People

Norman’s Cay and Carlos Lehder – Part 2

normans cay

Given the high level of interest shown in my very brief previous report on Norman’s Cay and Carlos Lehder, I realized I owed it to my dear readers to provide a little more depth on this subject…

(previous report)

Carlos-Lehder

norman's cay

THE EARLY YEARS

The son of a German father and a Colombian mother, Carlos Enrique Lehder Rivas began his life of crime as a low-level drug dealer in Michigan. But his notoriety as one of the founders of the Medellin Cartel, and his eventual megalomania, made him a legendary and feared figure much like Blackbeard – an earlier international rogue who once also had free rein in the Bahamas.

Lehder started out as a stolen car dealer, a marijuana dealer, and a smuggler of stolen cars between the US and Canada. While serving a sentence for car theft in federal prison in Danbury, Connecticut, Lehder decided that, upon his release, he would take advantage of the burgeoning market for cocaine in the United States, and enlisted his bunkmate, former marijuana dealer George Jung (Portrayed by Johnny Depp in the movie Blow), as a future partner. Jung had experience with flying marijuana to the US from Mexico in small aircraft, staying below radar level and landing on dry lake beds. Inspired by the idea, Lehder decided to apply the principle to cocaine transport and formed a partnership with Jung. While in prison he set out to learn as much information, that would be useful to him in the cocaine business, as he possibly could. Lehder would sometimes spend hours questioning fellow inmates on money laundering and smuggling. George Jung said that Lehder kept countless files and constantly took notes.

THE ROOTS OF THE EMPIRE

After their releases (both were paroled), Lehder and Jung built up a small stream of money through simple, traditional drug smuggling – they enlisted two American girls to take a paid vacation to Antigua, receive cocaine, and carry it back with them to the US in their suitcases. Repeating this process several times, they soon had enough money for an airplane.

Using a small plane and a professional pilot, they began to fly cocaine into the United States via the Bahamas, increasing their financial resources and building connections and trust with Colombian suppliers while spreading money around among Bahamian government officials for political and judicial protection. Their untraditional method of drug-smuggling began to gain credibility.

Shortly thereafter, Lehder talked other drug lords, already active in the marijuana trade into forming a cooperative that became a cartel based in the northwestern industrial city of Medellin (Colombia’s second largest city).

This rapidly growing network became known as the Medellín Cartel. The partnership of Lehder and Jung handled transport and distribution, while Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar handled production and supply (By the age of 32 Pablo Escobar was netting $500,000 a day). Other elements of the cartel, such as the Ochoa family, helped deal with political matters in Colombia.

Using an efficient, high-tech approach to cocaine smuggling that facilitated shipment of the drug in mass quantities, Lehder and Jung were soon rising stars.

In the late 70s, the Lehder-Jung partnership began to diverge, due to some combination of Lehder’s megalomania, and Lehder’s secret scheming to secure a personal Bahamanian island as a complete all-purpose headquarters for his operations.

That island was Norman’s Cay. Before Lehder, Norman’s Cay was a popular anchorage for visiting yachts. It was developed in the early 1970s as a small residential community with a clubhouse and marina. But in 1978 a Bahamian company called International Dutch Resources began buying up land there. IDR was set up for Lehder by a regular trust company in Nassau, which conveniently managed his working capital.

Lehder bought as much property on the island as he could and then chased off the remaining residents. Armed guards patrolled day and night and former Member of Parliament Norman Solomon was once threatened at gunpoint on the beach. As Lehder chased away the local population and began to assume total control of the island, Bahamian Prime Minister Lynden Pindling, believed to have taken massive amounts of money in bribes from Lehder and associates, did nothing. Norman’s Cay became Lehder’s lawless private fiefdom. By this time, George Jung had been forced out of the operation, and international criminal financier Robert Vesco had allegedly become a partner. Jung used his prior connections to take up a more modest line of independent smuggling for Escobar, and stayed out of Lehder’s way.

