Cocaine trafficking, once the province of small-time smugglers handling maybe a kilo or two at a time, erupted into many different million-dollar operations moving tons of powder from South America through the Caribbean and into Miami and New York in the late Seventies. "It wasn't something many people could afford before that, and it certainly wasn't something that hundreds of people were getting killed for," Andreu says. "By the time the police realized it had become this monster, it had already happened. This drug was coming into Miami in every way imaginable, and the bodies were turning up everywhere."
By the mid-Eighties, internecine battles among Miami's dopers were raging, and Andreu investigated a number of killings tied to Griselda "La Madrina" Blanco, a murderous Colombian who relished cultivating a terrifying reputation. (See "Big Story, Big Screen.") She moved to Queens, New York, in the Sixties after a grim childhood spent picking pockets and whoring in the Medellín slums. Blanco moved to Miami in the Seventies after a boyfriend introduced her to cocaine smuggling, already an increasingly lucrative trade. She quickly established underworld notoriety for her eagerness to pull the trigger, and is credited with inventing lingerie that contained compartments for smuggling drugs and for perfecting the motorcycle drive-by assassination.
Court records show Blanco was a drug addict who consumed vast quantities of her own product, and spent lavishly. Her favorite possessions included an emerald-and-gold MAC-10 machine pistol, Eva Peron's pearls, and a tea set once used by the Queen of England. A fan of the Godfather movies, Blanco named her youngest son Michael Corleone Sepulveda.
Among many other killings, Blanco's drug gang was responsible for the 1979 machine-gun shootings at Dadeland Mall that left two dead and two wounded. Her crew of killers pulled up to the mall in an armored van with the words "Happy Time Complete Party Supply" stenciled on the side (an arsenal of weapons was inside), got out, and sprayed machine-gun fire into a group of people at the mall's Crown Liquor store.
Andreu remembers that while investigating Blanco, the same name kept coming up. "We were looking for a hit man named Riverita," he remembers. "We'd been looking for this guy we only knew as Riverita for a while. We assumed he probably was named Rivera or Rivero and the nickname was based on that."
The search was fruitless until a man with a strange voice was arrested in connection with a Chicago bank robbery. "He had kind of a high-pitched voice," Andreu says. "His nickname was from some Colombian cartoon character with a high-pitched voice. His name was Jorge Ayala." Prosecutors knew they had Blanco's highest-ranking pistolero on their hands, in part because of his unique voice (he has since had surgery to normalize his vocal tone).
Ayala was an effective hit man precisely because he didn't fit the stereotype, according to Andreu: "Ayala spoke perfect English, he grew up in Chicago, and he didn't look Colombian. He fit in everywhere without drawing attention."
In fact Ayala was so charming that his telephone liaisons with secretaries at the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office eventually resulted in a scandal that led to the firing of three secretaries and the resignation of a veteran prosecutor. (See Tristram Korten's "Prosecution Complex," November 26, 1998.)
Ayala was eventually tied to a number of cocaine-related murders. In 1993 he agreed to talk about Blanco's business if prosecutors spared him the death penalty. The State Attorney's Office agreed. As it turns out, he was an unhappy employee. Andreu chuckles while recollecting the murderous sociopath Ayala's dissatisfaction with a boss even more bloodthirsty than he. "He probably killed, or saw killed, at least 30 people," says Andreu. "And this guy was reasonable compared to Blanco. I remember talking with him after we caught him, and here's this hit man describing his attempts to convince Blanco to be more careful because she was drawing too much attention."
Andreu says Ayala described one hit that was supposed to take place at the Omni Mall on Biscayne Boulevard and NE Sixteenth Street: "When the Omni was the Omni, there was a club in there. Blanco wanted Ayala to kill a guy who was known to hang out at the club. Blanco and Ayala waited in the parking lot for the guy, and Ayala followed him on the elevator to go up to the club. He was about to ice-pick the guy when the elevator doors opened and a cop walked in. Ayala went back down to the parking lot and told Blanco what happened, and she was pissed that he didn't kill the guy. She told him to get his machine gun out of the trunk and go up there and spray the club. He persuaded her to wait and wound up following the guy and spraying his car on South Dixie Highway. One innocent bystander was killed."