Norman's Cay is a small island in the Bahamas--210 miles off the Florida coast.
For four years it was a drug smuggling hub and tropical hideaway for Medellin
cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder and associates.
Lehder arrived there in 1978 and started buying up large pieces of property,
including a home for himself, a hotel and an airstrip. With his arrival, the
locals noticed a marked increase in airplane traffic on the island's tiny
airstrip, as well as armed guards patrolling the beaches. In July 1980, a
yacht belonging to a retired Fort Meyers couple was found drifting with a
corpse and blood stains on board near Norman's Cay. Eventually Lehder harassed the
island's residents and visitors until they fled, while Bahamian Prime Minister
Lynden Pindling, who investigators believe had accepted Lehder's bribes, did
nothing to stop him. He in effect took over the entire island.
Lehder's scheme was to revolutionize the cocaine trade by transporting the drug
to the U.S. using small aircraft. Previously drug dealers had to rely on human
"mules" to smuggle the drugs in suitcases on regular commerical flights. Under
Lehder's scheme, much greater quantities could be transported with far less
risk of interception. Norman's Cay became the stop-over and refueling hub for
these planes, carrying cocaine for Lehder and other members of the Medellin
cartel from Colombia to the U.S. Lehder built a 3,300-foot runway protected by
radar, bodyguards and Doberman attack dogs for the fleet of aircraft under his
With the Bahamian authorities looking the other way and the local inhabitants
scared off, the island became a haven of debauchery for Lehder and his
associates. Carlos Toro remembers, "Norman's Cay was a playground. I
have a vivid picture of being picked up in a Land Rover with the top down and
naked women driving to come and welcome me from my airplane...And there we
partied. And it was a Sodom and Gomorrah...drugs, sex, no police...you made
the rules...and it was fun."
The party came to an end in 1982 when the Bahamian government, in response to
pressure from U.S. law enforcement, finally began to crack down on the
activities on Norman's Cay.
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