Throughout the 1980s, Jorge "Rivi" Ayala-Rivera became infamous as the ruthless hitman of Miami drug lord Griselda Blanco — then he turned on her to save himself.
The life of a mobster is often riddled with danger and violence, but most mob bosses know not to get their own hands dirty — they outsource the work. Enter Jorge “Rivi” Ayala-Rivera, a professional hitman frequently employed by the “Cocaine Godmother” herself, Griselda Blanco.
Ayala was, in a sense, the perfect hitman for Blanco. He was Colombian-born, just like she was, but he grew up in Chicago. He spoke perfect English, and he didn’t exactly look Colombian, either. He was incredibly charming, and most importantly, he blended in.
But there was tension, too. His boss was far more violent than he was. Ayala even warned Blanco on multiple occasions that she was drawing too much attention.
So, when Ayala’s crimes finally caught up to him and he was arrested, he didn’t hold back from telling prosecutors all about his former employer.
Inside Jorge Ayala’s Criminal Beginnings
Born in Cali, Colombia, in 1957, Ayala immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was just a child. He grew up in Chicago, and as a result, he learned to speak English fluently.
His father took a job with General Motors, and for a brief time, Ayala worked under him as a mechanic. During this period, however, Ayala showed that he had the mind of a criminal: He made a fair amount of money on the side smuggling immigrants into the U.S.
Eventually, he started smuggling more than just people.
In 1979, Ayala took a job transporting a truck full of guns from Chicago to Miami — and he decided not to leave. At the time, Miami’s underworld was just starting to take off, and for a young, resourceful guy like Ayala, that meant plenty of opportunities for work.
He started off as a small-time enforcer, shaking people down when his employers needed to collect a debt.
Then, he met Griselda Blanco.
How Jorge ‘Rivi’ Ayala Became Griselda Blanco’s Top Hitman
Griselda Blanco was a violent boss. She was addicted to drugs, quick-tempered, and one of the deadliest women in the Colombian cocaine trade.
However, Blanco recognized Ayala’s unique qualities and quickly realized his value. Here was a ruthless, cold, and calculated man with an astonishing amount of charisma and no qualms about getting his hands dirty. He had earned the nickname “Riverita” — after a Colombian cartoon character — because of his unusually high-pitched voice, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a vicious killer.
Together, Blanco and Ayala made for a deadly combination. She wasn’t a woman known for her acts of kindness or patience — in fact, police believe she may have been behind as many as 250 murders, according to ABC News.
In 1982, Blanco ordered Ayala to kill a drug-dealing couple, Alfredo and Grizel Lorenzo, because they had not paid for a cocaine shipment. Ayala did as he was told and shot the couple dead in their South Miami home while their three children watched television in another room.
That same year, Blanco sent Ayala after a former cartel enforcer by the name of Jesus “Chucho” Castro. Ayala and the small team he commanded fired a flurry of bullets at Castro’s car as he was driving. Somehow, Castro survived — but his two-year-old son, Johnny, did not.
“At first [Blanco] was real mad ’cause we missed the father,” Ayala later told police, according to The Columbus Dispatch. “But when she heard we had gotten the son by accident, she said she was glad, that they were even.”
However, Blanco and Ayala’s partnership would ultimately be short-lived. Police eventually caught Blanco in 1985 and sentenced her to nearly two decades in prison on drug trafficking charges. By that point, police had heard of Ayala too — they just knew him by a different name.
“We were looking for a hit man named Riverita,” police captain Nelson Andreu told the Miami New Times in 2005. “We’d been looking for this guy we only knew as Riverita for a while. We assumed he probably was named Rivera or Rivero and the nickname was based on that.”
Then, Jorge Ayala-Rivera was arrested after robbing a bank in Chicago, and investigators quickly made the connection that he was the “Riverita” they had been looking for.
His Key Testimony Against Griselda Blanco
Once police had Ayala in custody, they were able to tie him to several murders, and he was faced with the possibility of the death penalty. So, in 1993, Ayala struck a deal with prosecutors: He would tell them all about Blanco’s drug trafficking business if they agreed to spare his life.
His testimony painted a clear picture of the kind of woman Griselda Blanco was. As Andreu said:
“He probably killed, or saw killed, at least 30 people. And this guy was reasonable compared to Blanco. I remember talking with him after we caught him, and there’s this hit man describing his attempts to convince Blanco to be more careful because she was drawing too much attention.”
Ayala described to investigators one instance in which Blanco had asked him to kill someone who was inside a club. Ayala took an ice pick with him, entered the elevator with his target, and was a moment away from striking the man when a cop got on the elevator, as well.
When Ayala left and told Blanco that he wasn’t able to carry out the hit, she reportedly flew into a rage and told him to get the machine gun from his trunk, take it into the club, and open fire. Instead, Ayala convinced her to wait. Once the target left the club, Ayala followed him in his car and sprayed him along the highway, killing an innocent bystander in the process.
With both Ayala and Blanco behind bars, investigators now had enough information to make sure they would both stay behind bars. In Blanco’s case, Ayala’s testimony could have also landed her a death sentence.
Fortunately for Blanco, a scandal involving Ayala prevented this from happening.
How Jorge Ayala Inadvertently Spared Griselda Blanco’s Life
In 1998, investigators learned just how charming Jorge Ayala could really be. While he was in prison, he had reportedly been in frequent contact with not just one but three secretaries at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office.
Not only had the three secretaries been engaging in phone sex with Ayala, but they also exchanged photographs with him and received money and gifts.
An investigation ensued, and despite claims from one secretary that she had been told by then-prosecutor Cathy Vogel to “flirt” with Ayala, all three secretaries were let go from their positions. The scandal destroyed prosecutors’ hopes of using Ayala’s testimony against Blanco.
Instead, Blanco was able to take a plea deal that allowed her to avoid the death penalty. She was deported to Colombia in 2004, but she had made a lot of enemies there. Her homecoming was anything but welcoming.
Still, she managed to make it another eight years before meeting her own brutal end.
Jorge Ayala, meanwhile, was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. He has tried several times to appeal for a lower sentence, but so far, those pleas have fallen on deaf ears. If he is ever released from prison, he, too, will be deported to Colombia.
After learning about Jorge Rivi Ayala, the top hitman for Griselda Blanco, read about Woody Harrelson’s father, Charles Harrelson, who worked as a hitman for a Texas drug lord. Then, go inside the story of Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel.