Alejandro Corredor managed to seem like a typical family man in the two years he lived on Fontana Street in Fairway.
He introduced himself to neighbors as Alex, and when a lady from across the street gave him the stink-eye for letting his lawn grow scruffy, he promptly hired a landscaper to keep it neat.
People take care of their lawns in this neighborhood of tall trees. And they drive slowly, because children play here, younger residents jog, neighbors walk dogs.
The $180,000 single-story home Corredor rented with his wife and two children, with its screened-in porch and beige exterior, doesn’t stand out at all.
The boss of one of Kansas City’s biggest drug trafficking operations, Corredor sought refuge in his modest Fairway house and the relative security of suburbia. He took care to blend in on Fontana Street, away from a mounting federal investigation and rivals who targeted his drugs and money.
He felt safe here. Until one October evening when two men kicked in his front door.
A neighbor, sitting on her porch and talking on the phone, watched in shock as the men broke in, carried Corredor’s big-screen TV out of the house and drove away. She hung up and called 911.
The burglary exposed another side of Corredor, one he had taken pains to hide when he settled in Johnson County.
It was on Fontana Street that he reached the height of his career as the head of a drug trafficking ring with close ties to the Sinaloa drug cartel of Mexico, according to court documents, testimony and dozens of interviews. During his years here, the 37-year-old Colombian national made more than $5 million selling cocaine and marijuana.
And when he was sentenced to federal prison last month, the judge took into special account one of the orders Corredor was willing to carry out for the cartel: Arranging a murder.
Born in Bogota, Colombia, Corredor emigrated to the United States in the winter of 1995, seeking a better future. He began his new life working as a busboy and later as a bilingual customer service representative.
He started using marijuana and cocaine and made friends with a fellow Colombian who smuggled drugs into Kansas City from El Paso, Texas.
Corredor found he had a talent for selling drugs. He once borrowed a kilogram of cocaine — worth $15,000 at the time — from a dealer, with the understanding that it could take days or weeks to sell in retail amounts, as he later testified in federal court.
Corredor sold the kilo in one day.
Soon, he was selling two kilos a week and pocketing up to $3,000 each time.
Corredor’s bilingual skills, personality, and social networking made him a “perfect storm” in the words of federal agents who investigate drug trafficking. Able to speak English and Spanish, he could make connections with smugglers who trafficked in wholesale quantities. And, as a longtime drug user, he had no trouble finding willing buyers.
Just as important, Corredor was smart enough to buy low, sell high and avoid detection for years.
He bought an auto garage and some houses, and told his girlfriend, Melissa, that his money came from fixing up and renting the homes.
Melissa, a self-described “country girl,” was naive, she said in an interview.
Corredor met Melissa in 2001 and pursued her for months before she broke up with her boyfriend, a Lawrence police officer.
They salsa danced and partied with his friends. “Alejo,” as she called him, struck her as an intelligent man. She was drawn to his nice-guy personality.
As Melissa worked her way through nursing school while supporting her younger brother, Corredor offered to help.
“He told me that, you know, I wouldn’t have to work, and I could concentrate on going to school and my brother could live with us,” Melissa said.
Corredor hid his illegal business from Melissa, but the truth started intruding on their relationship almost as soon as they were married in 2003.
The couple went to the immigration office to obtain Corredor’s green card. Sitting at the immigration officer’s desk in a small office, Melissa presented Corredor’s visa. The immigration officer carefully examined it, tilting it as if he was looking for a hologram or watermark that would indicate its validity. Then, he looked up at Corredor and said, “You know this isn’t real, right?” Corredor’s face turned beet red. Melissa felt her whole body get hot.
“I felt lied to, I felt angry and then I felt like I didn’t know if I was going to be in trouble because of him,” she said. “I actually almost went and got the damn thing annulled.”
Melissa stayed with him. Married to a U.S. citizen, Corredor avoided difficulties with immigration authorities.
“The man I knew was a good man,” she said. “He was smart and had his head on straight; then he turned into someone crazy.”
