The name Pablo Escobar doesn't really need an introduction. For nearly twenty years, Pablo led a rein of absolute terror that changed Colombia forever and totally revolutionized the concept of wide scale illegal narcotics distribution. Today, even more than 20 years after Pablo's death, the United States is still embroiled in an embarrassingly pointless war on drugs. A war that costs $50 – $100 billion a year and was launched pretty much in direct response to Pablo Escobar personally. To date, the United States has wasted $1 trillion dollars fighting the war on drugs with essentially zero noticeable results.
Over the last twenty years, much has been written about Pablo's unimaginable personal wealth. Anecdotes about his vast fortune have appeared in dozens of books, movies, magazines, newspapers and even in several articles that have been featured on this very website. At the height of his power, the Medellin cartel shipped 80 tons of cocaine to the US alone every month. These shipments made Pablo so wealthy that by 1989 Forbes estimated his personal net worth at $3 billion, enough to make him one of the richest people on the planet at that time. Even more amazingly, within just a few years his net worth ballooned to an all time high of $25 – $30 billion, potentially enough to make him the #1 wealthiest person on the planet. Not surprisingly, he used his vast fortune to live an insanely lavish life, owning several exotic mansions, dozens of private jets, helicopters, millions of dollars worth of exotic cars, a private zoo, a professional soccer team and much, much more. At one point, when he was finally captured and forced to serve jail time, the Colombian government literally built him a luxurious private prison called La Cathedral that was more like a five star vacation resort than a jail. These are the anecdotes that most people have probably heard by now about the life of Pablo Escobar. On the other hand, these four facts specifically related to his money are slightly less well known, yet potentially even more mind melting. They are just tantalizing enough to make me want to become a cocaine kingpin… Enjoy!
Fact #1: Rubber Bands.
When you run a drug empire, the process of manufacturing, transporting and selling your cocaine is actually pretty easy. The real challenge is figuring out what to do with the millions of dollars worth of illegal cash you generate every single day. At the peak of Pablo's power in the late 1980s, the Medellin cartel employed no fewer than ten full time accountants. These accountants were tasked with the difficult job of finding ways to store and eventually launder millions upon millions of mostly US dollars. The money was shipped back from the United States on a fleet of Lear Jets that flew non-stop from Miami to Medellin. So much money was being generated that Pablo spend $2500 a month on rubber bands alone just to hold tens of thousands of bricks of cash. How many rubber bands would that be every month? Well consider this for comparison: Right now on Amazon.com, you can buy an 800 pack of rubber bands for around $4. That means, for $2500 you could buy 625 boxes. That would be 500,000 rubber bands per month. Even if you cut that in half to account for the fact that Amazon didn't exist back then so maybe rubber bands weren't quite as readily purchasable, and you are still talking about a mind boggling 250,000 rubber bands EVERY MONTH.
Fun Fact #2: "Spoilage".
As we mentioned previously, storing billions of dollars worth of cash before it could be properly laundered was a monumental task for Pablo and his army of accountants. Laundering that much money into clean/spendable currency did not happen overnight. It could take months, even years when dealing with literally billions of dollars in cold hard physical money. After being flown to Colombia on a private jet, the money would be counted, organized (with the rubber bands from #1) and stored wherever space could be found. Money was hidden in basements, storage units, ceilings, attics, walls, under floor boards. Pretty much anywhere that could fit a brick of cash was used. As you might guess, one of the problems with this do-it-yourself storage method was the fact that the money was openly exposed to the elements. If a house caught fire, $100 million could disappear in an instant. Even a small amount of moisture could wreak havoc on a hidden fortune. But the biggest threat to billions of dollars worth of pre-laundered money wasn't fire or floods. It was rats. Starving rats, to be precise. One can hardly blame a hungry rat for mistaking a huge mountain of dollars for a never ending cheese buffet. Every year Pablo was forced to write off 10% of his pre-laundered money, roughly $500 million, due to what he called "spoilage".
Fun Fact #3: How to Stay Warm on the Run.
After escaping from his luxurious resort prison, La Cathedral, Pablo and his family spent several weeks on the run in the jungles of Colombia before finally being able to sneak back into a Medellin apartment complex. While they were running, one of Pablo's daughters came down with a serious case of pneumonia. Dry kindle is not exactly easy to come across in a damp Colombian jungle. But his daughter was freezing and they desperately needed fire for cooking. So what did Pablo do? He burned cash. Nearly $2 million worth. Even for a multi-billionaire, this must have been an incredibly painful decision!
Fun Fact #4: A $10 Billion Dollar Bribe
Throughout his adult life, Pablo's biggest fear wasn't death. For a guy who ordered murders like most of us order re-fills of soda at Applebees, death probably wasn't as daunting as you might think for the kingpin. No, Pablo's most terrifying nightmare was a little thing called extradition. Had the Colombian government successfully extradited him to the United States, there's no doubt the billionaire drug kingpin would have rotted for the rest of his life in a tiny solitary prison cell. In order to prevent his extradition, he made an absolutely insane offer to the Colombian government. In exchange for making extradition illegal and a full pardon, Pablo offered to payoff Colombia's entire national debt, which at the time stood at slightly more than $10 billion. That has to be the biggest bribe in human history, right? For comparison's sake, let's say Bill Gates murdered his family in cold blood then offered the US Government $25 billion to forgive and forget. Might not be so easy to turn down, right? That's a lot of money for schools, roads, Obamacare. Unfortunately for Pablo, the bribe did not work and though he was never extradited, around this same time Colombia gave an elite team of American Special Forces carte blanche to go after his head. The Special Forces, working in conjunction with Colombian forces, were successful with deadly precision. Pablo Escobar, billionaire drug kingpin was killed in a shootout with these forces on December 2, 1993 on a Medellin rooftop.
So now that you know exactly what might be possible if you become a successful drug lord, what do you think? Should we all move to Colombia and become kingpins?