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The man who took down Cali

COLUMN ONE

A member of the drug cartel's inner sanctum risked his life to lead U.S. agents to the kingpins. Today he's in hiding, a marked man.

February 24, 2007|William C. Rempel | Times Staff Writer

"He has done an inestimable service to the U.S. and Colombia," said his lawyer, Robert F. Dunlap of Miami.

Ryan, the federal prosecutor, in a recent interview called Salcedo one of the country's "least-known heroes," one of the people most responsible "for bringing down the most powerful criminals in the world."

Ryan still marvels at Salcedo's contribution, saying he and federal agents thought at the time that the effort had no more than "a 1% chance to succeed."

He recalled: "You can't imagine just how alone this guy was -- talking on phones that he knew were bugged ... knowing so well how easily he could be compromised. He must have brass balls this big."

Miguel Orejuela was extradited to Florida in 2005, a year after Gilberto. Today, the brothers are serving what probably will be life terms in U.S. federal prison.

The former Jorge Salcedo remains in hiding -- his location unknown even to his lawyer -- somewhere in the United States.

william.rempel@latimes.com

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About this story

Jorge Salcedo's contacts with The Times began with a handshake in Miami during a brief court appearance in October 1998. In the years since, he has made sporadic telephone calls to a Times reporter from undisclosed locations.

In telephone interviews ranging from a few minutes to more than an hour, he shared details of his role in the cartel and occasional frustrations with life in U.S. exile. Years passed between some of his calls.

The Times has no information about his whereabouts and no way to reach him. All contacts were by phone and were initiated by Salcedo.

This account is based on those interviews, corroborated by court records, sworn testimony and additional interviews with federal agents involved in the case.

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