As his drug business grew, Corredor assembled an organization of dealers, couriers, stash houses and enforcers. One after another, his suppliers went to jail or disappeared, and Corredor took their places, moving up a step in the chain of supply each time. By 2005, he added 200 pounds of marijuana a week to his inventory, along with more kilos of cocaine.
The marriage suffered as Corredor changed with his business. He began to talk and dress like his friends, shedding his Tommy Hilfiger button-up shirts and khaki pants for white T-shirts, baggy sweatpants and gold chains. He put gold rims on his 1996 electric green Mustang.
Corredor stayed away from home for extended periods, and Melissa didn’t like some of his new friends. She thought it suspicious that, although they all spoke English, Corredor conversed with them in Spanish at the house.
“That’s when he kind of started changing like just the way he acted towards me,” Melissa said.
“Everything was starting to go downhill.”
The trouble came to a head later in 2005, when Melissa came face to face with her husband’s other life.
Police had arrested Corredor in Meade, Kan., near the Oklahoma border. He was driving a lookout car as part of a caravan shipping 45 pounds of cocaine north to Kansas City from El Paso.
Word got to Melissa that she needed to find the drugs in her basement and get rid of them. Soon, she was staring at a nightmare: 25 bricks of cocaine and a trash bag full of marijuana.
Melissa was terrified and didn’t know what to do. She tried flushing the drugs down the toilet, but the white and green narcotic mess clogged the plumbing. She decided to flee, stuffed some clothes into a backpack, coaxed her black Cane Corso and black Lab into her blue Nissan Frontier and drove to a girlfriend’s home.
“I freaked out and left that day, and I didn’t turn back,” she said.
Corredor spent six months in the Meade County jail, but police didn’t have enough evidence to connect him to the drugs and they released him. After a short break from drug dealing, Corredor made a direct connection with the Sinaloa cartel and found himself in deeper than ever.
“After that, I think it’s when he spiraled out of control because he got off with that,” she said.
Melissa never returned, and they were later officially divorced.
Corredor met his second wife, Cindi, months later. The next year, he found a home for her and their children in Fairway.
Corredor, a rising power in the Kansas City drug business in 2006, did everything he could to stay under the radar when he moved his family to the suburbs.
Corredor met Cindi, his second wife, at a friend’s birthday party at Red Lobster. They moved in together on Fontana Street and married at her uncle’s church two years later. Cindi had two children when they met, and Corredor treated them as his own, she said in an interview.
Unlike Melissa, Cindi knew exactly what Corredor did for a living and chose to turn a blind eye to it.
“His business was his business,” she said. “I would tell him, ‘If you don’t bring it to the house, I don’t care.’ ”
Before the Corredors moved in, the previous occupants drew neighbors’ complaints about noise and loud parties.
The Corredors, on the other hand, kept things quiet.
“When the Corredors moved in, everything just stopped,” said Fairway Police Chief Mike Fleming. “They did everything they could to keep the spotlight off of them.”
The only parties they threw were Saturday birthday parties for the kids with Cindi’s family. Corredor’s idea of a good time at home? Watching soccer and football on his big-screen TV.
Chief Fleming occasionally saw the kids playing in the driveway, and he, at least initially, viewed Corredor as a successful young businessman living within his means. Neighbors described him as clean-cut and polite.
Corredor told people he was in the music business. That helped explain the odd hours Corredor kept, often coming and going at all hours of the night.
And he was in the music business. A few years earlier he had become friends with two rappers who started a local hip-hop group and concert promotion company, Block Life Entertainment. He recruited Dandrae “Bird” Jones and Dennis “Wescrook” Westbrook to sell cocaine for him, and as Corredor’s drug trade grew, he was able to invest $250,000 of drug money into Block Life. (Jones and Westbrook were later convicted of selling cocaine.)
Block Life Entertainment was just one of the facades Corredor used to hide his other lifestyle. Like the rental houses and the auto shop, it was a front for his true business.
