A story of drug trafficking, deception, and family identity. In the final part of La Retirada, Rocío Gómez and her family enter the United States Federal Witness Security Program. The family must create new identities, while moving from state to state. But they soon realize that fabricated identities do not change their personal history. La Retirada is a collaboration between Everything Is Stories and Love and Radio Love and Radio is produced by Nick van der Kolk
United States


00:00:00just a reminder this is a collaboration between everything is stories and radio Tokyo's Levin radio podcast names in this story have been changed preserve anonymity one day I am come home from school I was in sixth grade I was twelve years old it was towards the end of
00:00:21third grade for me I can kind of remember my mom telling us like right when she picked us up from school and I'm just sitting at the table my mom would we start talking and she said so we're probably gonna have to move soon a we're moving and
00:00:37tomorrow is your last day of school in the city he all my friends just real casual look leave in a movie where you going I don't know where I'm going but I'm just my last day at school I remember just sitting there like I don't know what to
00:00:51say and she sort of instructed me this is what you have to tell people this is what it's going to be like we don't know where we're going to move yet we're going to have to change your last name and we're going to need to do in the
00:01:02next few days I don't understand the full scope of what's going on at all I understood that we were leaving I didn't understand like not coming back it didn't hit me my mom's explained to me that they were working for the government she was working with the FBI
00:01:27BFP I was like a family to us they know my kids to grow up with my kids my kids grow up around them was like an uncle there is bad people after us and we had to go into hiding for awhile people call it witness protection but it's
00:01:43not really known as witness protection officially gets noticed would suck witness security those reporters the FBI called we'd say they come they were two or three of them they explain things to you your options how it works how it's done I have to pick different names would be
00:02:04a new person as long as we were also from the kids and and those who matter where we were able to some people over if I'm going away we're all going away not this thing where one stays behind we're all going that was always my philosophy all of
00:02:22us startled want to start now research for we're going to start one at least we have to guide us right the only thing that I like about it was you know think about it will be for the rest of our lives so yeah I mean I I I'm
00:02:47still in it to this day when you join with sex it's a role you don't talk to any family at all you're dead to them it's very much like one damn here the next day you don't know where I am you just disappear younger people that I guess
00:03:11I told you was my brother my youngest one the disappear for the at that point eight years old so I don't think I knew how to pack a bag I'm sure my mom packed my stuff for me we left all of our furniture and I packed a suitcase
00:03:30put some stuffed animals in their my diary and the next morning there on the plane Nelson were taken out of Miami I remember getting to Washington DC Marshall scheme matters at the gate maybe four five six Marshalls gave us tickets tickets just to have these big names on
00:03:57them I just remember being like this isn't my name and then I just thought oh cool for doing something like silly some marshals took us outside to this windowless van we were all stuck in the back of the van and it was hot summer and it was hot
00:04:15and my mom she had to throw up they had to pull over and they open the door and my mom threw up I remember them opening the door and I could see the Washington Monument we got back in the van were driven basically like a parking garage with
00:04:31like no lights and going into something that felt like a hotel completely windowless apartment we were locked inside of this from the handle didn't do anything when you pulled it from the inside and I remember thinking holy **** this is serious this is way serious there was a
00:04:54camera like we're two walls meet it was one of those round ones we can't really see the camera inside of it but you know there's a camera there the bridge in the freezer was just filled with like microwaveable food microwavable hamburgers there's nothing here is probably because if
00:05:13you use a stove because fire you can get out of that room the reason why we were there was because they had a process us we had to bring with us every last piece of information with our name on it all of my report cards my birth certificate
00:05:35my passport ballet awards my parents credit history anything right name would pop up in the system they had to get rid of so I guess that takes time and then it takes time to get them to give us new identities this is the most exciting part of the
00:05:54whole state was getting to choose our new identity the marshals they have a conversation with us about Haiti you you're gonna get new names since my mom was married to my stepdad they would have the same last name my brother and I got to pick our own names
00:06:11and since I was the older one I got to take a last name so I was reading this book the last name of this author for this young adult novel was it was like now's a call that's pretty I just told my mom she wrote it down and
00:06:30handed that paper to the marshals and a few weeks later they came with a new passport for me my brother new birth certificate all of this other stuff with our new last names and I remember practicing my signature thinking my gosh if they catch me writing my original
00:06:46last name not gonna blow it from my entire family and I've got to be on point really memorize it and this is a new me that month or months spent in this weird apartment for me it was that my whole life is going to be tucked away and
00:07:09nobody was ever gonna find me again that I couldn't ever seen in my family members again the time went by so slowly and as soon as they said that we were going to leave I was excited not to move to a new place but to get out I
