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Bill Rempel

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7 Secrets Of A Highly Efficient Criminal Organization (PHOTOS)

Posted: 09/20/11 09:30 AM ET

Colombia's Cali drug cartel was the biggest and richest crime syndicate in the history of crime, generating annual revenues exceeding $7 billion and monopolizing global cocaine markets through much of the 1990s. None of today's warring Mexican cartels match Cali's international domination of the illicit trade.

A CEO collective of four Cali billionaires ran the organization like a multi-national corporation, vertically integrated from jungle coca production to foreign street sales. The bosses practiced an unorthodox mix of remarkably sound business strategies and markedly unsavory specialties like bribery, blackmail and murder.

The trafficking giant's inner-workings were obscured over the years by strict secrecy enforced at gunpoint. But a former high-level Cali figure now under U.S. witness protection has dispelled some of the mysteries. He describes the cartel business model as a unique blend of Big Business and Big Crime.

This list was culled from years of exclusive interviews with the man, a former chief of Cali cartel security. With apologies to Stephen Covey, I call it the seven secrets of a highly efficient criminal organization.

1. Make Tons of Money...Literally
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Yes, the cartel counted every peso of illicit drug receipts, employing teams of accountants that occupied an entire floor in a downtown Cali high-rise. But with billions of dollars pouring in, most of it cash, the weight of all that paper currency also had to be calculated. A mere $10 million can weigh more than a ton. For big shipments of U.S. dollars, cartel agents sometimes bought old Boeing-727 jetliners on the used aircraft market for a few hundred thousand dollars - a bargain and less risky than couriers. When the planes arrived at Colombian airfields, dump trucks waited to cart off multi-ton loads of bagged cash. The disposable jetliners were abandoned. The bags went to banks.
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