Snatched is the electric tale, by the New York Times bestselling author of Blow, Bruce Porter, that tells the true story of a woman caught between two worlds, with her life dangling in the balance.
Raised an aristocrat in Colombia and educated in European schools, Pilar transfixes everyone with her charm and her guile. She also falls for dangerous men and finds herself drawn into the highest levels of the cocaine trade.
After two failed marriages and a harrowing escape from the drug life, she settles down to a quiet existence in Florida with her childrenuntil her second husband tries to cut short his prison term by giving her name over to members of a new task force being formed by the DEA. They induce Pilar, now a middle-aged woman, to infiltrate the Cali cartel as the head of a vast money laundering sting.
Named "Operation Princess," the scheme leads to the seizure of tens of millions of dollars, along with some $500 million worth of cocaine and the exposure of hundreds of high-level traffickers, becoming one of the most daring and successful stings in DEA history.
But Pilar plays her part too well. Her success as a money launderer gets her kidnapped and then ransomed by a band of guerrillas in South Americaand the US government refuses to negotiate. It's left to her low-level handlers in the DEA to get her back, before it's too late and her kidnappers discover they have a federal agent in their clutches.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
BRUCE PORTER is a former writer for Newsweek and a professor at the Columbia Journalism School who has written for the Washington Post, New York Times Magazine, Playboy, and Rolling Stone, as well as dozens of other magazines and newspapers. His first book, Blow, was a bestselling New York Times Notable Book and was made into a major motion picture. Bruce lives in New York City.
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From Drug Queen to Informer to Hostage â" a Harrowing True Story
By Bruce Porter
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2016 Bruce Porter
All rights reserved.
A Knock on the Door
Early one evening in mid-December 1991, Pilar pulled her ice silver Lexus GS 300 into the circular driveway of 10800 Lakeside Drive, in the wealthy Snapper Creek section of Coral Gables, just south of Miami. The house was an expansive Mediterranean job, yellow stucco, with a red tile roof that meandered over the property for some eight thousand square feet, an oval pool, and a lake out back. It stood fifty yards in from the road and was sheltered from prying eyes and the relentless sun by live oaks and towering queen palms, whose bright orange fruits hung amid the fronds like pieces of gaudy jewelry. As she pulled to a stop underneath a porte cochere and handed her keys over to the white-jacketed attendant, she could make out the strains of classical music providing background ambience for the gathering within.
The place belonged to Jerome Berlin, a rich lawyer and banker and a nationally prominent moneyman for the Democratic Party, who was close to Teddy Kennedy and Senator Tom Daschle, destined to become majority leader. Tonight's affair was a fund-raiser for Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, who was making a run for the presidency. The primaries wouldn't start for a couple of months, not until February of 1992, but the first one kicked off in Harkin's home state, where he was very popular and projected to do very well, a fact that at this point in the game made him a serious contender. Among others in the race were Jerry Brown, in between his stints as governor of California, Senator Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, and another politician, considered a long shot right then, Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas.
She had shown up for the event at the invitation of her then boyfriend, Fred Blitstein, "Freddie" to his friends, recently divorced, also wealthy, who had made his money developing international ski resorts, residential marinas, and shopping centers. Tall and handsome, with thinning ginger hair and a long visage, he had an engaging personality and was a great storyteller. He, too, contributed regularly to the Democratic Party, and he was a special friend of the evening's host.
Being a political player, Blitstein kept himself well up on national and international affairs, but he'd learned there was little point in sharing this interest with his current girlfriend, who didn't know Tom Harkin from Tom Sawyer, and had never heard of any of the other primary contenders. Indeed, she had no political views to speak of, never read the paper, rarely watched the news, and knew next to nothing about current events. Shopping, traveling, partying on boats, having a good time with fancy friends — that's what she liked. Nevertheless, Blitstein enjoyed squiring her around because she was funny and had a musical, infectious laugh, and she enchanted all his friends in the Miami area, who were largely lawyers and doctors and bankers and their wives. It didn't exactly hurt that she was beautiful and always exquisitely dressed. With her liquid, doelike eyes and her narrowly drawn aristocratic face, she provided a glamorous presence at any party. And her smile — she possessed a wide and radiant Julia Roberts smile, which illuminated her immediate environment and caused men and women alike to gravitate to wherever she was standing in the room.
