In July, Francischini presented his case to a federal court in São Paulo and requested an arrest warrant in the name of Juan Carlos Ramírez-Abadía. The month before, Chupeta had returned to Loriti Bruel's clinic for a final cosmetic procedure. With it, his old face disappeared, replaced by the exaggerated shapes and distorted planes of an image in a fun-house mirror. Chupeta began making plans to leave Brazil; by early August, the PF heard that he had his furniture packed into trucks and had bought the toll tickets for the highway to Uruguay. Francischini decided to move his plans up by a week.
At 4 A.M. on August 7, he assembled a force of 400 men in the auditorium of PF headquarters in São Paulo. Two hours later, as dawn broke, he led 20 armed agents through the gates of Morada dos Lagos and up the hill to 71 Alameda Dourada. Francischini was the first up the stairs inside the house and picked the largest of five doors. With his partner, he kicked it down. In the darkness he found a light switch, then pulled back the comforter on the bed. Despite the years of surveillance, the photographs, the wiretap recordings, and the word of a DEA informant, Francischini still wasn't certain he had the right man.
"What's your full name?" he asked.
Finally, reluctantly, the Colombian gave up the words Francischini had been waiting to hear: "Juan Carlos Ramírez-Abadía."
He said he was 44 years old. He said he had been in Brazil for three years. He sighed heavily.
Later, after finding him guilty of criminal conspiracy, money laundering, and falsification of documents, a Brazilian court would sentence the kingpin to 30 years and five months in prison.
ON AUGUST 22, 2008, Chupeta was taken from prison in Campo Grande in central Brazil and flown to the jungle city of Manaus. There he was met by agents from the DEA's São Paulo office for extradition to New York. He is currently being held in Brooklyn, and will face charges for drug trafficking, conspiracy, and ordering the murders of Vladimir Biegelman and Gladys Claudio.
Billy Ahern retired from the NYPD in 2002. Over lunch one day in late 2008, he explains why a billionaire narco-trafficker might bother reaching into the United States to order the execution of a Queens Realtor.
One night a few months before her death, Claudio and the chief of one of Chupeta's money-laundering cells in New York were arrested. The launderer was charged and Claudio released; when news reached Cali that the DEA had raided the caletas Claudio had rentedapartments where millions of dollars were stashedAhern believes that those making the decisions back in Colombia suspected she had talked. In fact, she had nothing to do with the raid: The DEA had been watching the money launderers for eight months. "She never ratted. She never said anything to anybody," Ahern says. By that logic, the murder was the result of a paranoid miscalculation. In the end, Ahern realized, for all Chupeta's meticulous planning and advanced technology, his accountants and their spreadsheets, he was in handcuffs on a U.S.-government jet bound for New York because his organization was only as good as the people running it.