Real Name: Miguel Villegas
Aliases: None Known
Wanted For: Drug Trafficking, Money Laundering
Missing Since: September 1986
Details: Miguel Villegas was a henchman to Pedro Uribe, the leader of a suburban New Jersey drug ring that manufactured and sold drugs, primarily cocaine. They chose to reside in an affluent suburb of Cliffside Park, New Jersey, because its isolation and security helped them cover up their illegal activities. Uribe was ruthless and ran his drug ring by fear. According to an informant, one of Uribe's couriers lost seventy-five kilos of cocaine. On hearing this, Uribe had his courier and the man's family killed. It later turned out that the courier was innocent and had not lost the cocaine. This made Uribe seem only more frightening and violent to his drug ring members.
In May of 1986, the FBI set up round-the-clock surveillance on several of Uribe's drug ring properties. They soon learned that, in order to keep the outward appearance of normalcy, people posing as families were brought in to the properties on weekends. Ironically, the surveillance showed that these "mock families" changed from week-to-week. In the evenings, in order to make the homes look less suspicious, each was occupied by a live-in babysitter. Uribe was also careful in selecting the style of house he occupied. One of the primary features he looked for when renting the houses was an attached garage with an automatic garage door opener. If the home did not have it, they would install one. This was done so that they could get in and out with different individuals and with less of a chance of being seen by neighbors.
Using the houses as a base, Uribe developed a simple and seemingly fool-proof money laundering scheme. Low-level operatives, nicknamed "smurfs" by the FBI, were dispatched from the houses to banks throughout the New York metropolitan area. The smurfs would then use small amounts of the illicit cash to buy legitimate money orders from many different banks. At the height of the operation, there were seven smurfs identified that were money laundering $50,000 a day. During five working days, they could money launder up to $2 million a week.
Though the FBI knew that Uribe was a money launderer, they had yet to prove that he had dealt cocaine. One day, however, they got lucky. On September 3, 1986, outside of one of his safe houses, agents observed the surreptitious delivery of some suspicious boxes. Gambling that there was cocaine hidden inside the boxes, the FBI decided to try and catch Uribe red-handed. On the following night, they made their move. In their search of the house, the FBI found 307 kilos of 95% pure cocaine wrapped in plastic bags. The total amount of cocaine seized that night would have been worth over $7 million on the street. FBI agents searched Uribe's other safe houses. In one home, a specially trained dog led them to a large potted plant. When the plant was examined, they found $800,000 covered in enough cocaine to attract the dog's attention.
Unfortunately, Uribe and his henchmen had been tipped off and managed to escape. In 1987, he and ten others were charged with conspiracy and possessing with intent to distribute more than 660 pounds of cocaine. He is now believed to be regularly traveling between the United States and Colombia. He was last sighted in New Jersey in 1989, at a relative's christening. Three of his partners are also Colombian nationals. They have been identified as Hugo Balbin and brothers Luis and Ivan Arango. The three fled to Colombia, but the FBI have reason to believe the Arango brothers are back in the New York area. Villegas is believed to be in the Los Angeles area.
Extra Notes: The case was featured as a part of the March 28, 1990 episode, which focused mainly on Uribe.
- Uribe and Villegas on Unsolved.com
- FBI nabs 3 in NJ in cocaine crackdown - June 13, 1987
- 11 New Jerseyans indicted in Colombian cocaine ring - June 19, 1987
- Eleven indicted in drug ring, including 4 Bergen residents - June 19, 1987
- Probe of drug traffickers in Colombia-based act results in indictments of 11 - June 20, 1987