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Almost the entire world knows the story of this man. While serving his sentence in a Spanish prison for drug trafficking and weapons, he felt terrible and, to show the system that his imprisonment would not break his spirit, he wrote on his shirt with a marker, "De puta madre". Later, these arrogant t-shirts were wanted by everyone, and Ilan Fernandez became a superstar around whose life Spielberg plans to make a movie.
Since he was born, on his back he carried three whole lives. In the first, he was the leader of a drug cartel in Colombia and hung out with Escobar. In the other, he spent his time in American and Spanish prisons. Today, he is free and - a billionaire. He has his own brand, invests in Dubai, trades vintage cars and separates large sums for the fight against pedophilia,cancer and drug addiction.
In one of the most known Dorcol bars, Ilan Fernandez enters smiling innocently, of moderate height, moderately plump and of a medium complexion. He smiles to everyone, just in case not to offend someone. He is friendly, but not uptight. He drinks water, and orders some sort of salad version for lunch. He doesn't smoke. Soon he removes his jacket. Both shoulders are covered with relatively simple tattoos. Without colors and similar embellishment. One arm is marked below the elbow with flowers such as those in children's drawings and the other, with symbols that are difficult to interpret from a distance.
When asked why he does not wear the famous shirt that made him a fair millionaire, Fernandez says he is too old to wear clothes that he makes. His age is hard to tell.
You're not exactly a typical example of a boy who was born in the poor areas of Colombia and by the law of a poor environment started dealing. What was your childhood like before your father's death?
I was born in Israel, in Tel Aviv. My father worked for the state. Only when I was three, did the family move back to Colombia. I spent my early childhood in Kali; I went to an elite private school and was raised in a respectable and proper family. We were very wealthy. We had our nice place under the sun, luxurious villa, paid staff and a good life. I was eight years old when someone killed my father. To this day I have not found out who it was. When they killed my father, my life drastically changed. That's how it all started. I ended up on the street with my mom, with nothing. Up until my tenth year, we became so poor that we had to move to the worst part of Kali. We went to the "Barrios" and moved into an attempt of a cardboard house. I got new friends and it became clear that I will continue to fightdaily for survival, not only in financial terms. In the "Barrios", there blocks were fighting for territory daily.
What was it like from the perspective of ten years, refined and, up until yesterday, a rich man's child?
I left school and began his life on the streets. Us boy used to go down the street, you know how it goes, and we'd steal when we could, and the police would catch us. Whenever they caught us for something, they would beat us. A lot. Quite a lot. So I began to sincerely hate the system.
When did you first start selling drugs?
I was approached by a tourist and asked me: "Do you have any?" I had no clue what he was talking about. "Do you have any coke?", He explained. I had no idea how it all worked, but it was clear to me that I could make a few bucks. I asked around the area when I could get some, and found out. They said, "Go over there, by that guy, he will give you some." I had three dollars on me and I took drugs for that much. The tourist gave me $150 for that amount. I said, "Oh, these people take this s... and give money for it. Good." Many tourists came to Kali. I decided to gather friends and to organize them. With my 12 years of age, I was the youngest of them all,but, when I think back, I was probably the smartest. Eight of us, we began the business of selling coke to tourists who come to Kali.
When the story spread, and it spread very quickly, I decided to bypass intermediaries. Koka was being made my Indians in the mountains. I went to the mountains and for only a few dollars from the Indians received a lot of top quality pure cocaine. For six months, solely on the sale of drugs to tourists, we certainly earned half a million dollars.
How did you start dealing in America?
The business in Kali grew, tourists were buying cocaine, and one day I told the team: "Why are we here waiting on them to come, when we can go to them?" Then we decided to go to America. I came up with the idea of organizing something like a cycling marathon for young people. Bicycles were filled with cocaine. There were a lot of bikes. The pipes, tires ... Everything that could be filled - there was a lot of coke. We appealed to the mayor of Miami and said we wanted to make a cycling tour Colombia-Miami.It worked. We were kids, I guess it didn't cross anyone's mind that we could be selling drugs. The bicycles were sent to Miami. There were a lot of drugs. We managed to sell everything in three days. Of course, we decided to do the whole thing again. We continued to expand and went to Barcelona.In Spain I made my base.
How did you deliver drugs overseas?
