love triangle, the authorities got possession of further information on Domenico, which led to his arrest in August 2014.
7. Daniel Barrera, a.k.a. “El Loco Barrera”
Barrera was perhaps one of the most wanted kingpins of the last two decades in Colombia. He built a vast criminal empire on his ability to forge unlikely alliances and use political forces for business purposes, and was described by President Juan Manuel Santos as “the last of the great capos”.
Fleeing from justice, he famously burnt off his fingerprints. Additionally, according to Colombian police commander at the time, Jose Roberto Leon, in order to go unnoticed, “El Loco” was always accompanied by a woman, who served as his bodyguard and a driver. He also broke any contact with his numerous wives and children scattered all over Colombia.
However, elaborate precautionary measures were not enough and he was captured in 2012 as a result of concerted efforts from Colombian and Venezuelan authorities as well as from British intelligence agency M16 and the CIA. His fate was sealed when the intelligence officers followed a Colombian model sent to Venezuela on Barrera’s request.
Spotted at the El Dorado airport in Bogota, the woman was one of many models to visit the kingpin in his hideaways. Allegedly, it was the wiretapped phone calls between the woman and Barrera’s right-hand man that contributed to the success of the operation. The rumor has it that not even close allies were ever granted permission to call “El Loco”.
8. Justo Pastor Perafan
Accused of being the leader of drug trafficking operations in Bogota and the southwest of Colombia in the 90s, Pastor Perafan was described as impressive, gentlemanly, and an astute businessman. For a long time, Perafan was part of the high society in the Colombian capital, turning little attention to his illegal dealings.
In order to sidestep the authorities, he changed his identity, his appearance and moved to Venezuela. The drug-lord’s run ended when his neighbor identified one of his women as the ex Beauty Queen Luz Adriana Ruiz Jaramillo. She saw the pictures of the model in a variety magazine “Cromos” a couple of days earlier.
When Jaramillo was arrested in Medellin in 1997, the authorities found her passport with stamps from Venezuela. It was a hint that her husband Perafan might be hiding in the bordering country. The exact whereabouts were established when the nosy neighbor contacted authorities and reported that she saw “a small man with a goatee beard and short hair” in beauty queen’s company in the town of San Cristobal.
Perfan was detained and extradited to the US in one of the most important drug-related arrests of the decade.
Top de criminales que cayeron por sus mujeres (El Espectador)