The Hit Man Nobody Knows

The government says he killed more people than Tim McVeigh. He lives in a cell a hundred miles from Denver. So how come you've never heard of La Quica?

Under intense pressure domestically as well as from the Americans to end the violence, President Gaviria began to tighten a noose around Escobar. With the aid of sophisticated American spying equipment, Colombian forces chipped away at his cash flow and his hiding places. Members of the rival Cali cartel eagerly supplied damaging information, too.

By the summer of 1991, Escobar was willing to deal. He agreed to surrender on a minor drug charge and be sent to La Catedral -- a prison in his hometown, controlled by forces friendly to him -- rather than be shot on sight by stalking teams of police or snipers on the payrolls of rival cartels. The arrangement did little to disrupt his activities; he brought family members and prostitutes to his handsome suite, conducted business by phone, even tortured informants on occasion while his "guards" looked the other way. But the news that Escobar was a prisoner gave the impression that the government had triumphed.

La Quica was back in a Colombian prison in 1991, too. He says the charge had to do with possession of a weapon; other reports state that he was arrested for armed robbery. (One document connected with the offense indicates a pending homicide investigation.) He was still in prison, he notes, when a car bomb killed several government officials at a Colombian bullring, another crime his accusers have tried to blame on him. In April, he escaped again.

Balvis Rubess
The man in the glass booth: Dandenis Muñoz Mosquera, alias La Quica.
Brett Amole
The man in the glass booth: Dandenis Muñoz Mosquera, alias La Quica.

That fall, though, he found himself in a predicament from which he could not walk away. One rainy day in September 1991, acting on a tip that La Quica had slipped into the United States undetected, DEA agents staked out a phone booth in Queens. When Muñoz Mosquera showed up, they arrested him at gunpoint.

"I was carrying a fake passport and a fake photo ID," he recalls. "The cops threw me to the ground and took the passport out of my pocket. As soon as they stopped me, they told me my name. They told me, 'You're La Quica.'"

Muñoz Mosquera won't say why he was in the U.S., only that he was "fleeing the Colombian justice system." DEA agents told reporters they believed he would come to America only if he was on a mission of some kind, and they offered a range of possible targets: DEA buildings, suspected informants, even President Gaviria and President George Bush, who were scheduled to attend upcoming events at the United Nations. He'd apparently managed to take in some sightseeing along the way; one of his stops en route to New York had been a motel in California, within walking distance of Disneyland.

He was charged with carrying false identification and giving false information to a federal officer. The typical sentence for those offenses is six months. But prosecutors argued that Muñoz Mosquera was a major player in the most vicious criminal organization on the planet, and they needed time to build a larger case against him. The judge gave him the maximum sentence: six years.

La Quica was stunned. Aside from the little matter of the fake passport, he had committed no crimes in the United States. How could they keep him here? But keep him they did, pending the filing of more serious charges. In the summer of 1992, a grand jury returned an indictment on thirteen counts of murder, drug trafficking, racketeering and terrorism. At the heart of the indictment was a little-known 1986 law that authorized federal prosecution for terrorist acts committed against U.S. citizens abroad. The deaths of two Americans on Flight 203 had placed La Quica's hide under American jurisdiction.

Pablo Escobar was also named in the indictment, although there was little chance he would ever stand trial. Just weeks before, he had walked away from his temporary quarters at La Catedral, thwarting the government's efforts to move him to a "real" prison. He was now the most hunted fugitive in the hemisphere. According to Bowden's Killing Pablo, virtually everyone who was after him -- the Colombian police and military, the vigilante groups, the rival cartels, the covert American operatives -- wanted him dead. Period.

After Muñoz Mosquera's conviction on the fake ID charge, "they sent me to the prison in Marion, Illinois," he recalls. "Then they took me to court again. I was taken to the basement. There were a bunch of DEA agents there. They said that if I helped them find Escobar, they would put me in a good prison where I would be able to have relations with my wife. I would get a reconsideration of sentence. And if I did not help them, they would put me in the electric chair."

Over the next two years, federal prosecutors and the DEA prepared their case against La Quica, assembling the physical evidence and interrogating high-ranking drug informants in American prisons and abroad. By the time the case finally came to trial, in the spring of 1994, the Medellín cartel was in ruins.

Escobar's people had been picked off one by one. Some surrendered. Others were killed by police "while trying to escape" (a common euphemism for an informal execution) or assassinated by vigilantes. In the fall of 1992, lured by the promise of a $143,000 reward, an informant tipped a combined police-and-army unit to the whereabouts of La Quica's brother Tyson, wanted for crimes ranging from the 1990 Mother's Day bombing of shopping centers in Bogotá to the contract murders of more than 250 police officers. According to official reports, the 33-year-old Tyson was killed after he greeted the soldiers with a burst of machine-gun fire. La Quica says his brother had recently been in a car accident and was in bed at the time: "The police came into his house, into his bedroom and shot him."

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