Javier Pena Biography

Civil Servant, Law Enforcement Consultant
DEA agents Javier Peña and Steve Murphy were lead investigators in the manhunt for Colombian drug kingpin, Pablo Escobar.

Synopsis

Raised in Kingsville, Texas, Javier Peña joined the DEA in 1984 and started working in Bogota, Colombia, four years later. There, he participated in the successful manhunt for narcotics kingpin Pablo Escobar. His story formed part of the backbone for the Netflix series Narcos.

Early Career

Now-retired Drug Enforcement Agent (DEA), Javier Peña, grew up in the south Texas city of Kingsville. He remained close to home for college and enrolled at Texas A&I University (now A&M-Kingsville), where he graduated with a B.A. in Sociology/Psychology.  

His law enforcement career began in 1977, when he was hired as a Deputy Sheriff by the Webb County Sheriff’s office in Laredo, Texas. Seven years later the DEA hired Peña as a Special Agent for the office in Austin, Texas, where he worked for four years.

Pablo Escobar & The Medellin Cartel

Peña’s early work for the DEA came as the international cocaine trade had begun to explode. In 1988, Pena volunteered for a new post in Bogota, Colombia, where, along with agent Steve Murphy, he was charged with investigating the Medellin Cartel, the world’s largest cocaine dealer, and its leader, Pablo Escobar. Rich and brazen, Escobar held an iron grip on the drug trade and Colombia. His personal wealth was estimate to be close to $30 billion, much of it coming from the fifteen tons of cocaine he exported to the United States every week. At one point Escobar was making so much money that he had to spend some $2,000 a month on rubber bands to hold it in bundles.

Peña teamed with fellow DEA agent, Steve Murphy, to cultivate informants and secure leads for the Colombian National Police (CNP). Finally, after years of terror and enemy assassinations, including high-profile Colombian leaders, Escobar surrendered to the government. But it came with a caveat: his prison was one he built and included a number of luxury accommodations.

"In Meddelin, you would have 30-50 people murdered every weekend that were all Escobar related." - Javier Pena

In June 1992, Escobar escaped, setting off one of the world’s largest manhunts. More than 600 CNP, as well as Navy SEALs, scoured the country for him. Pena and Murphy were a part of the search. The hunt came to conclusion on December 2, 1993, when the CNP shot Escobar dead in a middle-class neighborhood in Medellin, where he had tried to escape across rooftops.

In 2015, Peña and Murphy’s story about their hunt for Escobar served as part of the backbone to the Netflix series Narcos, which tells the story of the cartel leader’s rise and fall. Both Pena and Murphy worked as consultants on the show. “It was personal for me,” Pena has said of the hunt for Escobar. “He had killed a lot of people I knew. The search for Escobar was purely about revenge. It wasn’t going after dope, it wasn’t after money. It was just revenge because of all the cops he had killed along with all those innocent people."

Javier Pena

(Photo: Brett Coomer / via Houston Chronicle)

Later Years

Over the next two decades Peña continued to work for the DEA. His stints included stops in Puerto Rico, Texas and Colombia again. In 2011, he took on the role of Special Agent in Charge of the Houston Division. He worked there until his retirement in January 2014.  

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