00:07:23don't think the point you to stay in something like that for too long that might be like in a little too much for someone to handle my mom came and she told me that we were leaving the next day and I was just so happy to be out
00:07:40of that sort of stupor that we were and you know just day in day out I felt like it really was a prison in as soon as she told me I was remotely rejoicing just so happy to get out of this place and to start living again and
00:07:54to eat real food and to have new clothes in you know like even a walk outside so they had to pick another place for us to go and that's when they picked even at that age I knew that I was just gonna be like very culture shock it's
00:08:17a very segregated town they ask you to speak Mexican they have home coming dance there and like proms but they have a black homecoming court and a white homecoming court and my name got put in for black homecoming call her because I was like one of the few
00:08:34his you know like non white people there they didn't know what to categorize me as we were allowed to say that we came from Florida that wasn't off the books the only thing they had to stay consistent with our last name I remember telling them that my step
00:08:48dad was still on the imports exports business and of the my mom still stay at home mom told them I was Hispanic and everything was was true nothing about my parents working for the government that part of the family history share you get used to you wouldn't believe
00:09:06how easy it is to start saying in your name easy like I've only had slipped once we're at a residence in because the US marshals love putting you up in a residence in you can like rent equipment like play tennis from like the front desk you know you
00:09:20borrow it and like it Tom like your room number so I'm nine at this point and we're going to this desk and we're asking to like run like tennis equipment fully just ask me you know what's my name I just go you know book and I just say
00:09:33my real name the original name right then and there like I have to stop and I I I see no I mean and I fix it but that's only happened once in you know twenty two years of like having to like remember to do this after awhile you
00:09:50get you get used to it let's assume is looming conformable to those are where the issue was a lice everyone wanted to know where we came from what do you do why do you dress like that why do with potatoes why don't you eat rice why don't you
00:10:08read that it buys why don't you drink coffee is your family everyone is curious should look to close personal government circumstances were such that I'd say it wasn't so much lying as it was arriving how we became friends with this guy that's what my house so you see
00:10:29it's one of the Marshall to the use of government feels like everyone in the house he saw the car he says work which is stored there Ellen he was with the with the petition to all the same Marshall for him on the same Marshall for us meanwhile look
00:10:55what's happening with Reggie go at this point odd he was in jail still yes he was in jail though the kids grew good make all four goals would be beverage phone calls to talk to her father while he was in jail back then I didn't fully understand what
00:11:12it was that he did there are like he got caught kinda like bring drugs into the United States they told you that much yeah but not nothing more specific than that so my mother myself that sort of working for the government in the eighties that's how they knew
00:11:26through their friends in the FBI that they were tracking my father he was trying to make a cell in New York and %HESITATION the FBI knew about it social my mother warned my dad not to go to New York and he he went anyway is I thought part
00:11:42of the reason for going over with sac was that your father was upset that your stepfather may have ratted him out there is some danger possibilities there he he he does believe that my mom and my step dad had something to do with that but like I don't
00:11:55think anyone was ever worried about my dad doing something it was like who does my dad know that could do something sand knowing some of the people that my step father you know some of the names that pop up that he helped put in jail are pretty big
00:12:07guys with large networks but we never ever felt it was almost like we knew back eyes were after us but it wasn't ever like we're running you know and they're right behind us and we had a like live in fear all the time we never felt that way
00:12:20it was it was more of a huge inconvenience they would have killed us but I feel we felt like given the chance these people want to kill us all I have no doubt about it if they found out where we were we were killed anybody when my father
00:12:42was in prison I was able to write him letters but the letters had to go through the marshals first and they would open them and read them and then send it to him and then he had to send the letters to the marshals I would read them and
00:12:53then send it to us and I remember thinking to write anything that could have given it away I really don't ever know like I really don't know what exactly happens to force us to move away exactly but we had to do it again our team was compromised and
00:13:16I don't want to go into the details we just have to move again we parked a few belongings and waited for the marshals to come in take us where did it all over again the second time it was harder there was another blow for the kids we start
00:13:41again idea where we're going to end up and then it turned out that it was going to be they will cry like babies my daughter locked up in a room be imposed goes so he was going to leave behind a lot of good friends and so I just
00:13:59really didn't even tell any of my friends that I was leaving like **** for real why I remember flying in and it was the end of summer everything looked around and ugly I remember just thinking this is so weird you know I've never I felt very claustrophobic you
