The designers and the don: How two interior decorators took the fall for the Cali Cartel



bullet-riddled corpse, lying face-up on a street in Medellin in March
1996, was that of a large man with a big, bovine head and scraggly
beard. As the Colombian president took to the airwaves to brag of
the killing of his nation’s most wanted man, in New York, a
skeptical group of American law enforcement agents scrambled to
verify the news. They had spent nearly two decades investigating the
master criminal. When they matched fingerprints on file to those of
the body in Colombia, there was no denying it: Don Chepe was dead.
Real name José Santacruz Londoño, he was one of the four chiefs of
the Cali Cartel, the multibillion-dollar cocaine syndicate that
fueled an American epidemic of addiction. The task force of New
York-based cops had pursued him since the late-1970s, earning them
the nickname “Chepe Chasers.” They had missed anniversaries and
kids’ birthdays for stakeouts and car chases, risked taking bullets
during raids on stash houses, seized and decoded financial ledgers,
and traced billions laundered around the globe. They had rolled up
key cartel operatives and hidden them under government protection
with the hope that they would testify in a blockbuster trial of their
former boss. And then, with Santacruz finally on the ropes, he had
the nerve to die.


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