Lehder’s smuggling operation on Norman’s Cay was an overnight success. Court papers show that the first (and modest) load Lehder handled reaped a $1 million profit for two days of work. From 1978 through 1982, the Cay became the Caribbean’s main drug smuggling hub and a tropical hideaway and playground for Lehder and associates. Cocaine was flown in from Colombia by jet and then reloaded into the small aircraft that then distributed it to locations in Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas. These unexpected destinations made evasion easier because U.S. authorities were watching only the country’s southern borders.

cocaine-photo

Lehder built a 3,300-foot (1,000 m) runway protected by radar, bodyguards and Doberman attack dogs for the fleet of aircraft under his command. In the glory days of his operation, 300 kilograms of cocaine would arrive on the island every hour of every day, and Lehder’s personal wealth mounted into the billions.

Court papers say Lehder earned $250 to $300 million a year. He owned 15 cars and trucks, three airplanes, a helicopter, 12 haciendas, an apartment building and nine other properties, including a huge Bavarian-style tourist complex in Colombia’s Armenia City, as well as assets throughout the world.

However, Lehder was not just legendary for his tax-free earnings, but also his social activities on Norman’s Cay. One of his long-time associates described the frequent orgies as follows: “Five males, 10 females and everybody runs naked and everybody switches partners and everybody drinks and smokes marijuana, and alcohol, and three days of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Carlos-Lehder-doing-drugs

Lehder was also fascinated with the Nazis, dressing in military fatiques and comparing himself to Hitler. According to Tamara Inscoe-Johnson, who has written a book on Lehder: “He spent untold hours plotting a political career, aiming at the Colombian presidency. As his goals expanded, so did his fascination with Nazism; after all, Hitler’s goal was to take over the world, and it was the same with Lehder.”

In the 1980s, the Medellin drug ring was responsible for smuggling 74 percent of the cocaine used in the United States. In fact, they were bringing so much in that according to the DEA’s own estimates, in the United States in 1978, a kilo of 12-percent purity cocaine had sold on the street for an average of $800,000. But by early 1984, cocaine was so plentiful that prices for a kilo of cocaine dropped as low as $30,000 in New York City and $16,000 in South Florida.

FALL OF THE HOUSE OF LEHDER

At the time of his arrest in 1987 the net worth of Lehder, then 37, was estimated at more than $2.5 billion.

This mug shot of Lehder was taken after his arrest for drug smuggling.

Carlos-Lehder-mug-shot

Here’s what happened…

When law enforcement pressure became too intense, other major Medellín players fled to the protection of Manuel Noriega in Panama and began plans to establish an even larger operation there. Lehder, however, distrusting Noriega, sought protection in Nicaragua, paying the Sandinista regime for the privilege.

Eventually, Lehder was captured in the jungle, and lost his fight against extradition. In 1987, he was sent to the United States, where he was tried and sentenced to life without parole, plus an additional 135 years.

During this time, Carlos Lehder began cooperating with the government against Noriega. In 1992, in exchange for Lehder’s agreement to testify against Manuel Noriega, the sentence for life without parole plus 135 years was reduced to a total sentence of 55 years and Lehder went into the Bureau of Prisons’ version of the federal Witness Protection Program.

For his testimony, Lehder received special treatment in prison, a drastically reduced sentence, and protection in this country for his family. And, only a small fraction of his $2.5 billion cocaine-built fortune was seized.

How could the man who ran the world’s biggest drug operation, a man wanted for years by the American government, wind up as a federally protected witness?

Because the Justice Department desperately wanted Panamanian President Manuel Noriega, a smaller player in the drug trade but a bigger political fish.

Some even say that Lehder has already been released by the U.S. government and is leading a life of awesomeness and luxury – that Carlos Lehder is a free man who has kept his money, who travels the world freely. Lehder is even rumored to be living freely in my old zip code in Lafayette, California. How awesome would that be?

