Skip to content

Carlos Lehder

Carlos LehderCarlos Enrique Lehder Rivas was born in the municipality of Armenia in Colombia on September 7, 1949. He is the son of Helena Rivas, who was born in Colombia and Willheim Lehder, who was born in Germany.

Carlos was a fan of the books of Hermann Hesse, Nicholas Machiavelli and the Mein Kampf of Adolf Hitler, he also founded a political movement of eclectic ideology.

He would accompany his costly life with The Beatles as a musical background to his freckles and sexual fantasies as he dreamed of building and running an exclusive beach spot on some Caribbean island.

Lehder was known as The Cocaine’s Henry Ford, in addition he was one of the founders of the Medellín Cartel, and the first of them in being extradited to the United States of North America, where he is currently serving a sentence of 55 years.

¿How Did Carlos Lehder Begin in Crime?

Carlos left school early, he did not believe that that was the way. His father, who later changed his name to Guillermo, was an industrious businessman who built several buildings in Armenia, the coffee zone of Colombia.

His mother, the daughter of a local jeweler, whose marriage to Guillermo was the ideal within a caste society such as the Colombian one, was a guarantee that her children would continue the path traced by a prosperous cradle and contacts that would allow the cycle to continue.

However, Carlos had other plans. He took his first steps in the crime by smuggling cars stolen in the United States to Colombia, where they were marketed in a dealership run by his brother.

In one of his operations in American territory destined to provide vehicles to supply his distributor in South America, he was captured by the Police while driving a car that had been reported. For this crime he is sent to a prison in Danbury, Connecticut.

Carlos Lehder Meets George Jung

Already in jail he meets another drug trafficker named George Jung, who had experience in sending marijuana to the United States through Mexico. Lehder decides that when he leaves the jail, that would be the next business that he would be dedicated.

carlos lehder and george jung
Carlos Lehder and George Jung

In 1975, Carlos Lehder manages to leave prison on parole and starts his new business. However, this was short-lived due to the constant robberies that he suffered in the United States, as well as the tightening of controls to which were subjected both luggage and passengers entering the country and the extent of cannabis cultivation in the United States, so it became necessary to change the industry.

Lehder produced enough emoluments to buy a plane and change his trade, dedicating himself to satisfy the needs of a market of a more expensive drug and therefore destined to a target audience: Cocaine.

¿How Did Carlos Lehder Carry Cocaine?

The business was to take advantage of the potential of a market of fast growth as the distribution of the aforementioned alkaloid, taking it from the Bahamas to the United States in airplanes that were flying at low altitude to escape the radar signal and to land in beds of dry rivers.

carlos lehder carrying cocaine

The drug was produced in Colombia by Pablo Escobar Gaviria. The brothers Jorge Luis, Juan David and Fabio Ochoa, gave the logistical support with their connections between high and low funds to achieve the export of each load, giving the conditions for the creation of the almighty and nothing omniscient Medellín Cartel, that left at its footsteps a trail of blood, death, explosions and other barbarities.

Norman’s Cay

Carlos Lehder, came to use an island called Norman’s cay as a bridge for the entry of his lethal merchandise into the United States, to the point that the cay in question was a kind of Caribbean enclave that would complement the possessions of his country and under the Nicaragua of the San Andrés Islands and Providencia. In Norman’s cay was raised the flag of Colombia and sang his national anthem.

norman's cay

Norman’s cay worked as the perfect hiding place and meeting room for the Medellin Cartel. It had a landing strip of more than 1 km in length which was protected by radars, hitmen and trained dogs.

In a day considered as good, they managed to introduce among 2500 and 3000 kilograms of merchandise every hour. Such was the wealth that Lehder obtained thanks to this, that more than once he offered to pay Colombia’s foreign debt.

Such large cocaine movements could not go unnoticed by the DEA, so these along with the Bahamian police, intervene the island and put an end to the empire created by the narco.

On July 10, 1982, he said goodbye to the island, not without bombing Clifford Park with “DEA go home” leaflets, some of the leaflets had 100 dollar notes.

Carlos Lehder Returns to Colombia

Following the intervention of Norman’s cay, Carlos returned to Colombia, to resume business, participate in politics, negotiate his immunity in exchange for solving the international financial burden of a country suffering from a permanent economic recession.

carlos lehder and pablo escobar

To exhibit an expensive rhythm of life based on extravagant properties, a collection of luxurious cars, endless feats and all the generosity of their gifts both to a bureaucracy to let their cargo pass as well as to a materially needy population and to found MAS (Death to Kidnappers).

Carlos Lehder is Requested in Extradition

The justice of the United States followed in its footsteps. Prosecutor Robert Merkle traveled to Bogota to present to the Colombian authorities a large bundle of evidence of his criminal activities and to request extradition, a petition that was accepted by the Supreme Court of the country, but the definitive step to materialize would be lacking: The signature of the President of the Republic Belisario Betancourt.

The anticommunist Lehder takes refuge in Cuba, and begins a journey through different countries of South America, with the intention of getting out of the reach of the justice that looked for him actively.

In the meantime, a diligent Minister of Justice called Rodrigo Lara Bonilla was uncovering his connections in politics, as well as in sports, which triggered the violence of the Medellín Cartel, that ended the life of the Minister, a fact that was the beginning of the decline of the feared and influential Cartel.

carlos lehder flying

Belisario Betancourt in response signed the extradition of the brothers Ochoa, Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha, Pablo Escobar Gaviria and Carlos Lehder.

