So you're sort of beating the system. Now you're sort of an outlaw.
Not sort of. I crossed over the line--but at that time I was still on the
verge of not thinking that I was really doing anything against the law or
anything bad because I was simply supplying a need that everybody my age wanted
and I wasn't looked upon as the guy in the black hat in the Sedan hanging
outside the school yard. In fact, I was welcomed. There were movie stars and
rock stars. I became a pot star. I glorified in that. And of course as time
wore on the business began to expand and grow. It went from more or less a
college fun thing to a serious business. As the money grew, the power grew.
In '68 I was transporting pot back to the Northeast in Amherst, the college
areas. At that point I was buying it in Southern California and then conceived
the idea of why not go down to Mexico and get our own pot and fly it across the
border and then transport it back east in motorhomes, and triple our profit.
And so, at that time I had no idea of Mexico. I've been to bull fights in
Tijuana with some of my college buddies but that was about all I knew of
Mexico. I had seen a movie called "Night of the Iguana" with Liz Taylor and
Richard Burton and I've heard it was filmed in Puerto Vallarta and ironically
enough that's the area I chose to go to. Spent several weeks there looking for
a connection. We couldn't speak Spanish and after about 2 weeks there
everybody was more or less burned out on the whole idea and wanted to return to
the United States and carry on with the supply of business we had. Find out
the last day we were leaving, we met a young lady in a yellow Volkswagen beetle
and she came up to us and took us for a ride. Asked us what we were doing
there and we told her--
No. A little American hippie girl. She said I happen to live with a guy,
Mexican, who has all the pot you want and so she took us over there. He was the son
of a Mexican general. And that's how that all began.
Well he was kind of crazy, too. But we went along with what he said. There were sport fishing boats in the Puerto Vallarta area, and Puerto Vallarta extends out into a point, which is called Point [Damia], and he [informed] us we could keep the plane at the airport in Puerto Vallarta and then hop over to Point Damia which was like 10 miles, and the pot would be taken over there across Banderas Bay and loaded onto the plane. There was no access road into Point Damia at that time. And it was simply a matter of flying back into the United States. As concerning where to land, up by Palm Springs, California there were dry lake beds and we used those. The first flight, I did it with myself and another fellow, and was in the Cherokee 6 and I wasn't really proficient in flying. I only took lessons to fly this Cherokee 6 and in the initial flight we got lost out over the Pacific and I knew I was somewhat 100 miles off my course and it was starting to get dark and I didn't have any instrument rating and paranoia set in. So I turned to the East and finally found the mountain pass and luckily just before dark set in I arrived at the dry lake beds. It was a frightening trip and all. After that I decided to hire professional pilots.
We rented a huge villa on the beach in Puerto Vallarta and from the balcony you
could see Point Damia with field glasses and we set up a radio communication.
We used to take 600-800 pounds of pot at the time in these single engine planes
into the United States and we were basically getting it for $20.00 a kilo down
there and selling it anywheres between $300-350 in the United States. But it
was still a hell of a lot of work. It involved transporting it back in motor
homes from California area to Amherst which was basically a 3-day trip in
itself driving non-stop. What we tried to do is 2 trips a month. The income
from it was probably, there were 3 or 4 of us involved, we were more or less
making $50,000-100,000 apiece a month.
Basically in the beginning it was some fear, but like anything else if you do
it enough time you lose your fear, or if you don't, you get out of the
business. I analyzed this over the years, I was a fear junkie. That's what
happened to me. The fear is the high itself. It's an adrenaline pump.
You mean in reference to morality? I felt that there was nothing wrong with what I was doing because I was supplying a product to people that wanted it and it was accepted. I mean nobody really was making any negative statements about marijuana. In fact it was being accepted, I think at one time, in the 60s it came close to being legalized. Have a Woodstock where half-a-million people showed up and everybody smoking marijuana. Where else will get a gather of half-a-million people where no one was murdered, there was no violence or what have you.
