How the DEA Got A Cartel Queen to Flip
After leaving her life laundering money for top cartel leaders, Pilar found herself running out of funds necessary to keep up her luxurious lifestyleand then the DEA came knocking.”>
It was late in the day in mid-December 1991 that Detectives Morris and Hughes drove up in their unmarked white van to the little house in Boca where Pilar had moved with her two children after her husband went off to prison.
Their knock on the door was answered by Pilars housekeeper, who said her employer was out for the evening. Morris didnt tell her who they were, a common police tactic, meant to give the subject as little advance information as possible, but said theyd be back the next day. While standing there, he peered past the housekeeper into the dining area to get some hint as to what this lady might be like. He saw a glass china cabinet displaying an extensive collection of Lladrs, which hed seen before in upscale Hispanic householdscutesy porcelain figurines and flowered bowls that were manufactured in a little town near Valencia, Spain.
You could tell by her things that she was well-off, he recalls. Probably one of those Boca princesses, he thought at the time. This meant shed be stuck-up and snippy toward people with less money, a pain in the ass to interview, very likely to call in a lawyer at the first whiff of trouble.
So, yes, this Pilar lady looked to be a challenge, but then, getting people to cooperate with the police usually was, unless they were flat out going to prison. The idea here, as Morris and his boss Tom Tiderington had discussed, was not so much to accuse her of having done something bad, but to plant seeds that would feed off her paranoia, because, in the cops mind, all criminals were paranoid.
If youre planting seeds, you talk in vague terms about crimes having possibly been committed, says Tiderington. She shouldnt know exactly what you know; thats far more effective. Hinting around that you might know something, youve got the lady thinking, Do they really know that I did this? Do they know I did that? The theory is shes going to start thinking of everything shes done thats criminal that we can get her for. Thats the kind of thing we were hoping for.
So the key here was not to unload with the threats. You dont want to go overboard, telling her, Were going to charge you for that load of cocaine you smuggled, indict you for this and that, and were going to take away your kids and put them in an institution. If she knows even some of that isnt true, then she knows youre full of bullshit.
The evening that Morris and Hughes found Pilar not at home, she was, of course, out on a date with her boyfriend Freddie Blitstein, at the presidential fundraiser for Senator Tom Harkin down in Coral Gables.
The day after the Harkin party, as Pilar was just getting back from her daily bike ride when the van with Morris and Hughes was pulling up at the house. Her housekeeper had been right: They were big and chunky, and, when she first met them, not too friendly, either. After checking their IDs and seeing that they were indeed from the DEA, Pilar asked them into the house, where, right off, Morris got into the threats, apparently having forgotten all that coaching from Tom about just planting the seeds.
You know, we can indict you if we want, she remembers him saying. Your name has appeared in many documents, many times. We know all about carrying the suitcases in Puerto Rico, and we know about a lot of other things you did. If you dont cooperate with us, you could be in a lot of trouble.
Without missing a beat, Pilar went back at them in kind. I said, Well, whatever you have, its going to be difficult to prove, because I didnt really have a specific part in anything. And even if there was something, it is all too old, so please dont give me any of these stories. And, you know, I could pick up the phone right now and bring in an attorney. But I am not going to do that, because I dont need an attorney. But its a different thing if you guys think I can help you, a totally different situation. But if I agree to help you, it will be because Ill decide to help you, not because you come here and threaten me with a lot of things.
Score so far: Pilar1. DEA0.
So after we talked about how there was no way they could indict me, she says, Rick asked me how my financial situation was. And I said, Terrible, because the T-shirt company wasnt paying me any money anymore. My partner was in debt to all these people. After the $350,000 I put in, all I was going to get was a box of T-shirts. And that month I couldnt even pay my mortgage.
Rick said, Well, we might be able to help out. They said it was possible for me to make some money working with them. They asked me how much I owed on my mortgage, and I said I was two months behind. He said, You could solve all these problems by helping us, because by helping us, we will help you. I told them, well, Id need to think about that. I hadnt been around those drug people for years. Id have to do some research. So, give me a beeper number, and Ill get back to you.
When Pilar moved into the new house in LAmbiance, she hired a carpenter to build a hidey-hole under the floorboards in the coat closet, where she could keep a cache of legal documents and certain paperwork. Over the years, because she had no prison record, at least not in the United States, business associates of her former husbands had persuaded her to buy houses and condos for them, rent apartments, lease automobiles and airplanes, help get their children into private schools. After the deals went through, she kept all the materials and wrote down the names of everyone she met, until she had a partial membership list of those in the upper echelons of the Colombian drug business. She kept this stuff for years in case of well, she didnt quite know why. But now that she was thinking of signing on with the U.S. government, its good use seemed suddenly to fall into place.
As of yet, Pilar had no idea what the two detectives had in mind, and, if they were being honest about it, neither did they.