In Netflix’s crime drama series ‘Griselda,’ Papo Mejia challenges Griselda Blanco’s efforts to become the “Godmother” of the drug scene in Miami. As a rival drug trafficker, Papo tries his best to destroy Griselda’s empire, only for the latter to retaliate by targeting his family. Papo loses his loved ones, killed by Griselda’s men, in no time. The reality behind Griselda and Papo’s rivalry is not drastically different from its depiction in the period drama. Like the Godmother, Papo also had a quiet end to his life as a feared drug trafficker but sources suggest that he outlived the former despite her alleged attempts to celebrate his death!
Papo and Griselda’s Rivalry
Papo and Griselda were the key players in the Miami drug wars in the early 1980s. The rivalry between them peaked when the latter started targeting the former’s family. According to former DEA agent Michael Levine’s non-fiction book ‘The Big White Lie,’ three members of Griselda’s gang “machine-gunned to death” Papo’s father in a Miami shopping mall. Levine identified the incident as one of the starting points of the “Cocaine Cowboy Wars” of the early 1980s. Levine described Papo as a “wily killer with jungle instincts” who “left blood running in the Miami streets and a flotilla of corpses in the South Florida waterways.”
According to James Morton’s ‘The Mammoth Book of Gangs,’ Papo even issued a hit on Griselda’s head to eliminate her from the Miami drug scene. “Mejia had teamed up with two other dealers to eliminate Blanco, offering $300,000 for her death,” reads Morton’s book. During the same time, Griselda allegedly sent her top hitman Jorge “Rivi” Ayala-Rivera to kill Papo. “In late August 1982 Mejia was found to be in Las Palmas in the hills outside Medellin, Colombia. Ayala, along with Blanco’s son Osvaldo, followed him to a bar, threw a grenade at him, and shot him in the leg,” ‘The Mammoth Book of Gangs’ further reads.
During the peak of Papo and Griselda’s rivalry, he was stabbed several times by a man named Miguel Perez, who was allegedly sent by the “Godmother.” “Oddly, he [Papo] felt no pain as it [a bayonet] drove into his body near the base of his neck. […] The blade rose high in the air again and then buried itself to the hilt at the top of Papo’s stomach. The huge man screamed something unintelligible and drove the blade into Papo a third time. The massive hand encircled his throat once again, choking off a frightened cry of ‘Mami.’ The huge man raised the long blade seven more times, plunging it deeply into Papo’s neck, chest, and stomach,” Levine described the incident in ‘The Big White Lie.’
Papo’s Arrest and Release
Papo survived Miguel Perez’s attack but by then, he was the target of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Operation Hun, which included former agent Michael Levine. The DEA was able to find a way into the empire of Papo and several other drug dealers through Sonia Sanjinez De Atala, a Bolivian drug trafficker who struck a deal with the federal agency to help them capture high-profile criminals in return for protection. Papo was eventually indicted, making him a DEA fugitive while he was in Colombia. Five months after surviving Miguel Perez’s attack, he was put on trial in Tucson, Arizona. Levine testified during the trial against Papo with a significant piece of evidence.
“I wanted to make sure I had Mr. Mejia’s voice on tape. I wanted to prove his role in the conspiracy; that he knew he was getting drugs he had bought and paid for,” Levine said during the trial. At the end of it, Papo was sentenced to thirty years in prison and special parole for life. In the epilogue of Levine’s book, which was published in 1993, the author and former agent wrote about Papo’s life in prison.
“Papo Mejia has about 22 years remaining in prison, from where he has made it known that I am number one on his hit parade. He now considers me more responsible than Sonia for his current address — perhaps the Agency got to him. During a recent trip to Miami to research aspects of this book, I met with two of Mejia’s attorneys, who said they were hopeful of getting him out in eight years” reads ‘The Big White Lie.’ His lawyers did succeed in getting their client out of prison. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Papo was released in March 2000.
After Papo’s release from prison, it was rumored that he eventually died of a traffic accident. However, Martha Soto’s 2013 biography of Griselda ‘La Viuda Negra’ states that Papo was living in Colombia. Levine confirmed to the author about the drug trafficker’s return to Colombia after his release. Since then, Papo has stayed away from the spotlight.