Jose Garcia was a known, trusted, highly successful launderer of very dirty money.
Colombia's narcotraficantes telephoned his Los Angeles beeper daily. They were dealing cocaine to California by the ton. Garcia called back from a cellular phone in his Mercedes--with the dates and amounts of laundered proceeds he was cabling to Panama and Bogota by the millions.
Garcia's percentage was 5 cents on the laundered dollar and that earned him $1.5 million a year. He survived unquestioned within an underworld where even the loyal live only one misunderstanding, one trigger pull from execution.
Now the other side knows better.
No More Dom Perignon
Jose Garcia has returned his Mercedes and given up Dom Perignon with $400 dinners. He has resurfaced, without any great fanfare, as Horacio (Bumpy) Marco, a veteran Los Angeles cop.
For 20 months, Marco--19 years with Los Angeles Police Department, 12 years an undercover narcotics detective--was a major player in Operation Pisces, a multiagency drug investigation.
The result, say those now prosecuting Marco's arrests, was the heaviest damage to drug trafficking in U.S. history.
By comparison, New York's infamous French Connection case of 1962 saw the capture of 112 pounds of heroin worth $5 million and the conviction of six people.
Operation Pisces, when Marco and his partners were done fishing, had captured 9,700 pounds of cocaine--more than four tons worth $1.6 billion.
Cash confiscations from Los Angeles runners and dealers totaled $23 million.
More than 240 drug dealers were taken into custody nationwide, including an 18-man ring headed by William Londono, a Colombian national considered one of the most notorious cocaine traffickers in Southern California.
Last month, Londono, 23, escaped from Los Angeles County Jail in a break Sheriff Sherman Block acknowledged may have involved bribes to jail personnel.
Marco, in an interview with The Times, his first since the undercover operation was dismantled, said the escape "hurts."
"In Mexico it happens, in Colombia it happens," he said. "But not here in Los Angeles, Calif."
He called the escape classic proof of the relentless, frustrating, near-invincible power of today's drug lords. No bribe, no contract killing, no illegal talent nor legal aid is beyond their billions.
Blunting that power has been a passion with Marco, 41, an Air Force veteran of the Vietnam War, since he was graduated from the police academy in 1968.
He was motivated by the past: "I went to high school in East L.A. . . . I saw kids dropping out, being busted for dope and one who got killed behind a drug deal."
He also happened to be very good at the hunt: "Some guys (officers) can pick out a stolen car three miles away on a crowded freeway. I'm good at spotting drugs and people with dope. It's an instinct, a sixth sense. What makes it click? I don't know."
Twelve years ago, Marco was accepted for undercover work with the elite Major Violators Unit of Los Angeles Police Department's Narcotics Division.
He busted a Redlands attorney for dealing heroin and a Los Angeles police officer transporting cocaine in a limousine he operated off duty. At a celebration following one arrest, the squad partied hard and Marco danced the bump into the wee hours. They called him Bumpy. He was accepted.
On the street, in the Beverly Hills hotels and Anaheim apartments, Marco's cover was almost perfect. He simply told the truth.
That he was born in Buenos Aires, an architect's son unable to follow his dream of playing professional soccer. That he had come to the United States as a teen-ager. That his second wife is named Blanca and there are four children at home.
'I Don't Pretend . . . '
"You're (perceived as) a narc if you don't quite fit the group you're infiltrating," he said. "So when I'm working undercover, I'm from Argentina and I have a wife and four kids. I don't pretend to be single. I tell them about my kids, about when they get sick and their problems at school.
"If I were not a cop, if I were a schoolteacher, I'd dress the way I do now. I just don't pretend to be anyone else . . . except to pretend that I'm not a cop."
It helps that he's slight, polite and looks more soccer player than police officer.
In 1985, Operation Pisces gave Marco's cover its toughest, longest, most dangerous test.
(Some names in the following account have been changed or omitted to protect pending court cases and the identity of undercover operatives.)
It all began with a routine sighting.
At LAX, federal Drug Enforcement Administration agent Ken Warren and L.A. police narcotics officer Michael McGaff found themselves watching a Colombian national who was bringing 200 to 300 kilograms of cocaine into the United States every six months.
"They start watching this guy," explained Marco. "They don't know how the cocaine is coming in. But he gets here, the dope appears and the sales go down and then he leaves.