Life styles of the Rich and Heinous Ever wonder what the billions Americans spend on drugs actually buy, beyond human misery? One answer: obscene luxury for a few Colombian thugs.
By Marlys Harris

(MONEY Magazine) – Innocent bystanders shot down on city streets. Overdosed teenagers dying in emergency rooms. Newborn babies writhing in pain from cocaine withdrawal. The ugliest images of our country's drug epidemic have become so familiar that they barely faze us anymore. If all the violence and suffering seem pointless to you, consider this: It does have at least one singular purpose. It enriches beyond one's imagination two dozen or so insatiable cocaine kingpins in Colombia. Two cartels in that scenic South American nation of 70 million, the largest in the city of Medellin (pronounced May-day-een) and the second in Cali, a prominent industrial center, satisfy 80% of the $70-billion-a-year cocaine habit. That works out to about $6.4 million a day in income for each drug lord. There are business expenses, of course, including the widespread bribery of Colombia's 200,000 law enforcement officers and the assassination of honest judges, but the profits remain enormous. And tax-free. ''The drug lords make so much money that they don't count it,'' says Michael Mullen, deputy chief of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. ''They weigh it using a simple formula: 20 pounds of $100 bills equals almost $1 million.'' To find out where America's drug dollars go, MONEY toured 12 of the gangsters' private homes that were confiscated in the recent government crackdown and are now occupied by the Colombian army. Tipped off in advance by well-paid informants, the owners and their families fled before the army arrived. They are believed to be somewhere in Latin America now, where some are thought to be orchestrating the wave of terrorist bombings in Colombia to intimidate the government into permitting their safe return. Meanwhile, their abandoned homes and ranches stand as symbols of conspicuous consumption in a nation that pays its average policeman $148 a month to battle the narcos, as Colombians call the drug traffickers. These hoodlums indulged in every conceivable luxury, from gold faucets in their bathrooms to marble floors in their garages, multilevel swimming pools, huge discotheques, TV satellite dishes and, in one case, a fully-outfitted zoo. The astonished driver who accompanied MONEY's reporter and photographer to the narcos' houses kept mumbling, ''loco de plata.'' Crazy with money. The wealth you see, of course, does not include the multibillions stashed in banks in Canada, the U.S., Switzerland and other countries. In addition, the drug lords have invested in legitimate businesses in Colombia -- apartment complexes that cover entire hillsides, shopping malls, endless cattle ranches, night clubs, emerald mines and at least two major professional soccer teams. Indeed, the drug chieftains who provide employment for one of every 340 Colombians, and whose millions help fuel the economy in general, seem firmly entrenched in the society. Servants remain at the confiscated houses, guarding their masters' possessions as they obviously await their return. The caretakers are reluctant to reveal any information about the owners -- even their names. Almost every question, even elementary ones about how many bathrooms there are in the house, get a two-word response, ''no se'' -- I don't know. Such caution makes sense. The drug lords were driven into hiding once before, in 1984, only to gradually return to their homes and properties. This time, they could return tomorrow. For their billions, the owners of the sprawling houses MONEY visited scaled no great heights of taste. The structures themselves vary in style as much as those of North American multimillionaires do, ranging from turreted stone castles to Spanish mission-style ranch houses. Inside, the decoration runs to a more predictable assortment of floor-to-ceiling mirrors, outsize glass coffee tables on crystal pedestals, and immense pink and green porcelain vases. Only an occasional piece of furniture could be described as a genuine antique or a designer original, and few of the paintings and sculptures would be recognized as important works of art. To put it bluntly, most of what they have acquired is little more than what one decorative-arts specialist dismisses as ''ugly, rich-people stuff.'' The expert adds: ''They seem like people who won the lottery and went out and bought every expensive thing they could find. Their taste is that of lower-class people looking upward, not those who are truly part of the upper echelons of society.'' Not that the drug lords haven't tried to break in. Jose Santacruz Londono, 46, allegedly a leading figure in the Cali cartel, which supplies billions of dollars' worth of cocaine to Los Angeles, Miami and New York City each year, has one of the most extravagant houses, and it clearly expresses a longing for belonging (see page 70). A few years ago, Santacruz was blackballed by brave members of Club Colombia, an exclusive Cali watering hole for area businessmen and industrialists. Though there seemed to be obvious grounds for the rejection -- Santacruz is wanted in the U.S. for cocaine trafficking -- the enraged and vengeful Santacruz decided to build a house that duplicated the club. His Casa Noventa, which sits on a manicured hillside in suburban Cali, looks more like a small hotel than a home and has just as many amenities -- a swimming pool, a clay tennis court and a 100-foot satellite dish. The living room, with its velvet sofas and mahogany balustrades, screams money. Yet only one painting, by the noted Colombian artist Fernando Botero, might be recognized in international art circles as an important acquisition; it is worth about $150,000. The statuettes scattered around the room are, for the most part, early 20th-century Italian and French items that cost about $12,000 apiece; they might wow Mom but would not set any hearts to racing at Christie's or Sotheby's. Dominating the room from their height on a second- floor landing are near-life-size oil portraits of Santacruz's wife and daughter that would seem more appropriate for important historical figures -- say, Queen Isabella of Spain. Of course, no cocaine kingpin worth his powder owns just one mansion. Most have homes all over Colombia and in other countries as well. Pablo Escobar Gaviria, 40, the leader of the Medellin cartel who allegedly masterminded the murder of Colombia's attorney general Roderigo Lara Bonilla in 1984 and has 35 indictments against him in the U.S. for cocaine trafficking, is said to own 40 ranches, mansions and apartment suites. His seven-story apartment, famous for its two swimming pools and solid-gold faucets, in an exclusive complex in Medellin, housed only his wife and young daughter. It was bombed early last year in a war with the Cali cartel over cocaine distribution in New York City. The two escaped unharmed, however, and within months Escobar repurchased and reconstructed everything, down to the last gold faucet. As grand as that apartment is, you haven't seen anything until you get to a narco's country estate. That's where they really let their pocketbooks run wild. For example, at Pablo Escobar's El Penol, a huge ranch 30 miles from Medellin, there are at least four water toboggans that dump guests into lakes and pools, one with a swim-up bar (above). Jose Rodriguez Gacha, 42, who is under 21 indictments for cocaine trafficking in Florida and New York, so loves Mexican culture that he built at least two mission-style haciendas in Pacho, about 45 miles north of Bogota. One is equipped with a full-size disco that looks like a Mexican restaurant, complete with pigskin chairs (see page 75). The most famous estate, Hacienda Napoles, also owned by Pablo Escobar, seems inspired by American theme parks. After paying $63 million in 1979 for the 7,000-acre ranch that lies 80 miles east of Medellin, he almost immediately ordered up some 20 man-made lakes on which he deployed his 12 boats and two jet skis. Until the army confiscated the ranch two months ago, a small airplane, which supposedly carried his first cocaine shipment, sat atop his entrance gate; the Colombian army has since destroyed the plane. Still on display on the grounds, however, is a bullet-riddled 1920s Packard, said to have once belonged to this country's most notorious purveyor of illegal substances, Al Capone. Escobar didn't stop there. A wildlife enthusiast whose library contains about 300 books on Colombian birds and other animals, he apparently decided to see what things would be like if, as Dr. Seuss wrote, he ran the zoo. So in 1983 he stocked a quarter of the ranch with giraffes, camels, rhinos, hippos, lions and dozens of other beasts -- and added replicas of dinosaurs to keep them company. Then he opened the grounds to the public free of charge. Nearly overnight, it became the most popular zoo in Colombia, attracting roughly 60,000 visitors a year. His civic-minded gift went unappreciated, however. Colombian authorities charged him with illegal importation of animals. The wildlife theme carries into the private grounds surrounding his Napoles house as well. There, like a Renaissance prince, he created an aviary with around 100 cages filled with exotic birds, including mynas, peacocks, toucans and cockatoos. The house itself -- a two-story, eight-bedroom white Spanish colonial hacienda with an L-shaped Hollywood-style swimming pool -- looks relatively modest. But the compound has some interesting extras: two helipads, a children's playground with seemingly enough slides, swings, ramps and ropes to entertain half the kids in Watts, and an open-air amusement room that could ^ hold 100 guests. The amusements: a bar, billiard and pool tables trimmed with red lacquer and brass, and a Wurlitzer jukebox. Although the narcos' in-town places are more conservative than their country properties, they too contain outlandish luxuries that apparently no self- respecting drug lord can do without. Brigadier General Manuel Jose Bonett Locarno, commander of the Third Brigade of the Colombian army, which confiscated the Cali properties, ticked off the minimum requirements: ''Huge bars, luxurious bathrooms, gymnasiums and discotheques with psychedelic lighting systems, big TVs and VCRs in almost every room.'' Strewn about