Unfortunately, it isn’t true. Carlos Lehder’s ongoing legal battles confirm Lehder remains imprisoned in the US, and that he is not likely to be released anytime soon. On July 22, 2005 he appeared in the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit to contest his sentence. Lehder appeared pro se, arguing that the United States failed to perform its obligations under a cooperation agreement he had entered into with the United States Attorney’s Office, after he held up his end of the deal. (United States v. Lehder-Rivas, 136 Fed. Appx. 324; 2005). In May 2007, he requested the Colombian Supreme Court to order the Colombian government to request from the United States his release because of the violations of his cooperation agreement.

Lehder, Escobar, Jung, et al had a hell of a run. It’s too bad they didn’t get out in time…

Here are some pictures of Norman’s Cay today…

normans-cay

The main villa

normans-cay-carlos-lehder-villa

An outbuilding

carlos-lehder-villa-norman's-cay

The famous landing strip

landing-strip-norman's-cay

The rusting remnants of a jet so loaded down with cocaine that it wasn’t able to make it off the runway – a fitting metaphor for the Medellin cartel?

wrecked-jet-norman's-cay

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86 thoughts on “Norman’s Cay and Carlos Lehder – Part 2

  1. Carlos Lehder Rivas is without a doubt the most infamous drug dealer in modern day. First and foremost he is still alive and well in 2008- he kept a lion share of his fortune, in the 80’s he was listed on Forbes as the 7richest man in the World. Some of the information listed on the article above is wrong, but it does have many truths.

  2. You have left out an important part of Carlos earlier years in WEstbury, Long Island with his brother washing dishes in the Westbury diner and befriending yours truly who became his guiding “angel” ….before he ever started dealing drugs….there is a lot here that no one has a clue about and I have correspondence between us from Marion, Ill. dealing with the sale of Normans Key as well as his appreciation of my friendship, which by the way, NEVER INCLUDED DRUGS OR EXCHANGE OF MONIES…..I was his friend at the very beginning and then lost touch only to see him being captured 20 years later and then our subsequent contact while he was in Marion…Lots of stories, never known except for me….

  3. Great story. But, Carlos Lehder… gag. The phase should read, “Fortunately, it isn’t true.” He deserves to be locked up. He was a thief and a murderer. And, not in any broad sense of the words.

  4. Where is Carlos Lehder would like to talk to him about when he live on that cat in the bahamas .did the PM really take monet from him, back in the 80,

    • it would be great if we could meet and talk about the futur..i’m in montreal,Quebec,Canada and Cornwall,ontario,Canada,sumtimes in the same day.Cornwall is the captial of smuggling in my country,78% of all smuggled goods pass threw this little city of 46,000 population.i have been here for 19 years.WE SHOULD MEET AND TALK OK..

  5. They did make a movie about Norman’s Cay – in part- that is. It was a movie titled “Blow”………with Johnny Depp.
    Of course, they left out a great deal of detail.

  6. Rumors abound. One rumor had Lehder’s wife as a high level exec for AIG in San Francisco, Lehder living in the East Bay, and his home phone number being listed in the 1990’s.

    Rumors had Lehder as the US Govt dealer-ambassador moving drugs for profit to fund “contra-like” activities around the world for US black ops.

    One thing about all of these rumors may substantiate all of the speculation–Lehder is most likely not in a US prison. I believe he is free.

  7. I had the pleasur of visiting Normans in the late 1970′ s three times. The first visit was pre coke guy. On one of the latter visits, I even had the “Pleasure” of going fishing on on of carlos’s boats with his German bodyguard Manfried. When the homeowner who took me there offered to pay for the gas at highborn cay, Manfried replied, “you do that, I ill kill you” He let him pay. I hope to return to Normans sometime in the future. It is unbelievable.