Pilar was forty years old, an American citizen, born and raised in Cali, Colombia, but she now made her home in Boca Raton, an hour's drive north of Miami. In the telling of this story, her last name must be kept secret. This is to protect her life and the lives of her children and family members from the harm that could befall them at the hands of both men and women who have had their own lives altered for the worse as a result of having made Pilar's acquaintance; and they are all people with long and bitter memories.
Most of what Blitstein knew about Pilar came from what she told him — not that it was all lies, just heavily selective. Her parents did, in fact, come from the upper strata of Colombian society; and, yes, a great-uncle had served as president of the country. There was also a Catholic cardinal in the family. As a teenager she'd been sent to private schools in Colombia and Europe; she had owned a seaside villa on the Mediterranean island of Majorca, along with a big boat and a brilliant red Ferrari Testarossa. From Blitstein's direct knowledge, he was aware she had many society friends in South Florida, because he was acquainted with their names. He also knew she was a fixture at charity balls up and down the coast, from Palm Beach to Miami.
He had met Pilar early in 1991. Per an agreement with his former wife, he was picking up his nine-year-old son at St. Andrew's School up in Boca and taking him to his mother's house nearby. That day, he was also driving home his son's little friend Joseph, who happened to be the son of Pilar.
"She was standing there, waiting for him in the driveway, this beautiful Latin woman," recalls Blitstein, who lived in a penthouse at the southern tip of Key Biscayne, with nothing that impeded his unending view out over the treetops of Cape Florida State Park and, beyond that, the Atlantic Ocean, until it disappeared below the horizon. "I said, Wow! I mean, gorgeous body, and she had everything else. She was dressed casually but elegantly. I could see Latin fire. I stepped out of the car to meet her — I speak fluent Spanish — and I think she said we had a mutual friend in Miami. So I said, 'You know, Pilar, let's have dinner.' That's how it started. A week later, she was in bed with me. I introduced her to my dad, my brother. And we became wonderful, wonderful friends."
An hour into the fund-raiser, with people chatting over their champagne and hors d'oeuvres, gazing out at the lake through Spanish moss hanging from the trees, Pilar's pager suddenly went off in her purse. She saw the call came from her housekeeper, who was minding her two kids. She found a phone in a quiet anteroom and called to ask what the trouble was. The children were fine, the woman said; it was that these two men had showed up at the house. They'd knocked on the door and asked to talk to Pilar. They were large men, abrupt and a little gruff, certainly not friendly, and they wouldn't say who they were or what they wanted. Informed that Pilar was out for the evening, they said they'd come back the next day, and then left. They drove away in a white van, and the housekeeper was alarmed enough to have taken down its license number.
This news did not give Pilar a good feeling. Before returning to the festivities, she called the Boca Raton Police Department to tell them what had happened, and that she was frightened. She gave them the license number of the van and asked them, please, to send someone around tomorrow to stand watch over the house, for when these guys came back.
She returned to the party and told Freddie that one of her children wasn't feeling well and she needed to go home. After reaching the house, she got a callback from the Boca police. They said they'd run a check on the plate and that they didn't see any reason to send a police officer out there the next day. According to the registration number she'd given them, those guys in the van were the police.CHAPTER 2
The city of Cali, population about 2.5 million, sits in the western part of Colombia, in the broad, fertile valley of the Cauca River. The river flows for six hundred miles, south to north, in between two large cordilleras, or mountain ranges, that lie about one hundred miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. The range on the west, known as the Farallones, Spanish for "cliffs," looms over the city, with jagged peaks 13,500 feet high, which block out the heavy humidity that flows in from the ocean. They also provide an awning against the setting sun, so that evening comes early to the city as streetlights blink on and shadows on its back alleys grow long. With the equator lying just 250 miles to the south, year-round temperatures average a balmy seventy-three degrees.
