Authorities in Colombia arrested the son of a late Medellín Cartel trafficker on charges that he held a leadership role within the crime group that succeeded Pablo Escobar's infamous organization -- at the same time as he was maintaining relationships with some of Colombia's most fashionable and famous elites.
On February 9, the criminal investigations branch of Colombia’s National Police announced that an operation targeting the Oficina de Envigado crime group had resulted in the arrest of several top suspects in the Caribbean port city of Cartagena as well as in the Oficina's home city, Medellín.
Among those arrested was Sebastián Murillo Echeverry, alias "Lindolfo." According to local media reports, Murillo is the son of Rodrigo Murillo, an associate of Pablo Escobar whom the Medellín Cartel founder ordered killed in the 1980s. Authorities accused the younger Murillo of playing a leading role within the Caicedo criminal group, one of the Oficina de Envigado’s most powerful substructures.
SEE ALSO: Oficina de Envigado News and Profile
Although Murillo has been dubbed a “narco junior” -- a Colombian term used to describe sons of late or former criminals who follow in their father’s steps -- his marriage to famed television presenter Vaneza Peláez helped introduce him to other members of Colombia's jet set.
Peláez -- who was divorced from Murillo in 2015, but was present at his arrest -- reportedly helped the alleged crime boss start business ventures in the modeling sector that were used to launder criminal proceeds and provide cover for his role as a top figure in the Oficina de Envigado.
Murillo's arrest prompted a number of prominent associates to try to distance themselves from the couple. A wave of entertainment figures attempted to delete all pictures of them with Murillo from social media platforms. And Daniela Ospina, the ex-wife of famous Colombian soccer player James Rodríguez, tried to minimize her past business dealings with Peláez in comments to the press.
According to one media account, Murillo's concern for his image seemed to outweigh his concern for his arrest when police arrived to detain him. In a scene that seemed reminiscent of a narco soap opera, Murillo reportedly asked the officers if he could clean up a bit before being taken away.
“Can I ask you a favor? Could we reshoot the moment when you guys come in to arrest me? I mean, look at me. I can’t be seen like this,” he reportedly said.
Despite his reputation as a businessman and socialite, authorities say Murillo managed a violent wing of the Oficina de Envigado dedicated to loan sharking, drug trafficking and targeted killings. Authorities also believe the 32-year-old replaced Fredy Alonzo Mira Pérez, alias “Fredy Colas,” as the Oficina’s top leg-breaker after Fredy Colas' 2015 surrender to the United States. In addition, Murillo's modeling businesses reportedly allowed him to set up prostitution services for the underworld.
Phone intercepts accessed by El Colombiano illustrate the gap between Murillo's image as a socialite and his alleged criminal activities, which reportedly included violently collecting debts in excess of half a million dollars and organizing a weapons shipment to the Caribbean coast with the aim of using force to help the Oficina expand its drug trade activities.
As a matter of fact, the same operation that led to Murillo’s arrest also brought down his alleged associate known by the alias “Martín” in Cartagena. Martín, a former Caicedo leader, was allegedly in charge of expanding the Oficina’s drug trafficking operations on the Caribbean Coast and strengthening its ties with the Urabeños drug trafficking group.
InSight Crime Analysis
Murillo's story is illustrative of a series of narco juniors in Colombia who have followed in the path of their fathers. Previous examples include the inheritors of the Norte Del Valle Cartel, who launched a vendetta against their fathers’ enemies, the Rastrojos, as well as William Rodriguez Abadia, the son of a founding member of the Cali Cartel, who pleaded guilty in a US court in 2006 to effectively taking over the cartel’s leadership.
Murillo’s relative fame and jet-set lifestyle, however, make him something of an exception among high-ranking Colombian criminals who have been arrested recently. While many seem to strive for social acceptance, most also appear to have learned from their predecessors’ mistakes, favoring a lower profile than Murillo assumed.
SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profile
Murillo’s arrest also points to the turbulent times that the Oficina de Envigado is currently undergoing.
In December 2017, authorities captured Juan Carlos Mesa Vallejo, alias “Tom,” the Oficina’s most powerful ranking figure and the Urabeños’ prime associate in the strategic Valle de Aburrá drug corridor where Medellín is located. Tom's arrest spurred uncertainty as to the future of the Oficina's leadership as well as localized violence where Tom’s faction of the Oficina, Los Chatas, held the most sway.
The dismantling of the Caicedo leadership -- one of the Oficina’s most important factions -- is likely to spur further tremors within Medellín’s underworld, and could have implications for a years-long truce that has helped bring criminal violence to record lows in Colombia's second-largest city.