They sent them to me by ships, boats, by old ladies who were carrying suitcases ... Grandmas of my friends brought us cocaine. Everything went very smoothly and easily. We had the purest possible coke - pure white. In one year, we made too much money. Whole rooms were full of our money.
How did you explain all of this to your mother?
My mother did not know anything. I had to somehow explain the vast amount of money I had, so I made up that I won the lottery. I forged a lottery ticket.I assumed that was not enough, so just in case, I bribed some people who worked in the service of the payment of winnings. They all confirmed that I was the lucky winner. When she heard it from their mouths, she believed me. She was quiet the whole time. I moved to Miami and bought her a nice house.
Did you ever use it?
It was only later, when we become really rich and began throw parties in Spain. I never had a problem, in the sense that I was addicted to coke. I was never hooked on anything, no alcohol, no cigarettes.
How did you meet Pablo Escobar?
"I met Pablo Escobar when I was a kid. I was 12 years old. I met him then. They told me that there was one surviving photograph on tge Internet where we were hugging, but I don't think I managed to find it." Regardless of everything, Pablo Escobar was an extremely nice man to us. He was nice to his children. Whenever he could, he tried to be with his family.
Did you learn from him?
We never talked about his work. Only later, when I was 16 and had my own large network, he was able to talk about work. It is interesting that we never had any problems with his men. We did not bother him and he did not interfere wit us. He also worked in Spain, where we were. Escobar's network covers the whole world. However, our cartel has never had a problem with him. It was not because Escobar was mushy. Simply, no one believed that a group of louts can make that kind of money.
How old were you when you first witnessed a murder?
I was 13 years old.
How did you experience it?
What do I know ... nothing special. It was normal.
How did you get caught?
It was a Sunday. I was supposed to go to Piazza de Catalunya in Barcelona wiht my girlfriend. We were in my "Ferrari", alone. There was no one on the street. I asked myself: Why, where are the people? Then the helicopter landed in front of us. On all sides we were surrounded by police cars. There were certainly 15 cars. They handcuffed me and knocked me to the ground. They put me in a small room, very dark and full of moisture. It was the second shock of my life. I'm back from paradise for one day and end up in the cell.
Did you feel fear then?
Fear, no. I felt ... It was more like when you say, "this sucks". They took me in for questioning. I made a fool. I asked: "What do you want from me? I do drugs, I do not know Why have you brought me in." Then I was escorted to another room and left with a two-hour movie. I watched two years of my life. They had everything about me. They followed me this whole time, and filmed everything. They brought me back into the interview room and said: "We are interested in only one thing from you -who's your boss? For who do you work?" I said that I do not have a boss.
"Oh, yes, a child like yourself did all of this. We know you work for someone."
They did not get anything and they returned me to my cell. In that room, I spent another six months. No one addressed me. And even if I wanted to rat someone out, I had no one. I really was the head of the cartel. We did not submit accounts to anyone. When those six months passed, I had a trial. I got 25 years.
You were in prison for 11 years? How did you reduce your sentence?
They added on a bunch of crime that I never commited. For example, some things about the Italian mafia, other people murders with which I really did not have anything to do with ...I had very good lawyers. After appealing, from 25 years, the sentence was reduced to 18 years. All penal days I started up in Barcelona. Soon came the call from the United States. Interpol was looking for me. They transferred me to San Quentin prison in California.
That was quite a rigorous prison.
That is one of the worst prisons in the world. In normal prisons you are not so limited as you are San Quentin. They walked us out into the courtyard in handcuffs, we were all in orange prison uniforms, and internal jail struggles were very pronounced. There were black teams, Hispanic teams and teams composed of the Nazis. The fighting was ongoing.
Is it really true that it's important to catch the main wicked on the first day and beat him so he knows who is boss?
No, I do not know who made up this story. It does not work just like in the movies. It is difficult to frighten criminals. What can an imprisonment man be afraid of? I did not have these initial problems in the US prison because I had respect for the Hispanic team. They all knew who I was and what I was doing there.I joined their group.We were strong inside the prison, we had their seats, their bathroom ... We had people who would deliver us cigarettes, alcohol, drugs ...The prison is a market for everything. We fought with the others, but not too much.
After six years in America, they returned you to a Spanish jail and then began the "De Puta Madre" idea.
This was the cry of all of us. When I returned to Barcelona, in prison, I had trouble with this guy. He said that I murdered one of his relatives. Honestly, I've never even met the man. He did not believe me and we were constantly entering into conflict situations. He constantly tormented, and harassed me and wanted to take revenge.