  8. carlos was kind & generous. He was not a partner with Vesco, that asshole. His nazi tag was dea invention & taken out of context in regards to usa imperil ways. where is beatrice

  9. I was on Normans Cay back in the early 8o’s. Benny Sloan and I worked on one of Carlos’ planes. It had an engine failure. We removed and installed a new engine that we had flown in from Garrett Aviation Augusta, Ga. Of course we had no idea that Carlos Lehder was even on the island at the time or that he owned it. We did all our dealing with one of his American pilots who flew us on and off the island. We were there about a week and were housed in one of several beach cabins. One of the cooks brought our food three times a day as we were told NOT to venture up to the main part of the island where all of the big houses were. We did notice alot of air traffic in and out at all hours of the day and night. When we left we were flown over to Freeport by one of Carlos’ pilots. We were given a generous tip and were treated well during our stay. When we arrived back in Augusta we were questioned by two DEA agents wanting to know what all we saw while on the island, which was “very little”.

  10. I was in my Bahamas Ministry of Tourism office in Nassau one morning in, I believe, 1978 when an American fellow appeared at my door and asked if I was an American, also. Yes, I replied. He looked nervous, apprehensive. He invited himself in, sat down, and introduced himself: Terry Knight, a member of the Paul Newman auto racing team and, the owner of a house on Norman’s Cay. Knight said he was terrified. He claimed that he was constantly harassed by men with automatic weapons, chased off his own beach by Doberman dogs. He explained that in the previous few days he was sailing his small boat when a helicopter appeared overhead and dropped so low that the prop wash capsized his boat. He said that armed men aboard the helicopter used a loudspeaker to advise him he’d be killed if he every sailed in that area again. He came to me hoping I could persuade someone in the Bahamas government to protect his property, which he now perceived to be valueless and dangerous to visit. He said he had no faith in anyone in the Bahamas government and believed they’d been paid-off by the Norman’s Cay drug operators. I steered him to the U.S. Consulate a couple of blocks away and never heard from him again. At the end of my contract, I returned to the U.S. to follow another career and have been back since only for brief visits. What’s the status of Norman’s Cay today (late 2009)?

  11. if anyone is interested there is a book called “Turning the Tide” by Sidney Kirkpatrick . It is about a biologist who was befriended by lehder an was allowed to stay on the island to study the hamerhead sharks around the island. it recounts what he witnessed and how he help bring lehder down.

    • Thanks for the information about the book. That doesn’t seem particularly fair of the biologist to win Lehder’s trust and then help destroy him.

  12. Carlos lehder is a badass and should be let out so he can bring the world what it needs, same with george jung i mean what did he really do but cross an imaginary line with a bunch of plants.

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  14. I’m very surprised that the American government never mentioned anything about the boats/yachts that were used to transport the cocaine off that island. Much larger shipments were made by speedboats, especially yachts on a less regular basis.

  15. Francisco – The U.S. Government was aware of the narco-trafficking associated with Norman’s Cay. However, the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is a sovereign nation. U.S. direct intervention would represent an invasion of an ally of the U.S. FYI – I was solicited by ranking American diplomats in Nassau to provide information (presumably about government corruption). I declined the invitation. (And that’s another story, entirely.)

    • Hello, this is Mr. C.W. and I was inquiry to see if you have any information on where Carlos is incarcerated, so I can connect with him? I’m very interested in acquiring all of his properties if there available, including the runway as well.

      You should know by doing research, that the game as trippled since his incarceration and our govt is benefitting more than ever and do you have any ties to our government also?

      Let me know..

      C.W.

  16. i picked up a copy of the book ‘blow’ by bruce porter, i saw the movie but the book has a lot more info., lehder is fascinating, anyone growing up during the late 70s early 80s in los angeles like i did must have done some of his coke. a couple of aquaintences of my parents, who were cuban, were invovled on the retail end during that period and i remember that the blow i was doing back then was a heck of lot better!

  17. lehder was involved with bush SR! why did bush invade panama?bush owns one of the planes used by one of lehder pilots! I could go on on and I will Ineed to see if this sight still is used!