Carlos takes refuge in Nicaragua, then enter again in Colombia, ally with the guerrilla and make themselves seen in a message widely broadcast on the TV in his country, where he expressed his opposition to extradition with arguments based on nationalism and where he released his sentence: “Cocaine is the Latin American atomic bomb against the United States

Legal proceedings were under way, Lara Bonilla’s successor continued to process extraditions, seizing assets, imprisoning collaborators and facing the wave of terrorist attacks against public figures.

¿How Was Carlos Lehder Captured?

Being brutally persecuted by the authorities, Lehder is almost trapped in the Colombian jungles. Due to this, he is in need of fleeing and taking refuge next to the Medellin Cartel.

On February 2, 1987, Carlos Lehder was with Pablo Escobar at a party at the Hacienda Napoles. Like every narcos celebration, women could not miss, so they invited several prostitutes to join them.

Ledher, who was already a little crazy because of a cerebral malaria he had contracted while in the jungle and smoking marijuana and ingesting cocaine in exaggerated amounts, begins to introduce as his wife one of the prostitutes there.

carlos lehder captured

Later this same prostitute begins to flirt with one of Escobar’s hitmen called “El Rollo”, which Lehder did not like very much. AKA El Rollo did not care about the woman, the only thing that he was interested in, was the cocaine she was carrying.

At 2 am, Lehder and the prostitute go to sleep. El Rollo asks another of Pablo’s hit men that was there, AKA “Orejitas” to knock on Lehder’s door and ask for a bag of cocaine. Orejitas, already drunk and without any kind of respect towards one of the bosses, goes and knocks the door, to which Lehder opens and throws him the white powder bag.

Carlos Gets Angry

The next morning, Lehder, who was in a bad mood because of what happened the previous night, asks about the whereabouts of AKA El Rollo, who was taking a shower.

Lehder, without a word, shoots him with his fn fal on the shoulder and head, leaving him dead immediately. This represented an insult to Escobar, since he had murdered one of his hit men without his consent.

As a result of this incident Escobar realizes the madness of Carlos Lehder, and that he no longer represents an important piece inside the Medellín Cartel, reason why he begins to think in some way to get rid of him.

The police that for the time collaborated with the cartel, tells Pablo that they are about to take them out of Medellín due to the lack of results. This is where Escobar decides to kill two birds with one stone, because if he gave Lehder to the authorities, he would manage to get rid of him and also avoided that the police under his command was taken out of Medellin.

The perfect opportunity would come to Escobar when Lehder asks him to lend him a farm in eastern Antioquia to shelter himself for a while. Escobar sends him with one of his hitmen AKA El Chopo, and they give notice to the authorities of his whereabouts, so on February 4, 1987, Carlos Lehder is captured.

Carlos Lehder is Extradited to the United States

A few hours after his capture, he was sent to the United States in a clearly illegal procedure at the discretion of the captured. Lehder’s protest did not prevent the course of the trial that culminated in a 135-year sentence in an Illinois jail.

In 1992, his sentence was lowered to 55 years, as a result of his statements in the case of the Panamanian President Manuel Noriega. This led to a vigorous questioning on the part of the collaborator with international justice, alleging that the United States government had not complied with the agreement under which he agreed to testify.

carlos lehder extradited

According to Lehder, the agreement consisted of:

  • First, he would only serve a maximum of 30 years in prison.
  • Second, for any reason he could receive more years than Noriega

In the year 2010, he sent an open letter to the president of Colombia Álvaro Uribe Vélez asking him to intercede for him since the North American government had not followed the deal.

On August 11, 2015, he would send a new letter, this time to the current president of Colombia Juan Manuel Santos, saying that he deserved to die in Colombia. The government’s response was that they would not mediate in their favor.

Today, 30 years after his extradition, Carlos Lehder Rivas is in a maximum security prison in Florida, with better conditions than he had at the beginning and under the witness protection system.

Thanks to rebates granted for work done and good behavior, his release will take place in February 2020, being able to opt for house arrest from August 2019, when he would be close to 70 years of age.

Curiosities about Carlos Lehder

  • In 1985, he was kidnapped in Armenia by the M19, Pablo Escobar sent his best men to rescue him.
  • Being overly fanatical about Lennon, he built a bronze statue on one of his properties, The German Inn.

Carlos Lehder and the Television

Among the films and Tv series where he appears, we can emphasize:

  • The film “Blow“, released in 2001 which tells the story of George Jung. Lehder is carried out by Jordi Mollà Perales, using the name of Diego Delgado.
  • The serie “Escobar, The  Drug Lord“, released by Caracol Tv in 2012. On this occasion Lehder, who is called Marcos Herber in the serie, it is played by the Colombian actor Alejandro Martínez.
carlos lehder in the serie narcos
Carlos Lehder in the serie “Narcos”
  • The serie “AKA The Mexican“, produced by RCN in 2014, which tells the story of Gonzalo Rodríguez Gacha. Lehder appears under the name of Charlie.
  • The famous Netflix serie, “Narcos” released in August 2015. He appears with his real name and the actor who embodies him, it is Juan Riedinger.