Other than that, the Corredors lived much like any other family.
Sundays were family days. Corredor took the children bowling and to the movies — one of his favorite fun spots was the PowerPlay arcade in Shawnee.
“They loved him dearly,” Cindi said.
Meanwhile, Corredor reached the height of his career when he made a direct connection to the Sinaloa cartel in 2008, according to court documents and authorities. That connection was a man Corredor knew as “Flaco.”
That’s Spanish for “skinny.”
Flaco’s real name was Martin Gaspar Castaneda-Morales. Corredor testified that Flaco gave him a credit line on 50 kilos of cocaine — worth $1.2 million — every other week. He could do that because Flaco managed cartel drug distribution chains in Missouri, Texas, Colorado and Tennessee.
Each shipment was driven up from Mexico by one of Flaco’s couriers, with the drugs hidden in secret compartments built into the vehicle. Corredor unloaded the drugs at one of several stash houses in Kansas City and divided up the packages for his lieutenants. He had an older man on his payroll whose only job was to keep drugs at his house and deliver kilos to Corredor when he called.
As those shipments came in from Mexico, the money poured in from the streets. They also raised the stakes for Corredor. The security of those drug shipments and his ability to pay in a timely fashion were matters of life and death.
One strategy Corredor used to survive and avoid detection was to compartmentalize his life.
He kept his home and his family as far as possible from his other life.
He also kept separate phones.
“One, I handled my drug business,” he said. “And the other one I talked to my family members and friends.”
That’s why Joseph Marquez, the lead federal prosecutor on the case, said he wasn’t surprised to find a drug dealer of Corredor’s stature living in Fairway. Organized crime figures have always sought safe, quiet homes. The old bosses of the Italian Mafia did the same thing in Kansas City, as they did in Chicago and New York.
Corredor had investments to protect, which wasn’t always easy. He lost thousands of dollars in cash and drugs to thieves who repeatedly robbed one of his stash houses in Kansas City while he lived in Fairway.
“He was a target, too,” Marquez said. “There are people who target drug dealers because they have drugs and money, and Corredor knew that.”
And, like any modern member of an organized crime outfit, Corredor was aware of the federal government’s proclivity for phone tapping. He never talked business on his home phone, and he periodically dumped the cell phones he used for business and bought others. The constant changing of numbers makes getting a wiretap order more time-consuming for investigators.
For a while, Corredor behaved much like anyone else when he was at home on Fontana Street playing with the kids or taking out the trash.
But by 2008, the music business and growing wealth had changed him. Onlookers started to wonder who Alex Corredor really was.
Chief Fleming remembers driving by the house one day and spotting, for the first time, Corredor’s Humvee H2 parked outside. Corredor used the Humvee to promote Block Life Entertainment, and he’d covered it with a colorful decal wrap.
“You put that in a neighborhood and it just sticks out like a sore thumb,” Fleming said.
And it wasn’t just the Humvee. His 760 Li BMW, Cadillac Escalade and F-150 truck all advertised how much money he was making.
At this point, Fleming said, “it was very obvious this was not an insurance guy living there. This was not the ‘guy next door.’ ”
After their home was broken into in October 2008, Corredor moved his family out of the house and across the state line to Kansas City. Cindi said she didn’t usually ask Corredor about his business, but she did start to ask questions about the strange cars that sometimes parked up the street from their home or followed them when they went out.
Who was in those cars? Were they in trouble?
“No, baby, you don’t have to worry about that,” Corredor would tell her.
Cindi was right to ask questions in the spring of 2009.
Corredor was being followed. The Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement had made him a primary target of a joint wiretap investigation. They were listening to Corredor’s phone, and they were following the money.
Last fall, speaking to Corredor through a video monitor at the Lafayette County jail, Cindi teased him about those days.
Now he had to snitch on the cartel and his friends just to avoid a death penalty or a life sentence.
“I told you so,” she reminded him.
“I know,” he would answer. “I know.”