How I've come to understand, in Colombia it is not necessary to have an acquaintance for a murder.
And that's true. Everyone kills everyone. But I really didn't kill his relative. However, the two of us had a problem, every day we had at showdown, and other inmates had their mutual problems. One day, I decided to talk to the guy with whom I bickered with. I said, "Come here. Sit down. We have this problem, but why do we have to bother each other each day. We are in the same shit hole. Let's talk." And that's how it came to mind. We talked. I said, "Listen, brother, no one here feels' de puta madre ''. De puta madre 'means you f.. well. "Let's write it on our T-shirts. So we're going to show the system that we are still good, that they cannot break us. And let's be rude and add 69 to it. "Why 69? Because that's the other thing that every convict thinks. The first thing is freedom, and the other thing is sex. We had neither. We felt terrible and we were on fire. He agreed to bury the hatchet.
The two of us decided to write on our T-shirts with a marker "de puta madre 69". After that, we made a shirt for a policeman. He gave it to his brother, or son, I do not remember. The boy went to the club and had a great time. He was main attraction, because of the shirt, they all talked about it. The officer conveyed impressions: "It's a cool idea. De puta madre! Cunning. "
I decided to go to the prison warden. He asked me what I wanted, and I said: "You want to stop the rebellion in the prison, to bring peace. I can provide, this but I need something from you. "He wanted to listen to me. I said: "I need a shirt." He was a bit confused. "I need some cotton shirts, markers, perhaps one printer, a room where we could make shirts for myself. I promise, there will be peace. "We got everything we needed.
We all gathered and spent all day in the small room. I ask: "What do you want it to say on your shirt?" One says: "Maniaco criminal", that when translated means: criminal psychopath. Good. Write it down. Another says: "Gigolo Latino, 500 euros a night! I want that! "Great, we write it. "You're now officially an overvalued Hispanic gigolo. Here's a T-shirt! "It was terribly funny. We laughed all day. We heard it in the hallways.
So in printing dirty graffiti on T-shirts of former blood enemies, made for a humorous groups of friends from the hood ...
Prison is like that. Agony. When you go to jail, you know you're going to lie for 18 year, maybe less, but you do not have an honest feeling as to when you'll get out. Cut off from the world and you you do not see a way out. In such agony, all that is positive, you accept with delight. And our shirts were something new and fun for all of us ... We started to hang out. There were still problems, but noticeably fewer.
Your sentence was reduced for good behavior?
The warden followed everything I did. He invited me for an interview and said: "You've done something good. Well done! "He praised me that I've changed for the better and even influenced other prisoners to calm down. He was influenced by the fact that for good behavior, they reduce the penalty. I was released, when everything is added up, after 11 years in prison.
You spent time in prison since '86. to '97. When you came out, you were thirty years old; you were still a young man. However, the world had changed in those 11 years. Escobar was dead. How did you adapt?
When I got out of prison, I stepped into the street. The space was open, I was free and I could not even look up at the sky. Open space for me was a foreign notion, unpleasant. It was a big shock. I remember that first day out, I saw a cafe. I wanted to go in and have a drink. I could not. I did not know how to talk with people. I stood in front of the cafes six hours. I made a step toward the door, and then back. I was afraid of the whole world.
How do you stand on your feet?
I knew some people in Ibiza and they said they would help me get back on my feet. Of course, the first was: "We will work, the drugs are still there." I told them: "No. I do not want anything to do with it. Let's do something normal. "Then they proposed to participate in renting apartments and villas for tourists. It suited me. I went to Ibiza and started working.
One time in Ibiza, i met two very arrogant guys. They came from Rome, boasted and shouted that they had money. I had arranged for them to stay in the beautiful villa with a swimming pool and I was standing at their disposal for everything they needed. They immediately asked me if I could bring them some girls. I said I'd look into it. One of my friends sent some girls. Then they wanted drugs. I had none, I did not want to do their bidding. I gave them the number of a boy who I knew there and they called him.
I was the organizer of stay. They paid me very well for it. We spent a lot of time together and somehow we became friends. I asked:
"What are you doing?" They explained that they were in the textile industry. "I have an idea," I said, "I want to make T-shirts with slogans."
They gave me a business card and so to call them up when I was in Rome. I kept it.