00:14:23get there's mountains surrounding you and I felt very close to an this time %HESITATION so jaded and pissed off that I was like **** it I'm just gonna give I gave a pay phone number the pay phone right by the grocery store by our house all of my
00:14:41friends was like here's a number you can reach me call me every Saturday night I'll be standing by the phone at seven PM my time you know like definitely broke the roles that time around because I was like this is bullshit we were a month late going into
00:14:57school so having to be the new girl who comes late to class and everybody looked at me funny because I had a southern accent and really didn't fit in and that was one of the hardest transitions for me IBM person in the bottom we sick pays a monthly
00:15:20wage two thousand one hundred dollars they ranked food transportation electricity Bayliss I'm talking about leaving off of two thousand one hundred dollars in nineteen ninety three how can you live you're not going to leave from their money from there you got it start doing your own thing with
00:15:41six semi to an employment office and with their connections I would talk to someone I never got a call back I would say I want to work I wanted to be anyone I didn't have to be the big guy in the cell for use or anything like that
00:15:57I just want to work I'm not talking about going out there and leaving in the best house or anything like that all they wanted was a start I didn't care what I had to do nothing was beneath me once upon a time I was something but right now
00:16:11I have to take care of my family I was afraid to do something illegal because if they took me out of the program what was I going to do my husband was really young caress marks appear is really only going flying I felt useless and I'll use I
00:16:32think it really hurt him not being able to be a pilot in the United States not being able to do what his passion was which is fine there was a disaster you know started going down hill down hill down hill I was simply also the signal but like
00:16:48the saying goes the delinquent always comes home we'd say gave me a recommendation still call this number that was when I made a contact again with the FBI well first off the FBI asked what do you have to offer I'd say okay I have contacts in the island
00:17:06through which we can do business because our listeners well the FBI put in a request for me at their headquarters my stepfather started doing like his informant stuff for the FBI again which was what like originally he was doing they felt like there wasn't a lot of risk
00:17:25in having him come back and work for them and he was really good at what he didn't really get a full sitting with people befriending them you know getting them to trust him and they had been enough time that all the people that he up to put away
00:17:39either died or were still in jail finally the FBI called me back again and opened an office for me they opened an import export business I was alone for a year in Miami that's where my office was it was my job by hud secretary sales managers the whole
00:18:01nine yards I began to Colin Colin Colin make contacts I stayed home with the kids a whole year or so he will come back and forth back and forth we decided to go back to Florida so right after I went to college that's when my mother and my
00:18:23step dad and my younger brothers went back to Florida my step dad's apartment was literally across the street from the old neighborhood we still live in in Miami and I thought it was really weird because that's going directly back into a part of our life that we left
00:18:40behind me to close the door my where they opening it again my personal view I came back to this type of work because I felt proud I felt like I was doing something productive for our society and for my kids in fact I went to Columbia three times
00:19:02in the period when I went back to Colombia use my real name because I didn't have papers but even if the same narcos are no longer involved summa disappeared others in jail except that I even if I was no longer recognized he was still a risk the officers
00:19:20in charge of protecting me and any time I went out for a meeting they would always be around me I always have to check came and they're the people what I was doing what I wasn't doing aside from that they were able to pinpoint where I was the
00:19:35cell phone that I use in two thousand one he was involved in something major something big it was in the newspaper at one point he got really close to disappearing and I know that it affects them because he can't even talk about to this day one was was
00:19:55thrown over the miserable drugs ranks like when they kidnapped me my whole life flashed before my eyes he's never really talked about it I've heard it as like a story that's kind of like on the peripheral type of thing it's never been something that he's just talked about
00:20:12openly like I've asked my mom in the past and she's just like mentioned talked to me about it once her husband went to Columbia with the drug dealer will be a drug dealer and they will go to bring a big loan here to the United States and it
00:20:31was arranged how much cocaine but we're going to bring was going to pay for it you know everything was settled there were just waiting for orders to give him the product Anderson is **** detail to constitute he was doing the kingdom is informant thing like he but he
00:20:51was in a car with somebody was that the lady with the FBI did not coming are we with the stock the guy starts getting iffy nervous and should just start falling apart almost certain mac I came through the back and put the gun you know his ribs we're
00:21:10meant to a brown in the back and record pointed to him when the guy says model which just means killing and basically he was seconds away from it and that's when like hell broke loose because the feds were listening in on it the lights start coming on and
00:21:28I think it's around yeah agents swarmed vehicle my step dad you know they have to do the whole thing all I could think about was my find me what am I doing here who won the world told me to come here that was the last feel that my