Corredor had been popping up on federal wiretaps for years, under the aliases “Lulu” and “Rolo,” but investigators didn’t start to close in on him until October 2008.
He got the full attention of ICE when DEA agents raided a Kansas City house used by his cocaine supplier. Inside, they discovered a suitcase full of cocaine with his full name on the luggage tag. They also arrested two Mexican nationals at the house and seized $151,000 in a trash bag, an automatic money counter and a notebook containing detailed records of the cocaine and money moving in and out of the house, along with names.
According to the ledger, Corredor had received 572 kilos — worth as much as $1.4 million at the time — of cocaine in the last four months.
For the next several months, ICE agents tracked Corredor’s movements using a GPS locator they’d hidden inside his truck. They photographed him selling cocaine to a local drug dealer and went through the garbage at his mother-in-law’s house, where they found plastic tape that had once concealed five bricks of cocaine. The agents saw it as evidence he was using the house to move cocaine and obtained a court ordered wiretap on Corredor’s phone in February 2009.
With the wiretap, ICE and the DEA could see inside Corredor’s organization. They learned whom he was selling drugs to and where they did business. The federal agents knew how and when Corredor was shipping the money he’d been collecting back to Mexico. This allowed them to play havoc with his business.
In March 2009, agents on surveillance watched three Mexican nationals load money into a Jeep Cherokee in the backyard of a Kansas City home. After the men left Kansas City, agents tipped off the Missouri Highway Patrol, who stopped the car in Cass County. Officers found $1.6 million concealed in the door panels of the jeep and another vehicle it was hauling on a trailer.
Agents seized an additional $700,000 in two other traffic stops. Flaco was pressuring Corredor to pay his tab. He also asked Corredor to carry out other cartel business in Kansas City.
Later, when ICE agents played back the phone calls caught on the wiretap for Corredor, he decided to make a deal. As he later testified, he was willing to risk betraying his cartel suppliers if it meant avoiding a death penalty case or life sentence.
“Best thing for me and my family,” Corredor testified. “I started talking about the murders.”
In April 2009, a Kansas City landlord stood outside an apartment he managed, urging his brother not to go in.
The rotten smell and unanswered knocks gave him a bad feeling. His brother stuck a key in the door, but it was already unlocked.
Inside, they saw a man slumped over a loveseat, his blood and skull fragments splattered on the wall and white carpet.
The victim, Steven James, was an acquaintance of Corredor’s. He had a reputation on the street for stealing drugs.
Weeks before, Flaco had called Corredor asking about a stolen load of marijuana in Kansas City, Kan. He wanted Corredor to find out who robbed it and compel them to either return the merchandise or pay for it.
“It was a special kind of weed,” Corredor later testified in federal court.
“So it was easy to track it down and see who had that type of weed in town.”
Corredor learned that it was James who stole the load. But James wasn’t willing to cooperate.
Flaco wasn’t happy. He told Corredor to have James killed.
“I was put in a situation where I was afraid of my safety and my family’s safety,” he later told a federal judge. “I was working for them, and either you are with them or against them.”
He paid two associates $2,000 upfront for the murder. They visited James one evening to hang out, eat tacos and get high. At some point, one of the men stepped behind James and shot him in the head.
After hearing about James’ funeral, Corredor paid each man an additional $4,000.
Two months later, Corredor paid for another killing, he testified. On the morning of June 4, Lujan Salgado, a Mexican national suspected of talking to police about the cartel, was shot in his driveway as he took out the trash. Salgado survived and was deported to Mexico.
Corredor was not charged with his role in the James murder and no one was ever charged in the Salgado shooting.
A few days later, ICE investigators, listening to wiretaps, heard plans of a violent retaliation for the robbery of a Corredor stash house. The chief investigators of ICE and the DEA had to make a decision: keep listening to the wiretap and seize more narcotics? Or stop the violence and end the investigation prematurely?
They chose the latter, and on June 12, 2009, police arrested Corredor at his home in southern Kansas City, concluding a two-year investigation. He and Cindi were part of a sweeping indictment that involved 30 other individuals, most of them from Kansas City and Mexico.