Nixon wasn't really considered the president by the youth of America. He was
considered to be a fraud and which he proved himself to be. There were two
mindsets. There was a mindset of the youth of that era that they were against
the Vietnam war. And I think it was the first time in the history of the
United States where a whole generation stood up and said no to the president of
the United States and other authority figures because they felt they were
morally right. You know I think it brought a fear to the government itself.
And drugs just happened to enter on to the scene. People were basically looking
the other way or just accepting it as kids will be kids and nobody really stood
up to try to stop it. Nobody really came across and said it's evil. I don't
think anybody understood it or really knew what the hell was going on. It was
just like a snowball coming down a mountain and when it got too big, then they
didn't know what the hell to do with it.
I was arrested in Chicago with a trunk full of pot that I was transporting, and
I was staying at the Playboy Club and the connection that was supposed to take
the pot was also involved in the heroin business, which I had no idea he was
doing, and he got arrested for that, and of course then to save his soul he
informed on me and they arrested me for the pot. Strange thing, when they
arrested me for the pot, the federal agents, they said, "We're sorry, we really
don't want to bust pot people but this is tied into a heroin operation and we
have to arrest you."
I would have never involved myself. I thought heroin was evil and morally,
myself, I thought that pot was okay. That it wasn't a bad thing and so
therefore thought I wasn't doing a bad thing. I knew I was breaking the law
but I thought that the law was wrong also. So I morally justified what I was
doing. But if somebody had come to me and said will you move heroin, I would
have told them no.
Danbury was a very unique place within itself. It was mostly a population of
white collar criminals, and some major smugglers were in there, but in those
days you did very little of your time. They had a system of parole and you did
more or less one-third parole and you were out. And it was a very mellow,
laid-back place. I knew a lot of interesting people in Danbury. From bankers
to lawyers to doctors to Indian chiefs. You could more or less learn anything
you wanted to learn in there in reference to illicit activities. It was
basically a school. My bunk mate was Carlos Lehder, he said he was from
Colombia and he spoke excellent English, well mannered and his clothes were
pretty neat. I figured I was pretty lucky to have somebody that was kind of
mellow and well mannered and articulate in English. As time wore on, we got
to know each other and then he asked me if I knew anything about cocaine and I
told him no. And I said, "Why don't you tell me about it." And he said, "Did
you know it sells for $60,000.00 a kilo in the United States?" And I said,
"No. I had no idea. How much does it cost down in Colombia?" and he said,
"$4,000 to $5,000." And immediately bells started to go off and the cash
register started ringing up in my head. From then on Carlos and I were
involved in an intense conversation and then it got to the point where I began
telling him that I could transport an aircraft in the United States and I
possibly had a major market for it and it just went from there.
Carlos was in there for stolen cars. As far as I knew, I believe he was like 7
or 8 years younger than myself. He was looking for a way to transport cocaine
out of Colombia and people to sell it in the United States and there I was. It
was like a marriage made in heaven, or hell in the end. But that's basically
how it worked out. Carlos and I spent close to a year together, working and
planning everyday. Of course it was to the point of redundancy in it too. But
Carlos never ceased, never stopped. He was like a student is, constantly
pumping people's brains about money laundering, about this, about that. About
automobiles, about airplanes, about boats. In fact there was a guy in there
for smuggling with boats and he spent hours and hours with him learning
navigation, and there was a president of a bank in there and he pumped him
constantly about the banking system in America and how one can launder money,
and he kept files and files on everything. He kept notes constantly. He never
stopped. He was obsessed with it.
Well we had made arrangements for him to spend--I was going to be paroled to my parents' house in Massachusetts and we made arrangements that upon Carlos' arrival in Colombia he was to send a telegram to my parents' home. Carlos informed me over the phone, he said, "Can you get two young ladies and go to the island of Antigua? I want you to get them Samsonite suitcases. All look alike." I said, "I don't know, you'll have to give me some time to try to do this. So it took me 3 or 4 days to convince two young ladies that [they] would like to take a paid vacation to the island of [Antigua] and haul these suitcases down there. They were more or less naive to what was going on and I told them that they'd be transferring cocaine, and really at that time, not very many people in Massachusetts knew what the hell cocaine was.
