From the taxpayers' point of view, the operation was self-supporting. Marco and Rodriguez, who collected $2.5 million in 20 months just from their 5% service charge, had no cash-flow problems. Quite the contrary. "We had more money than we knew what to do with," Marco said.
Yet not enough that the federal government couldn't find a use for it. It was collected by accountants and returned to finance further phases of Operation Pisces.
Laundering $48 Million
During its operation, Euromex was responsible for laundering $48 million in cocaine revenues. That means drug money that was not confiscated, but rather was dutifully deposited in drug dealers' accounts in Colombia and Panama.
Were the 240 final arrests worth the illegal transfer of $48 million?
"I know there is an epidemic (of drugs) in this country," Marco said. "I have growing children and I'm scared to death. Sure, I was laundering their money, but we also were busting people right along. . . . We were dealing with the top individuals in this business in the United States."
Marco also feels that the team's confiscation of $23 million in cash further mitigates the laundering of $48 million.
"We wanted to maintain a ratio favorable to us," he said. "We didn't want to do more for them than we would get out of it. So if we had a guy coming in and we knew everything about him, we'd set up the (money delivery) appointment and then send a black-and-white (patrol car) to stop him and take the money away.
"And they'd call and say: 'Hey, man, somebody took our money.' And we'd say: 'Hey, man, what can we do about it?' "
There were lighter moments.
Such as the freeway surveillance of one suspect by Marco, his partner, unmarked police cars and an Police Department helicopter. An overzealous California Highway Patrol officer who happened to be monitoring their radio frequency decided to assist in what he presumed was a police chase, and promptly pulled the man over to hold him at gunpoint.
"We were able to get a radio message to him," said Marco. "We had him turn the guy loose with a speeding ticket. But we lost that one. The guy went back to Colombia the next day."
To keep up the front, Marco maintained friendships with Euromex's biggest customers. He was in their confidence to the point where one set up drug deals in his presence.
"He'd get phone calls and arrange for deals, pickups and distribution, with a portable phone hooked over his shoulder," said Marco. "While we were shopping at the Glendale Galleria."
On a visit to Florida, the Los Angeles launderers were feted by their opposite numbers in Miami. They visited (with Johnny Walker Black and Absolut vodka ordered by the bottle) a Colombian nightclub, a known hangout for drug dealers in the city.
There was a metal detector at the doorway to locate concealed weapons. Marco and his party were among dozens who saw the detector, looked suitably nervous, and returned to their cars to remove their guns before re-entering the restaurant.
There also were darker moments to Operation Pisces, and an incessant tension that demanded that no deal, no delivery, no bust would be made without the full and close backup of four or five Narcotics Division officers.
"We were constantly changing (pickup point) apartments to make it look good every time somebody got busted as a result of our work," said Marco. "Every time one of those guys got busted, we didn't know if we were still cool.
"So the first one (money delivery) after the big bust, we didn't know if they knew who we were and would they be coming through that door to do us."
In the end, it was decided that the odds had degenerated into the danger zone. The L.A. operation was dismantled, the victim, in a sense, of its own success.
"We'd got to the point where too many people knew about it," said Marco. "We'd convicted people and they were doing time. We'd given \o7 in camera \f7 evidence, but attorneys knew about it, court clerks knew about it, and we were afraid that the repetition would get us.
"Then two (deputy) district attorneys (Curtis Hazell and Charles Horan) said: 'How long can we keep doing this? Maybe, somewhere, there's a dealer with a big board who is putting it all together and searching for a common denominator.' "
Finally, there was the burnout factor. "We could not keep up the pace, going 12 hours a day, seven days a week. So we took the operation down. But we took it down by our own choice--not because the crooks made us. We were never burned. We didn't lose the operation. And that's satisfying."
The airport watch continues. Marco's federal partner has been given a fresh alias and a new undercover assignment. All principals are awaiting trial or have been indicted and are fugitives.
And in a public ceremony at the Biltmore Hotel on Sept. 2, Detective Horacio (Bumpy) Marco was awarded the Medal of Valor, the Police Department's highest decoration.