Corredor testified in June 2011 that he worried for the safety of himself and his family after his arrest. He knew what the cartel did to “dedos” — or snitches — and he knew firsthand the long reach of the Sinaloa cartel in the U.S.
But he was caught on tape and on camera in a major drug conspiracy, and facing a possible death sentence if he was charged in the James murder.
So, Corredor chose to cooperate with authorities. He testified in state court against the shooter he hired to kill Steven James, leading to a conviction, and against several other defendants in two federal trials. Cindi, arrested along with Corredor, pleaded guilty to money laundering and cooperated with authorities. After spending several months in jail, she was released on probation two days before Christmas in 2009.
The court cases were still winding their way through the system in May 2010, when Flaco, who had escaped arrest, was murdered in Mexico. A Mexican newspaper, the Puente Libre, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, reported that he was shot to death on a street corner in that city, along with another man and a woman who were not identified.
Last month, when U.S. marshals led a shackled Corredor into a federal courtroom to be sentenced, he bore little resemblance to the heavy-set, smiling man with a round face who lived in Fairway.
Now thin and pale after spending three years in county jails as the case dragged on, he saw his 2-year-old daughter in person for the first time. She was born after his arrest in 2009, and Cindi brought her to the courtroom.
Corredor had pleaded guilty to charges of distributing cocaine, bulk cash smuggling, money laundering and a gun charge. Now, Corredor listened as both his defense attorney and the prosecutor gave Judge Nanette Laughrey reasons to reduce his sentence from the maximum life in prison.
His attorney, Sean Pickett, told the judge that Corredor was determined to rehabilitate himself and reunite with his family, despite also facing deportation back to Colombia.
“The only thing that matters to him is family,” he said.
Corredor tended to be successful in what he set out to do, even if some of those things were criminal, Pickett argued.
“He sets goals and he meets them.”
Marquez, the lead prosecutor, credited Corredor with helping the state convict the shooter in the 2009 murder of Steven James, and reminded the judge that his testimony helped send 14 people to prison.
“He’s done an exemplary job for us, judge,” Marquez said. “He has done everything we asked him to do, and then some. It’s the first time in my career a defendant has cooperated and done the things this defendant has done.”
Marquez recommended 20 years without parole.
Corredor’s attorney asked for a sentence of less than 13 years, and added two requests.
First, he asked that Corredor not be sent to the federal prison at Leavenworth because he faced grave risks as an informer. His co-defendants, and others associated with the cartel, know all about his cooperation with the government, and Mexican cartels are notorious for their brutal killings of informants. Pickett told the judge that Corredor’s “Block Life” tattoos easily identified him.
Second, Pickett asked the judge to allow Corredor to hold his daughter for just a moment before the marshals took him to prison.
Judge Laughrey sentenced Corredor to 30 years.
“You seem to me to be a very cold man, Mr. Corredor,” the judge said. “A very cold and very calculating man.”
She agreed to recommend that Corredor not be sent to Leavenworth. He awaits his assignment to a prison.
She denied Corredor’s request to hold his daughter.
The next occupant of the house on Fontana Street found her neighbors a little standoffish.
A neighbor used a snowplow to clear everyone’s driveways, but left hers alone. She asked him about it, but he put her off with excuses about the liability. She heard rumors about the previous occupant of the house, but when she asked other neighbors, most offered only vague explanations.
Finally, she called Chief Fleming and asked for a security check on her house. The police checked the locks and security systems on her house, and, recognizing it from the search warrant, explained the history of her new home.
From then on, it gave her pause when she saw cars drive by the house slowly. She hoped no one thought there were drugs or money in the house.
“I always worry,” she said. “I want to tell them: They don’t live here anymore.”
Eventually, she got to know one of her neighbors, who vouched for her. She came home one winter day to find her driveway cleared of snow, just like everyone else’s.
To reach Ian Cummings, send email to email@example.com or call 816-234-4449.