It sounds like a scene straight out of a movie, but reality is sometimes even stranger than fiction. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal exposed the over-the-top luxuries enjoyed by some of Mexico's biggest drug kingpins. From leopard-skin Rolex watches to endangered species, it seems that for Mexico's head honchos, nothing is too rare, expensive or ostentatious to collect.
So where does all this loot go when top criminals are captured? Enter the Asset Administration and Disposal Service, or SAE as it's known in Mexico. Oma Yaffar, 36, a manager at the SAE, explains, "You realize that the mansions in movies like Scarface aren't exaggerations. The real thing can be more amazing."
On a recent site visit, Yaffar went to check out a house that federal police had seized during a raid of a gang of Colombian drug traffickers. The house had meticulously cultivated and maintained grounds, a stable, a disco complete with stripper poles and an underground hot-tub complex featuring faux stalactites, and a glass skylight with a window into a lion and tiger habitat.
But it's not all bling and booty for the SAE agents. Ricardo Hernandez, a 36-year-old SAE agent, said that what he saw at the home of one kidnapper chilled him to the bone. Upon arriving at the site of one of Mexico's most infamous kidnapping cases, he was confronted by a home decorated as a shrine to Santa Muerte, a figure worshiped by Mexican criminals. A demonic rendition of the Last Supper also hung on the wall, with the faces of Jesus and his disciples disfigured in grotesque ways.
"I don't like seeing kidnappers' houses," Mr. Hernandez admitted. "That really affected me."
SAE agents have also confiscated works by some of Mexico's preeminent artists, including Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo. In a country where corruption runs rampant, the SAE is seen as a a model of transparency. Prior to the agency's creation, money and articles seized by the police had a tendency to disappear.