It was the Cauca — an Indian name predating the arrival of the Spaniards — that endowed the valley with the rich alluvial soil that fertilized its coffee and sugar plantations, which formed the city's economic heritage. And it was down the valley of the Cauca that rode the forces of the Spanish conquest, commanded by a major conquistador of the age, Sebastián de Belalcázar, who founded the city in 1535. One of the first world travelers, he had accompanied Columbus on his third voyage of discovery, in 1498. And when he arrived in the Cali area, he was on his way back from Peru, which borders the country to the south, where he had ventured in 1532 as part of the legendary expedition led by Francisco Pizarro and Hernán Cortés.
Belalcázar witnessed many remarkable events on that trip, the most amazing being when the king of the Incas, a resourceful and wily character named Atahualpa, had been captured by Pizarro's army. To buy his freedom, Atahualpa filled a room measuring seventeen by twenty-two feet square and up the wall, to as high as the king could reach, with a pile of gold. In sheer volume, this worked out to be somewhere around ninety-four cubic yards. Measured in today's terms, it would load up two and a half of those Dumpsters you see parked outside demolition sites, quite a lot of money's worth, even not factoring in the 484 years of ensuing inflation. But it did the king little good. Despite arguments by Belalcázar and other of Pizarro's generals that killing him would be bad politics as far as getting along with the natives, Pizarro did away with Atahualpa anyway, via the Spanish slow-motion execution device known as the garrote. And he took over the king's country and walked away with its treasure in the bargain. In Cali, there's a big bronze statue of Belalcázar, shown with his flowing mustache and clipped beard and dressed in a vest and skirt made of armor. He's leaning on the hilt of his sword, his arm stretched out in a grand gesture, as if regaling a vast crowd of locals, maybe about the unbelievable things he'd witnessed down in Peru, especially all that gold.
Today, the only thing left from the period is a mission-style church, the Iglesias de la Merced, or Our Lady of Mercy, built in 1536, nearly a hundred years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts. A modest whitewashed adobe structure, it displays a heavily gilded statue of the Virgen de las Mercedes over the altar, and its bell tower still rings out the times for Saturday and Sunday Mass. Viewed against its urban surrounds, the church seems pretty forlorn, as if lamenting the loss of the red dirt village it once presided over, Indians and their donkeys plodding by on their way to the fields. Now it sits, decidedly out of place, in the midst of the featureless high-rise office buildings that dominate the sprawling city.
Pilar was raised not far from the church, on Avenida 3, in the upscale Santa Rita section of the city, in a large four-story house constructed of white stucco, with a Spanish tile roof and a shaded courtyard out back. It was built by her father, who was president of a large insurance company in Cali, but was better known for the major role he played in the city's bullfighting scene, importing animals and well-known matadors from Spain to fight in the seven-day season that accompanies the city's feria during the Christmas holidays. In the matches, he also served as chief judge, responsible for handing out the ears and the tails for graceful performances in the ring.
A man proud of his heritage, whose forebears came from Castilian Spain, he made sure in conversations at home that Pilar and her younger sister, Luisa, appreciated the prominence of their family background. A great-uncle, trained as a university professor of literature and oratory in Bogotá, a highly acclaimed public speaker, served as president of the country during the period of World War I. The son of that president, who studied for the priesthood rather than go into politics, became the archbishop of Bogotá and was elevated to the cardinalate by Pope John XXIII.
Pilar was born on August 5, 1951, and, like a lot of upper-class Colombian girls raised in the fifties and sixties, she had her life more or less laid out from birth: private schooling, music lessons in the afternoon, horseback riding on weekends, tennis at the country club. At age seventeen, these girls would be sent off to Spain or Switzerland for a year of finishing school, to learn the social graces and gain a smattering of art and literature before returning home to marry the son of a wealthy friend of the family, and begin bearing him children, hopefully sons. And that was pretty much the end of it. For their remaining years, the women were expected to sit around the country club pool with the other wives, trading tips on shopping and hair salons and commiserating with one another over the outrages committed by their philandering husbands.
