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Why I do what I do: Former DEA agent had £260,000 bounty put on his head by Pablo Escobar and lived to tell the tale

Mike Sheridan

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Why I do what I do: Former DEA agent had £260,000 bounty put on his head by Pablo Escobar and lived to tell the tale

A pair of former DEA agents have opened up on their maddest memories from inside the US drug wars after spending years in law enforcement.

Now happily retired, Steve Murphy and Javier Pena were made famous by the Netflix series Narcos and their pursuit of Medellín cartel boss Pablo Escobar.

Before the duo were stationed in Colombia and tasked with hunting down ‘cocaine king’ Escobar, they worked across the US – Pena in Austin, Texas and Murphy in Miami – at the epicentre of the drug trade in the late 1980s.

Now, speaking exclusively to LADbible, Murphy and Pena have reflected on what it meant to be a DEA agent and their experiences on the job, including Murphy's first major drug bust and having a bounty placed on his head by Pablo Escobar himself.

Murphy and Pena in 1992. The pair helped take down Pablo Escobar. Credit: Steve Murphy & Javier Pena
Murphy and Pena in 1992. The pair helped take down Pablo Escobar. Credit: Steve Murphy & Javier Pena

"In the late 1980s, Miami was still the wild west in the cocaine market,” he says. “That's where Escobar and the Medellín Cartel were bringing all the cocaine in through the Caribbean islands. Mexico and Central America wasn't a big thing [for the drugs trade] back then.

"The most cocaine I'd seen in 12 years in law enforcement before then was 2oz. In the first case I worked on undercover in the DEA, we took a 53-foot undercover yacht, went to the Turks and Caicos Islands and picked up 400 kg of coke. So I went from two ounces to 880 lbs."

Steve Murphy following a cash seizure as part of his work with the DEA. Credit: Steve Murphy & Javier Pena
Steve Murphy following a cash seizure as part of his work with the DEA. Credit: Steve Murphy & Javier Pena

Murphy says they had to remove the seats from the two-engine plane to fit the cocaine in, leaving him no option but to lay on top of multiple duffle bags filled with the drug for the trip back to the US.

Pena, meanwhile was once almost killed during an undercover operation in Austin – but nothing could have prepared him for the increase in intensity when he arrived for the Escobar operation in Colombia.

"When I get to Colombia, the violence multiples by a hundred times," he says.

Pena, pictured next to a mountain of seized gold, was shocked by the violence he encountered. Credit: Steve Murphy & Javier Pena
Pena, pictured next to a mountain of seized gold, was shocked by the violence he encountered. Credit: Steve Murphy & Javier Pena

At one point, while home in his apartment, Pena was told to take his gun and get out quickly by one of his bosses: his life was in danger.

"I got a call from my boss saying they had intercepted a call and they were coming for me. I was told to take my gun and get to the embassy."

Murphy says you get used to the constant threat on your life: "You just deal with it. One of the first things they tell you when you arrive is that there's a $300,000 (£260,000) price tag put on your head by Pablo Escobar, just for being a DEA Agent."

Escobar would often have sicarios (hired killers) carry out assassinations for him.

The pair were tasked with taking down Pablo Escobar, pictured. Credit: Abaca Press/ Alamy Stock Photo
The pair were tasked with taking down Pablo Escobar, pictured. Credit: Abaca Press/ Alamy Stock Photo

"We arrested one of his young sicarios, [he was] 15 years old. It's an interview I'll never forget. He said he owed his life to Escobar because Pablo picked him and his mother up from the street, where they lived in a cardboard box."

The young man would carry out the murders for $100 (£87) a head and confessed to killing police officers 'like it was nothing'.

Check out DEANarcos.com for more info on Steve and Javier's tours, books and more

Featured Image Credit: Steve Murphy & Javier Pena

Topics: Narcos, Pablo Escobar, US News

Mike Sheridan

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