After a while, I went to Rome. When I finally found these guys, they did not recognize me, "Who are you?" I explained to them who I was, but I was told to wait and that they would get back to me. After it was: "Ah, Ilan". They took me out to dinner and then I explained the project that I was on my mind. They could care less about my "De puta madre" T-shirts.
But I did not give up. I let some time go by and again I went. They asked me: "What do you want?" I say: "The Project".
Then they gave in?
Somewhat. They said they would help me. One of them told me: "We will give you material for making T-shirts." I did not know how to make shirts. I did not know what was 100% cotton, what is cotton-spandex ... I did not understand. They said: "You just take these materials, do not worry, you'll get everything you need. There is one guy, called Cappuccino, he is Chinese, he'll find you. After that, you're gonna go with another guy named Benigno. He will cut the material, and Cappuccino will sew shirts. When you're done, go to the third guy named Kivigraf, he will print labels on the T-shirts." "And how am I going to do all of this?" I asked. They explained that they are not interested in my transport, and that it cannot provide me with it. I had to find my way. They said: "This is what you'll get from us now. Later, you'll pay. Only in this way can we help you. "
I went to the metro station and said, "God, forgive me!" and stole a scooter. I went to get the materials with the scooter. The rolled up the fabric, and placed it between my legs and started to search for a Chinese team named Cappuccino. I found him and the other one and the third one. They did everything they should have and I had a product.
And then? I had to sell it.
That part was up to me. In a pizzeria I met a waiter. I was sitting alone, we started talking and I showed him the sketches of my shirt. He loved my drawings, I explained to him the story of my shirts and offered to sell them to him to sell them. He agreed. I told him he would have 10 percent of each sale. It suited him. In the morning he went to the shops and offered them, and the evening was doing his job in a pizzeria. And so, without storage or anything, from the sale of T-shirts we have earned around 300,000 euros in that round. Then some guy, who was a TV star, appeared in a 'De puta madre' T-shirt. He was in all the newspapers, on the covers, on television ... People began to call me. It was like: "Hey, buddy .. Do you still have those T-shirts?"
It's been two days and again I went with these guys I met in Ibiza. Again they asked me what I want. I showed them the cover.
"Now do you want to invest in my product? This time you really have to invest," I said. We talked and we agreed that they would
seriously invest in the brand 'de puta madre'. After one season, we earned six million euros. After we managed to turn a hundred million a year. Every year.
There we have it, this the story of some guy, Ilan, who grew up in poverty, made so many mistakes and rotted in jail, only to start from scratch up on his release and make millions. That first year when the brand transpired, people paid 10,000 dollars to show up at the party.
The point is that, if you want to make money, it's the easiest thing in the world. The problem is when a man makes a couple of small or huge mistakes as me, and thinks its the end of the world. It's not the end of the world. I am a living example of that. I did it. I had everything and lost it all. Two times. In his new, legal life, he built it up all by himself. I have peace. I do not fear that they will kill me, or catch me for that matter ... which means- it works.
You have several tattoos. What do they symbolize?
These tattoos that I have covered my old tattoos, the ones from prison. Here, on my chest, below the collarbone used to be something like:
"I love Mom". On my hand was written: "No one can judge me." I covered everything with new tattoos. Here on my right shoulder is Mahora. These are symbols from the island of Fiji. They mean a lot, and tell my story. And here, on my left arm I have flowers. I wanted a tattoo of a flower for every person who "remained in my memory." Unfortunately, I could not remember them all, and if I did, my hand would not have enough room.
When your enormous profits from the "rolling" of T-shirts is compared to the rolling of drugs, what is the relationship?
This six million that we initially earned selling T-shirts for the whole season, could be made in day with drugs. But it is quite different money.
How does it feel to be with a girlfriend after 11 years of peeling prison walls, saving your own back and making filthy T-shirts?
Shy. You have no idea what to do. Very shy. And you remember that, you really remember that.
What is your attitude toward money today?
I earned a lot of money in this life. Not only with the brand, but I expanded my job. At this point I could completely retire. I'd have enough money til the end of life to live the way I like and I can sleep peacefully.
I deal with luxury cars. This is a very nice job. Also, I invest in architecture and construction of urban facilities. I say, I could stop. Why don't I stop? I tried to stop. I tried to stay at home for a week. It is impossible. You have to do something. I think I became dependent on money. Not the accumulation of money, but of the process of making and spending money. Money should be spent. Spend it well.