Carlos Lehder (or Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas in full) was George Jung’s cellmate at Danbury prison Connecticut, where both of them were imprisoned for smuggling. Apart from a mixed German background, the both of them had some other things in common and soon they became friends. It didn’t take long before they decided to become business partners as well. The idea was to start smuggling cocaine from Columbia to the US from the moment that they were released from federal prison.
Carlos Lehder Biography
Carlos Lehder was born on September 7, 1949 in Armenia City, Columbia. His father was a German expatriate working as an engineer and his mother was a native Columbian school teacher. The family also ran a used cars company in the Medellin area. It is said that Carlos started his criminal career by supplying stolen (American) cars to this company.
After growing up in Colombia, Carlos Lehder moved to the US and expanded his criminal career from there. He became active as a dealer and smuggler of stolen cars (mainly between the US and Canada). And afterwards, he started a business as a marihuana dealer. It didn’t take long before he got the authorities on his tail and they imprisoned him in Danbury prison where he met with George Jung.
On their release from prison Lehder and Jung started a business partnership, which was the beginning of the biggest cocaine smuggling empire in history. At first they smuggled cocaine on a very low scale, hidden in the luggage of ‘paid’ tourists who carried it from Antigua to the USA on commercial airlines. Repeating this proces dozens of times, the partners soon had enough money to afford for a private airplane.
Pablo Escobar and the Medellin Cartel
Flying in bigger amounts of cocaine via the Bahamas and with a professional pilot, Lehder and Jung started making a lot more money. But more important, they started building connections and winning the trust of the biggest suppliers of cocaine in Columbia, like Pablo Escobar and his Medellin Cartel.
Seeking for more personal gain, Lehder started smuggling for the Medellin Cartel and others on a personal basis. This meant the end of the Lehder Jung partnership and both parties wen’t their own way. In Lehder’s case this meant the purchase of his own private Bahamian island Norman’s Cay, which would soon become the headquarter’s of his smuggling operations.
After scaring away the other residents and bribing the Bahamian government, the island soon became Lehder private hide-out place and cocaine smuggling hub where nobody could touch him. From 1978 till 1982 cocaine was flown in from Columbia on a daily basis and afterwards distributed to several locations in the US. It is said that at the highlight of Lehder’s criminal career 300 kilograms of cocaine would arrive on the island every day.
Lehder made so much money that he offered the Columbian government to pay for the whole of it’s external debt on several occasions. He also tried to pursue a political career in Columbia to gain more power (and freedom in the smuggling of drugs).
Carlos Ledher’s downfall and imprisonment
The tides changed for Lehder and the Medellin Cartel with the assassination of Rodrigo Lara Bonilla on April 30th 1984. “Lara”, the Columbian minister of Justice, had campaigned against the Medillin Cartel and its drugs trafficking and was therefor murdered by members of the Cartel. President Betancur ordered the extradition of the Columbian drugs lords and Carlos Lehder was high on his list.
Lehder became an outlaw in his own country and he was also not welcome in the Bahamas anymore after the corruption of the Bahamian government was made public in a CBS documentary. He couldn’t return to Norman’s Cay, all his bank accounts got frozen and his properties confiscated. This left Lehder with no other option than going on the run in the jungle where he got sick and almost died. Lehder got saved by his good friend Pablo Escobar, who sent a helicopter to rescue him and he returned to Columbia. He managed to stay out of sight of the authorities for a while, but was eventually captured and extradited to the United States.
Carlos Lehder is currently still in prison in the United States and will probably be never released. Nevertheless his initial sentence to life, plus an additional 135 years was reduced to 55 years after testifying and cooperating with authorities.
Diego Delgado in the movie Blow
In the movie Blow, Carlos Lehder is not pictured under his real name. Instead he is portrayed under the name Diego Delgado. The role is played by Jordi Molla, a Spanish actor and writer who also starred in block busters like Knight and Day, Colombiana, The Alamo and Bad Boys 2.