ShortList speaks to the US federal agent who infiltrated Colombia’s Medellín drug cartel
In the Eighties, Robert Mazur spent five years as Bob Musella: money launderer to some of the world’s most famous drug traffickers. It was a lie, but he transformed more than $34m in cocaine cash into traceable bank transactions, leading to the arrest of 85 people, including Manuel Noriega. As his new book, The Infiltrator, has its UK release, we asked him about ‘Operation C-Chase’, close calls and Bryan Cranston taking his life to the big screen.
How did you juggle two lives?
I had to give a piece of myself I’ll never get back. I went to a place mentally that I never want to go to again. I believed I had travelled through this portal of the real world into the underworld. I was willing to sacrifice my career or my life.
As you met Pablo Escobar’s inner cartel in Medellín, did you think ‘holy sh*it this is big’?
Identifying people who the rest of the world had no knowledge of was the important thing. Escobar’s principal manager, Gerardo Moncada, was a guy some people felt more powerful than Pablo. He thought he was entitled to more of the profits, so siphoned money. When Pablo found out, he summoned Moncada and his brother, hung them by their feet and used blow torches to melt the skin off their bodies.
Was that the closest you came to getting caught?
One time I was in the lobby of the Helmsley Palace in New York with a high-ranking person in the cartel. While we were chatting, I heard a voice bellow “Bob”, and saw Charlie Broun, the target of my first undercover operation. I didn’t realise he was out of jail already. I walked over quickly, hugged him and whispered: “Charlie, I’m under again, play along.” By then, the trafficker was right next to me. I felt a cold bead of sweat go down my back. Luckily, he played along.
You stayed in expensive hotels, flew in private jets and spent thousands of dollars on looking the part. Did you ever enjoy it?
I had two brains going at the same time. I had this bad guy brain that plays his role. But also I can never forget why I’m there, and in that brain I’m formulating what to ask, how to nudge the conversation to where it needs to go. Although I was eating at a five-star hotel, it could’ve been McDonald’s. I became an information junkie. My heroin was new information.
Bryan Cranston is playing you in the upcoming film remake. Are you a Breaking Bad fan?
I said to Bryan on set: “I watched the first episode and saw you in tighty whities. I don’t know if I can watch much more.” But I did and he is a genius. So I’m happy. Like any true crime author, you have angst about fictionalising things. But I’m good with that.
So, what’s the best way to get a secret out of someone?
Approaching the undercover technique as a science is critical. I spent days learning as much as I could about the person I was dealing with. You’ve got to put the time in, make sure you get it right. Unlike Bryan Cranston, I didn’t get a second take.
The Infiltrator by Robert Mazur is out now, published by Random House
(Images: AllStar/Random House)