The big event in this story was an audience at the Palacio de la Zarzuela with the Kings of Spain.
That would be the gateway of the Colombian Alejandro Estrada to the Spanish nobility.
He would become the Duke of Cardona, surrounded by a series of witnesses who had been preparing for the moment for months.
One day, they sat at a table in a restaurant in Medellín to receive protocol classes, nobody wanted to look bad before a king.
Another, they went to Carolina Herrera to choose her wardrobe.
There photos were taken to send to the Palace, no one could dress the same as Queen Letizia.
All this is now told by their victims, between modesty and rage.
This is the story of a scam, uncovered by Radio Ambulante, as real as it is incredible.
In her 14 years as a professor at the University of Medellín Law School, lawyer Kelly Córdoba had seen hundreds of students pass by.
Alejandro Estrada, who is 29 years old today, was just one more.
Until one day in 2019 she came across him near her office.
The boy was with his mother, Olga Cardona, a very elegant woman who did not go unnoticed.
She asked him for advice on a legal case and Córdoba put them in contact with the law firm of her husband, Andrés Vasco, who handled the case.
In barely a year, that young man who called her "teacher" would be playing in her house with her daughters and Olga having lunch with her mother, as if they were part of her family.
The circle was widening.
María Angélica Rendón, closer in age to Alejo, as all of her victims would end up calling him, also worked at the firm.
She seemed like the perfect friend, a soul mate.
His tastes were those of María Angélica: they were interested in fashion, they were excited by the same series.
“He studied me perfectly, but I didn't realize it,” she says.
After the pandemic, she introduced him to his group of friends.
His boyfriend liked it wonderfully.
The relationship was no longer one of teacher-student, nor of lawyer-client.
The friendship became so strong that Kelly felt "like a son."
At Olga's birthday to which they were invited, they confessed their great secret.
The boy's grandfather was the Duke of Cardona, Venancio Cardona, a Spanish nobleman who accumulated land, companies, and million-dollar bank accounts.
A man who had decided to bequeath all his wealth to his only male grandson, the nice Alejandro.
He did it under a hundred conditions: Alejandro had to be economically independent, create a company that worked and, above all, he had to have known true friendship.
When he managed to meet all the requirements, he would be given the dukedom and the inheritance, according to a Spanish court.
The mother was such a millionaire that she had apartments in Paris or New York, but she couldn't give her son a penny.
The conditions of the inheritance prohibited it, Alejo had to get it by his own means.
No one better than his new friends to help him fulfill that purpose.
The first money the couple lent him was for the boy to run a business: 20 million pesos (4,000 euros).
The first trip to Spain
In the summer of 2021, Alejandro and his mother had to travel to Spain so that the regional Economic Administrative Court of Madrid, which was supposedly handling the case, would release some accounts in his name.
He asked the couple to accompany them.
Once in Madrid, Alejandro entered the court alone while the rest waited for him in a downtown Starbucks.
When he returned, the boy told them that he had had a fantastic stroke of luck and a supposed court adviser had offered to help him confidentially to fulfill the conditions of the grandfather.
This is how Iñaki Cortés y Valenzuela entered the scene, whom no one would ever see, but from that day on he would write hundreds of emails and WhatsApp messages to the entire group
Cortés arrived with new conditions: Alejo had to have a series of witnesses to get the money.
The married couple of lawyers, María Angélica and other chosen ones became part of that circle.
Already in Colombia, for months, the group prepared for the great trip to Spain, which will include several hearings before the court and the royal reception.
By then, the loans were multiplying from different hands.
The accumulated debt with his witnesses/friends/victims was increasing.
Alejandro made his friends believe that the Prosecutor's Office was investigating him and, with him, the rest of the witnesses.
Nothing makes sense now told like this, but at the time everyone felt real fear because the young man sometimes reproduced conversations that others kept private.
"We were subjected to emotional terrorism," explains María Angélica.
Everyone put their phone on airplane mode or left it in another room, under the constant idea that someone was watching them.
If it ever crossed their minds to investigate something because Olga and Alejo's explanations did not add up, they would immediately be paralyzed by fear.
Mother and son were also playing their cards.
On one occasion, the couple got their money back to regain trust, but soon after they asked for more.
And then more.
In total, Kelly and Andrés lost about 140 million pesos (28,000 euros), they also took over what their relatives lost - "because of ethics, because they knew them from us" - another 90 million (18,000 euros).
Even today they continue to pay a loan that they had taken out in their favor.
In total, among the 18 known victims, mother and son defrauded some 1,200 million pesos (240,000 euros).
The second trip to Spain
The culminating moment of this story was the second trip to Spain, in January 2022. Eight witnesses came, mother and son.
Everyone to a hotel -paid for by their contributions- with a tourist program organized by the court that included a visit to Toledo, where the Cardona family owned a castle, or taking group photos on the Gran Vía, to show that the friendship was true .
The court hearings never took place, except for the actual reception, and nerves among the group were mounting.
Faced with the alleged delays, Alejandro was devastated.
He cried and broke down and asked them for one last effort.
There was so much love and money invested that it was easier for everyone to believe than to stop doing it.
Alejandro had become an expert forger of documents.
There were court documents that witnesses presented at work in order to travel or papers that reported delays in hearings.
They returned to Colombia with the promise to return in just eight days.
At that point, nothing made sense anymore.
Suspicions were growing.
The hearings were still delayed in Spain and the explanations were confusing.
The certainty that something was happening was greater than the fear and they began to investigate.
Neither Venancio Cardona nor Iñaki existed, nor was any Spanish court pending any legacy.
They were simply victims of a scam.
On May 6, 2022, mother and son were on a trip to New York.
Andrés and Kelly decided to set them up.
They told them that they should return to Medellín because they had managed to get someone to raise the money to start paying off the accumulated debts.
They, by video call, showed them Olga's New York apartment, which hours later Kelly would find advertised on Airbnb.
They promised to return, but they never did, perhaps they already suspected that they had been discovered.
It was the last time they spoke to their victims.
Since day, no one has heard from them again.
The Duke of Cardona and his mother were swallowed up by the earth.
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