- Carlos Lehder helped the Medellin Cartel smuggle ton quantities of drugs each month.
- Pablo Escobar is said to have sold him out to the authorities.
- He has served 32 years in prison.
Carlos Lehder was an instrumental member of the Medellin Cartel, which was headed by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Born in 1949, he was the mastermind behind the cartel’s extensive drug trafficking network. He put up an elaborate air transport network based on Norman’s Cay island.
Dozens of Lehder’s planes would fly in from Colombia laden with narcotics and land on the island each week, refuel and head for the United States. They flew under the radar to avoid detection, and landed in makeshift airstrips in Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas before heading back to their destination.
Norman’s Cay island became a major drug smuggling hub, as well as a traffickers’ hideaway. It is estimated that Carlos made over $1 billion charging Medellin Cartel partners, including Pablo Escobar, a percentage for every drug shipment that he made. It is alleged that for every five bags of cocaine sold on the US market, four of them had been trafficked into the country using Carlos Lehder’s planes.
He had tremendous aviation experience, and was good at coordinating the planes. Although smart and creative, Lehder was also incredibly eccentric, a character that later on put him at odds with Escobar.
Lehder’s drug trafficking escapades came to an abrupt end on February 4, 1987. He had, on the previous night, shot one of Pablo Escobar’s hitmen. This was after he knocked on his door in the middle of the night while Lehder was in the company of a woman.
Lehder opened the door and shot the man in the head. Although he apologized to the kingpin for killing one of his bodyguards, the episode made Escobar aware of his partner’s volatile nature. It was at that moment when he decided to get rid of him.
On the following morning, Pablo allegedly asked Lehder and his men to go to another of his safe houses “so they can rest.” He then called the authorities and informed them of Lehder’s location.
The authorities came in and apprehended Lehder and his men. Lehder was then extradited to a prison in the United States, in Tampa, Florida, and has since spent several decades there. He was allegedly given a choice to snitch on Manuel Noriega, a Panamanian leader who helped the Medellin Cartel launder money, in exchange for a reduced sentence.
His prison sentence was thus formally reduced from 135 to 55 years. He was released this month after serving 32 years in prison. The former drug lord immediately took a plane to Berlin.
Lehder was an outspoken fan of both Adolf Hitler and John Lennon. This, together with his mercurial nature, earned him the nickname Crazy Carlos. He is portrayed in the Narcos Netflix series as a trigger-happy womanizer who controls an island used for smuggling drugs.