Early on, Pilar gained the reputation as a scamp and a rebel, which indicated to her friends and family, not to mention the local doyens of society, that this circumvented life was most definitely not going to be for her. As a child, she loved to torture Luisa, who was younger by a year and a half. At Christmas, she would secretly switch presents when she spied one that seemed better suited for her. She also brought Luisa frequently to tears by telling her she had been a ragamuffin picked up off the streets, instead of born naturally into the family, and that their parents wanted to keep the matter a secret to avoid public embarrassment. In school, she played the royal imp, to the degree that they asked her to leave nursery school for running out to the swings instead of staying in class, and for once scaring the teachers to death when she disappeared with all her classmates, leading them home during recess, when they were supposed to be out in the playground.
Her father, rather than her mother, took on the job of presiding over her upbringing. Convivial and demonstrative, a big drinker, a Colombian version of the good ol' boy with lots of friends, he took her with him to the bullfights, where he squired her down to see the bulls in the corral and meet the matadors before the fights. He joined with other parents to set up a British-style school for her elementary years, with teachers brought over from the UK. On weekends, he'd drive the family up to their farm in the Farallones, where they kept horses and where Pilar would practice riding and the arts of dressage. It was her father who insisted on the extracurricular lessons she mightily resisted — ballet, guitar, the violin.
"I told my father I wanted to play the piano, but he said, no, the violin. You can't carry the piano around with you on your back."
Even when it came to activities she liked, Pilar displayed an increasing contrariness. At age twelve, she discovered a passion for swimming. One of the local country clubs, the Club San Fernando, had a fifty-meter-long Olympic-size pool and a newly arrived coach, who organized the girls for competitions. At first, he got Pilar to try out for the diving team, but after a few weeks she switched to swimming. "It was too fast," she says about the diving. "You climbed up, and you jumped, and that was the end of it. No excitement, like in a race." Over the next two years, she competed in all other events — backstroke, breaststroke, freestyle, and butterfly. Pretty soon, after she started winning the meets at other clubs in Cali, the coach had them traveling out of town to compete with city teams. When she was fourteen, in Barranquilla, Pilar won all the events in every category and became the national junior champion. In the butterfly, she set a record — thirty-eight seconds flat from one end to the other — which lasted for two years. As the champion, she was chosen as one of the Miss Colombias from similar clubs across the country to appear at ceremonies for the Pan-American swim meet later held in Cali.
The next year, however, she refused to go on. Her father, a devotee of competition in the bullring, implored her to keep at it. Who knew how high she could go, maybe even qualify for the Olympics. "I remember telling him, 'No, I want to remember it when I was up there on top, Miss Colombia, not when I'm going downhill. Now I'm the champion in everything, so let them remember me that way.' And so I quit, and that was that."
Excerpted from Snatched by Bruce Porter. Copyright © 2016 Bruce Porter. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 A Knock on the Door 3
2 Miss Colombia 7
3 Arriving in Paradise 16
4 Bogota 24
5 Prince of the City 34
6 Majorca 44
7 Meeting "Boston George" 56
8 Happy Again 66
9 Kingpins 80
10 Tom Selleck Returns 90
11 Bye-Bye, Ernesto 101
12 Operation Princess 124
13 First Pickup 131
14 The Deluge 142
15 Pilar's "Excitement Mode" 157
16 Taking Heat From the Ag 164
17 Joe Blows a Fuse 191
18 Some Really Bad Shit 205
19 So Stupid! 214
20 The Cow Will Be Killed 219
21 What's Wrong With Me? 232
22 Hiding the Weenie 236
23 Do It While I'm Sleeping 258
24 Enter Nixon 263
25 Into the Jungle 275
26 Woo, Woo, Mamasota! 287
27 Homecoming! 293
28 The Verdict 299
About The Author 314