Regular folks who got involved with drug cartels – and the horror that followed
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Criminal organisations around the world are – quite rightly – feared and avoided.
They have notorious reputations as cold-blooded killers, drug traffickers and even savage torturers to those who cross them.
Arguably the most famous of them all, Columbian kingpin Pablo Escobar is said to have been responsible for up to more than 600 police deaths until he was killed in a shootout with officers in 1993.
The 'King of Cocaine' built a formidable drugs empire from his base in Medellín throughout the 1980s and early 90s.
He was worth an estimated $30billion (£21.4bn) when he died – equivalent to $64bn (£46bn) today – making him the wealthiest criminal in history.
Former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín "El Chapo" Loera, meanwhile, was said be to the most powerful drug trafficker in the world when he was rearrested in 2016 after escaping from prison.
He is now serving a life sentence in the US for murder, money laundering, drug trafficking, racketeering and organised crime.
But while some get involved with cartels for power, infamy and riches, others have very different agendas.
Here, we explore some of the seemingly 'normal' people who have become involved with cartels – and suffered the consequences.
Juan Manuel Delgado Cárdenas
In what could be a scene from Breaking Bad, university student Juan Manuel Delgado Cárdenas was tragically murdered in April in an apparent cartel hit.
The 23-year-old, from Tijuana, Mexico, was months away from graduating as a pharmaceutical chemist when he was gunned down for allegedly refusing to make drugs for criminal gangs.
Three armed men are believed to have stormed his family's home and opened fire.
Two of his siblings and two friends were also wounded in the attack.
Baja California Attorney General Office said a drug cartel tried to recruit the 23-year-old into its ranks, according to Milenio.
It is understood the narcos wanted him to produce illegal drugs like methamphetamine.
But Delgado, a keen runner who also taught boxing to underprivileged children in his spare time, declined.
"This is a message for all the young people who are carried away by the desire… for money and power," priest Rodrigo Salinas told Milenio after the funeral earlier this month.
Students at the National Pedagogical University (UPN) in Tijuana, where Delgado's sister Marena studies, demanded greater security and justice.
"I believe that the clearest proof that young people are afraid is that they preferred not to come – not all of them – and we have to respect their decision and support them," a UPN professor told Zeta Tijuana.
"We don't want to live with this fear," one student said. "What happened to Juan Manuel Delgado Cárdenas happened at his home; it's ugly that you're not even safe in your own home.
"I don't want to be studying today and appear in the news tomorrow … [because] I was found in a [hidden] grave."
'Ordinary' British dad-of-three is actually Colombian cartel's chief drug dealer
Dad-of-three Thomas Maher led what appeared to be a fairly respectable and insignificant existence.
He was a successful businessman. He ran a haulage firm and had a passion for nice cars and flash jewellery.
But behind the scenes he was leading a double-life as a chief drug dealer in the "highest criminal circles" of international gangs.
An international probe by officers at National Crime Agency uncovered his links to dealers in Colombia and Europe, reported the Liverpool Echo.
Maher was jailed for 14 years as a result of a massive police operation which allowed investigators to read messages on the EncroChat phone network – used by established criminals.
In June last year Maher, then 40, was arrested at home in Warrington, Cheshire, during a raid by the NCA.
He later pleaded guilty to two charges relating to importing Class A drugs into the UK and two charges of money laundering.
Maher, originally from Ireland, was jailed for 14 years in December for drug and money laundering offences.
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In a classic – yet tragic – tale of revenge, Miriam Elizabeth Rodríguez Martínez set out on a one-woman mission for truth and justice.
Between 2014 and 2017, she hunted down the Zeta cartel members responsible for kidnapping and murdering her beloved 20-year-old daughter Karen as part of a failed ransom attempt.
During those three years, armed with a pistol, dogged determination and an array of cunning disguises, every living member involved – all 10 of them – was put behind bars thanks to her vigilante detective work.
But her success had not gone unnoticed by the crime lords.
Sadly, she was shot dead on Mothers Day in 2017 – weeks after chasing down her last suspect.
El Chapo's glam wife could 'dismantle' Sinaloa Cartel with secret plea bargain
To outsiders, Robert Brooks looked like a family man with a love for golf and fancy holidays.
The 50-year-old, from Hertfordshire, had a thriving business and a clean criminal record, and was also a part-time driving instructor.
But behind the scenes, Brooks was the kingpin of a £58m drug trafficking gang who supplied an estimated 1.8 tonnes of Class A drugs to dealers up and down the country over the course of nearly ten months.
His crimes came to light after 45 kilograms of heroin, hidden in spider catchers on a lorry from Holland, were intercepted by border force officers.
Despite police arresting two of his associates including his 'right hand man', and finding 70 more kilograms of cocaine which was being delivered to Brooks' business, he was still living the high life as police lacked evidence in proving he was involved.
The amount of drugs imported into the country made it the biggest ever drugs conspiracy in Hertfordshire and the biggest ever investigation in the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit's (ERSOU) history.
So the pressure was on and police were waiting to see who would slip up first.
In the end, the gang's apparent "sophistication and ability to fly under the radar" was uncovered and all four members were sent to jail for a combined total of more than 50 years.
Brooks was jailed for 21 years at St Albans Crown Court. He had pleaded guilty to conspiracy to fraudulently evade the prohibition on the importation of a controlled drug of Class A, namely heroin and cocaine, and possession of criminal property.
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Mexico has been the victim of a bloody war between organised criminals and the government for the last 15 years.
'Eduardo', whose name was changed to protect his identity, said he knew he was working for a Mexican drug cartel from the first time he saw his bosses "come into the office carrying huge bundles of cash."
"It was like clockwork, every day, at 3pm, 10 guys would turn up with what must have been millions, and a female employee would take it down to the bank," he told the BBC.
He added: "Most of the time, it was possible to block out the endless news reports or rumours of bloody killings, but when it did finally intrude upon my life I was worried I wouldn't be able to escape."
Having worked as marketer for a local magazine, he was asked to freelance for a much bigger and successful agency. Clients included restaurants and bars owned by the drug cartels.
He suspected criminals were behind the agency, but he couldn't refuse £1,000 for a weekend's work – more than 250 times Mexico's minimum wage at the time.
"I didn’t feel like I was part of it – all I was doing was helping them promote their bars and restaurants," he said.
By the time he was 15, in 2006, new Mexico president Filipe Calderon vowed to end the cartel's dominance.
In the next six years of his leadership, more than 20,000 people died or vanished as a result.
Eduardo revealed by this stage the cartels had started to split up and expand their territories, leading to in-fighting between rival factions.
"They’d fight with AK-47s in the middle of town," he said. "I’d never seen anything like it. People would get murdered and their bodies dumped in the street.
"I remember being a teenager, walking through the city and hearing gunshots in the distance – a chill crept through my body. I didn’t see the moment the killing happened, but I saw the body lying in the street later.
"The first time I saw something like that it was so horrible, I was just deeply shocked – but, sadly, it soon became normal."
Despite admitting working with cartel bosses was "fun," Eduardo started to distance himself from his work.
"The more involved I became with these guys, the more I was sure they were in a cartel," he said.
"Even though I wasn’t doing any of the really bad stuff, like transporting drugs or killing people – and I didn’t witness them doing that kind of thing, either – I still knew it was happening somewhere.
"I wasn’t a member of any criminal gang, but I was still involved, I was being paid with their money. It felt wrong."
After decided to quit the job, he told his boss, who then threatened him if he tried to collect his personal belongings from the office. He never went back..
Eduardo now promotes event not linked to the cartels.
- El Chapo
- Pablo Escobar
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