  18. why did chanda levy get killed what did that poor little rich jew girl know !!!!! Im ready to open a can of worms! Ill tell you what I know but i dont want to be plagerized of my extensive knoledge!you tell me his prison # and ill tell you all i know!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!zx900stevieray@yahoo.com

  19. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr Lehder on Normans Cay in 82. We had rented a cottage outside of Georgetown and flew down from Toronto in a single engine Rockwell 114.

    After departing Georgetown enroute to Ft Lauderdale, my engine started to sputter due to water in the gas.

    We made an emergency landing on the strip. Mr Lehder and a few of his associates approached me and asked what the problem was.

    He noted the Canadian tail markings and realized I was just an unfortunate visitor.

    Mr Lehder then kindly told me to drain the water from my tanks and get off his island.

    which i did….

  20. george hartwell must know alot to be so upset to bad he cant share the info, ill write to sen john mccain the sen of my state after all the last place lehder was seen was in mesa az please quit hating me cause i desire information

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  23. Norman’s Cay is a wonderful small Bahamian Family Island with a great Beach Club. They have a bar and grill, villas and the best conch fritters in the Bahamas. Normans Cay Beach Club!

    • Hey Carla would live to travel to Normans Cay.I was wondering if there are any employment opportunities, wouldn’t need a large wage just sustenance,thank you,Mel

  24. Do you really think that Lehder was able to single-handedly reach the heights that he did without any type of prayer support that connected his cause to the spiritual realm?

    I am the open door that Lehder used to do what he did!

  25. Hello

    I found this article from June16/2010. It is Carlo’s daughter.
    She is saying he is in jail and she is not rich.
    She wants to know more about her father.
    Does anyone can tell her about his life?

    Thank you

      • I am just so interested in all these story’s. I still haven’t read the book (Blow) but from what I seen in the movie Joe really fucked over George. If he wouldn’t have done that maybe we would still have good shit in this country. But, there is always 2 sides 2 every story. I would love 2 learn more about “Joe”. Where can I find it??

      • Has anyone ever heard of the Tennis Pro, who allegedly taught Carols to play tennis on Norman’s Cay? His name was John Bellows and he’s been missing since the 80s- There has been a death in John’s family

  26. It is well documented that I was the guy that brought the food and supplies to Norman’s Cay from 1979 to 1983.

    What are you talking about in regards to all this Nazi stuff. You totally lost me on that subject.

    facebook: Infamous Todd

  27. Joe got the short end of the stick. Noriega was put away with the help of his testimony and he was already released…..The goverment is not honoring their part of the deal and in the meantime they keep Joe isolated from his family.
    He was supposed to be out of jail already…….He wants to be extradited to Germany

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  29. Some of the people that worked on Norman’s Cay or indirectly stocking the island are on my facebook page. I invite you to join my facebook page and ask the same question.

    facebook: Todd Kachinski Kottmeier
    or
    facebook: readme@BecHavn.com

    I also attached the free read part of my book that discusses the introduction of Carlos to Norman’s Cay.

    FREE FREE FREE FREE FREE FREE FREE FREE FREE
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ PREVIEW~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    http://www.bechavn.com/images/Two_Days_The_Free_Reading.pdf

  30. Of everything I read about Normans Cay, Carlos Lehder, etc. Nothing ever mentions who owns the property now? Obviously it has been vacant for 25+ years.

  31. I would also be interested in the acquirement of land on norman’s cay.

    I heard that a resort development company was trying to make a deal with the Bahamian government who owns the land.

    They want to develop it.

    For your info, you can type in norman’s cay land for sale and several lots and homes come up.

    I recommend buying piece by piece like Carlos did. Eventually, you will start to gain control of the island…

  32. I actually visited Normans Cay about three years ago on my families private yacht. I wish i would have known now what i did when i visited. I remember taking our little boat and driving up to that airplane. We never went ashore. I wish now that we would have!