00:21:54husband was involved with the government and yet like and ended up in a in the newspaper being the hurt him the most was the article when became all the god of the newspaper writes down but he was a snitch and I this spring quarter sneeze towards normal fold
00:22:12you know really off and it it's one of those points of pride with him like whatever the term is it might be like the street term or however it is but I mean that's what he does I mean he's like I'm not crazy he's a snitch I think
00:22:28he suffers from still from posttraumatic stress about it and really name changed him as a person and I think that coupled with the nine eleven stuff happening all of the money sort of re routed from the war on drugs which is really big in the eighties and early
00:22:47nineties to terrorism and homeland security stuff there wasn't anything left for my stepfather to really contribute to so they didn't need him anymore the guy that %HESITATION my stepfather worked with he's like the closest thing that my dad will have my step that will ever have to best
00:23:07friend and I've known him since I was like a little kid he's give me like a dollar for every like a I got a report card type **** he come over and just be hanging out he'd come to parties and stuff like that but if he doesn't need
00:23:19my step dad and he hasn't needed him for like thirteen years that I don't think they talk to each other and it's it's kind of sad it's work for him you know hello all look younger control of your no I am fine with everyone I I just don't
00:23:37feel properly compensated I wasn't paid what I should have and little if you're going what the deal but at the end of the day it's material this material what's important are the values that we acquire is an and you value what you have I never like to think
00:24:03too much about my dad and my mom and my step dad doing sort of the greedy or things that are involved in arca trafficking I think of my mother having to do something that I didn't think she was capable of doing really hurt me and I really didn't
00:24:18like thinking I still don't like thinking of her in a position like that you know I don't share this with anybody only maybe it'll really really close family besides sap friends stopped by the I bet it was more difficult for her more than anybody having been in a
00:24:39situation where she fears for the life of her children and her cell she's so optimistic she's the most optimistic woman I've ever met everything's got everything in life is good she works she is the hardest working person or non everything's good everything's gonna be okay baby that's what
00:24:56she says it wasn't like an easy means to an end for just so happened that you found love with two guys that ended up **** around cocaine which is she met my step that to my dad and my dad was into it so we can assume that my
00:25:09Colombian step that would be into it to when you're Dominican and you marry one guy that's Colombian I don't see it being that hard to get caught up in that type of stuff this just happens to be like two roads that are both crazy of like FBI informant
00:25:27and like a drug kingpin that's like my birthright initially then on to talk about this because there's nothing to do with them my life in the witness protection program by I figured I would get everything else my biological father is in jail in South America yes I talk
00:25:53to my father he calls me every day in jail and he has the last three years or three and a half years that he's been in human trafficking drug trafficking and murder couple different things is this true please tell me if it's true I will stick by you
00:26:08no matter what but I need to know the murder part of it is not something that like he's accused of doing himself but it's more like you might have hired somebody or might have been involved in something of course he assured me that he didn't do it and
00:26:21I choose to believe that I choose to believe that he is not capable I don't know the truth behind it but if you do a Google search on him his name comes up and it's tied up with some crazy **** so we really don't talk about it just
00:26:36it's really hurtful and I don't want to fight with my brother to be honest with you I just don't think I have the capacity in me to really want to know too much about it it's just not interesting to me why not because maybe I don't want to
00:26:51know the answers to it because I don't do drugs I've never done drugs like you guys have beers here I don't drink either I don't drink coffee like it's I just I just have like this thing about vices I really am nervous about like getting into anything that
00:27:07like will be habit forming as a family it's not something that we sit down and talk about to us it's it's our life when we talk about in the big picture it's like oh crazy you know having lived through it there's nothing much to talk about between us
00:27:28if I could change it I would have married no body you're putting whatever but things are what they are you know and not that time when I was doing that I felt that I was doing right helping stop the war on drugs up to this day I do
00:27:44feel good about that I think there are many people like me many people don't have someone to go to for help or guidance that can teach them the values are what they have done everyone will be so nice with one word love I will never regret doing what
00:28:13I did those drugs that were to come in all but one if I contribute to anything on my husband it is fine if not but what can you do said the past is the past just a story to tell R. A. Tirado was produced by pretty Baker Nick
00:29:04Vander Kolk Mike Martinez Tyler a myself crow all three parts were collaboration between the I. S. I love radio podcast proud to call in radio collaborators and pals for my money living radios on the best podcast there is no doubt about it influential storytelling near DC never heard
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00:29:44day and a total loser Heo Carlos's interviews formed in English by Daniel Rey marked don't forget to visit yeah yes radio dot orgy for visual supplemental lottery pirata photos taken by Justin hollered also thanks to being green me in a P. K. NYC and Michael Jones at studio
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