on coffee tables are huge Dali, Picasso and Goya art books -- ''not because the drug lords are art lovers,'' he said, ''but because their decorator decided that the books matched the curtains.'' Each narco palace also has a garage to accommodate six to 10 cars. The cocaine king wheels of choice are Mercedes- Benzes for city driving and Toyota land cruisers for those rugged trips to remote landing strips and labs. The latter are so common that Colombian soldiers call them Narcotoyotas. The four-bedroom (not counting servants' quarters) home of Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, the alleged capo de tutti capi of the Cali cartel, has it all (see page 72). Seven living rooms, each in a different style, are packed with expensive furniture, a real stuffed lion and a lion-skin rug, plus hundreds of Lladro porcelain figurines that cost $2,000 to $3,000 each. A curtain of clear glass beads hangs from the ceiling on the second floor down to an indoor reflecting pool on the ground floor. Spiral staircases at either end of the house lead down, on one side to a Jack LaLanne-size skylit gym and on the other to a bar with an underwater view of the outdoor pool. Like Rodriguez, most narcos have enough athletic equipment to train Mike Tyson (above), but, judging by their double chins in the mug shots, they don't often use the gyms. They do eat well, however. One kept his own flock of 50 pheasants, which cost $50 each, just to satisfy the needs of his own table. The Rodriguez children's rooms are crammed with hundreds of dolls and toys. A third bedroom containing a tiny bed and perhaps another 100 stuffed animals did not belong to a baby. An unusually helpful maid explained that the room was just for dolls. The drug lords' own sleeping quarters tend to the traditional. Most feature heavy Spanish-colonial furniture and religious paintings. Dark wood cabinets < store the latest in TV sets, compact disk players and VCRs. The exception to the rule is the master bedroom of Rodriguez Gacha, known throughout Colombia for his womanizing. The bed, which vibrates, is made of interwoven strips of brass and silver. And in a manner strangely reminiscent of Le Roi du Soleil, it sits in front of a sunrise pattern of red, green and white stained-glass arcs. The narcos also poured money into their bathrooms and clothes closets. Jacuzzis, bidets and expensive Italian faucets abound in the spa-size rooms, and the cupboards overflow with piles of satin sheets, down pillows and puffy comforters. The medicine cabinets are bigger than some hospital dispensaries. Army officials say they didn't find any cocaine or other illicit substances when they confiscated the houses. Instead, they turned up nearly every over- the-counter drug imaginable. For example, two cupboards in the Cali mansion of Hernando Restrepo, sought by the Colombian police for alleged drug trafficking, contained about 500 boxes of Preparation H. ''Drug traffickers must be under a lot of stress,'' remarks DEA spokesman Cornelius Dougherty. Restrepo is undoubtedly the Imelda Marcos of underpants. In six drawers, organized by color (white, blue, black, skin-tone and red-and-white polka dot, for example) were more than 200 pairs of bikinis. He also has more than 100 shirts, 50 suits and too many pairs of slacks to count. The wardrobe of a typical drug chieftain's wife was on display in a house belonging to Amparo Arbeliaz, the ex-wife of Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela. Her 24-foot-long dressing room was lined with glass storage closets. One closet alone contained 102 outfits. A drawer held 40 purses. Hundreds of bottles of nail polish sat on the vanity table. Yet in every house one women's area was neglected: the kitchen. The best of the lot, at Hacienda Napoles, had three restaurant-size refrigerators but only propane-gas tabletop stoves. Apparently the narcos saw no need to equip the room where servants work. While the Colombian government has succeeded in chasing away the owners of a few dozen of these spectacular properties, no one should assume that the war against the drug lords is won. Far from it. The Colombian army barely seems equipped well enough to fight such a battle, let alone win it. Many of its recruits have no uniforms and often sleep at home for lack of barracks space. At one point, while touring Cali, MONEY's reporter was to be accompanied by a - Jeep containing seven Colombian soldiers. There was a problem, however. The Jeep's fuel tank was nearly empty, and when the driver pulled up at a nearby gas station, the owner said the Colombian army's credit was no good. Finally, the MONEY reporter bought the gas: $10. As cocaine exports continue, the drug lords are intensifying their terrorist bombings to pressure the government to back down. The average Colombian, weary of the violence that has claimed 10,466 lives in the past two years, is increasingly in a mood to deal. So while there is talk among the local authorities of distributing the ranchland to the poor and converting the houses to tourist hotels, day-care facilities or centers for the arts, most people think the exiled kings of cocaine will eventually return and reclaim their domains.