  33. Not hearing from Lehder would mean he is in the program. If he was in prison he would be in contact with the general public or media. The WPP would not allow this so i think that shoud take care of the notion that he is running free. That isn’t going to happen. Entering into the WPP is not freedom!

  34. I met Mr. Lehder in about 1977 in Ft. Lauderdale. At the time, I was starving college student, a mule, running loads from Atlanta to the Miami area. My interaction with him wasn’t much, and I didn’t know his name at the time. I was the driver, another person went into a hotel bedroom with Lehder and about 4 other mean looking guys. I stayed in the main area. I only did that 3 or 4 times because it scared me shitless to travel like that.
    Later on, after he became “famous” along with Escobar, etc., did I realize who it had been.

  35. I did the YouTube of Volcano, Carlos home while on Normans Cay, about 2 years ago. I will be there next week, and I will post a tour of the “lookout boat” next month. Stand by for a LOT more Carlos information within months! In many ways he is a hero to average struggling folks.

  36. Hero? If your son or daughter went to jail peddling drugs for him, or was killed doing it, or ended up on the street or worse, he probably would not be your hero.

  37. The plane did not crash while loaded with coacaine, that sounds charming and exciting but it is not what happend. The plane crashed while doing a routine fly-by. The plane was flying in a load of sod for the island, and the pilot decided to do a maneuver called a touch and go to simulate a takeoff with a full load of cocaine (which the pilot was scheduled to depart with as soon as the sod was unloaded). Something went wrong and the new plane crashed into the waters just to the east of the southwest tip of Norman’s Cay. Lehder is said to have just shaken his head, telling his men to order another plane. No matter what you hear, this plane was NOT loaded with coke, and it was NOT shot down by the DEA; although it does make for a better yarn than the truth perhaps.

  38. Look for A&E special, Gangsters: America’s Most Evil- Carlos Lehder. Expected to air by May 1st. I have just returned from Normans Cay, there is a lot of activty on the rock.

    • I saw the commercial this morning. It’s not airing on A&E, it will be on the Biography Channel (which is part of A&E). I didn’t see where it gave an exact date of the episode, only that it will be on the new season which begins later this month (I think they said May 28th is the start of the season, but I may be mistaken). I don’t know what date this particular episode will air, but I’ll be looking for it.

  39. i did time and befriended Carlos at a WITSEC facility and we became quite good friends, spent many hours walking the interior yard and talking… Doc

  40. In the spring of 1992, the girlfriend of a former work colleague has birthday and I accompanied my colleague to this celebration . The birthday Lady called Margit and in her living room I saw a couple of photos on the wall that showed an island and showed their residents . I ask her about this photos and wanted to know where is this paradise and the Lady told me a story that I could not believe the first time.

    In the late seventies She came for a Southamerican businessman on this island to teach his employees English and German and the German staff to teach Spanish . Almost 2 years have She been in the Caribbean and then went back to Germany .

    She mentioned neither the name of the island nor from his former boss.

    Months later than we knew each other better She became more concrete.

    I was hearing for the first time the name Norman’s Cay and Carlos Lehder .

    Also She had contact to two other Germans who worked for Carlos L. as his bodyguards on the island. The name of this Men were Heinrich and Manfred .

    In conclusion, I must say that , despite all what happened to Mr. Lehder , at that time Margit never spoken bad over him.

    In these days I think She loved Carlos.

    When She go back to Germany the DEA and the German FBI (called BKA) had tousand questions about Mr. Lehder and this Bahamian Island. But She was only the Teacher

    Greetings from Nuremberg / Germany

    Oli

    The Story that she told me

  41. Norman Island is perhaps most famous for being the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Treasure Island. However, Norman Island also has a rich documented history of acting as a hiding spot for Pirate booty.Documented history for the island dates back to the early 18th century when a Spanish galleon called Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe buried 55 chests of silver coins after the crew mutinied aboard the ship.

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