What happened is they went down there, did the first trip, came back through
[Logan] airport. At that time it was easy to come and go through Customs, as
far as moving drugs and drugs we concealed in the suitcases. Basically in the
body of the suitcases were the plastic fiberglass shell. It sat upon the drugs
and the lip of the suitcase riveted around. It was virtually undetectable.
And the young ladies came back. They said they had such a wonderful time that
they were turning around the next day and going back down to get more
suitcases, which more or less boggled my mind, I couldn't believe they were
going to do this again all in a matter of another day. So they went and they
were successful both times. That was the beginning of the cocaine business for
Carlos and myself.
Well the next step is to get an aircraft. We had pre-arranged to meet Carlos up in Canada, because he was allowed to travel there. Meet him and discuss this airplane business. We all had plenty of money. I came across a pilot. It seemed he had connections in the Bahamas and he knew exactly where he would go, what he would do and how to transport this and also protection from paying certain authorities in the Bahamian islands. It wouldn't be a problem transporting cocaine in aircraft. Once we send the airplane down there, we enhanced our income again. We proved to the Colombians, that we were capable of transporting cocaine by aircraft safely and also distributing in the United States.
At that time, most of the cocaine coming into the United States was not by
aircraft. It was mostly through suitcases in small amounts, such as the 2
girls did, or people body-packing it. This was the first time that we showed
the Colombians that you could take huge amounts of cocaine and drop it into the
United States via air and also there was a huge market there for it. The cash
was generated in a matter of days, millions of dollars. So basically what
happened is through the powers that be down in Colombia, and Carlos and myself,
we formed a company. That was beginning of what is known as the cartel. The
What I knew about it was it was myself, Carlos, a man named Pablo Escobar and the Ochoas. Basically Pablo was there for supplying [the cocaine]. Carlos and I were in the transporting and distribution of it. The Ochoas I think mainly were in the political aspect of it, taking care of the politicians and the other authorities as far as for protection or what have you.
So that was basically the beginning of the influx of cocaine in the United
States. More or less everybody knows what happened from there. It became an
accepted product, just like marijuana. I mean Madison Avenue promoted cocaine.
The movie industry. The record industry. I mean, if you were well to do and
you were a jet- setter, it was okay to snort cocaine. I mean Studio 54 in New
York, everybody was snorting cocaine, everybody was laughing and having a good
time and snorting cocaine. I don't think that the government of the United
States had any idea what the hell was really happening until it was too
Because there's a mindset in this country that it's okay for upper-class white
America to do drugs and it's okay and they shouldn't be punished severely for
it. If you're from the ghetto or what have you and you do drugs, then you
should be punished severely. The government allowed the media and the record
industry and the movie industry to promote [cocaine] and nobody ever stood up.
Nobody ever said no to this.
I thought cocaine was a fantastic drug. A wonder drug, like everybody else.
It gave you [an] energy burst. You could stay awake for days on end, and it
was just marvelous and I didn't think it was evil at all. I put it almost in
the same category as marijuana, only hell of a lot better. It was a tremendous
energy boost. It gave the feeling, a high, but nobody knew, well maybe a small
percentage of people knew. But eventually everybody knew how evil it really
What did it do? It just made you feel really good. Then after you get done
feeling really good then you start to get a Superman ego and that's the
beginning of the end.
I used it because I was making flights twice a week back and forth from
California carrying cocaine in commercial airlines and I used to stay awake
basically. Then it went from just being a tool to stay awake to where I
basically became addicted to it. At first I thought it was non-addictive.
He would leave the Bahamas on Friday night, fly down to Colombia--it's a five or six hour flight, according to what aircraft you use and the speed--and land on Escobar's ranch, stay overnight on the ranch. The next day, Saturday, he'd return to the Bahamas and leave the plane at the airport under police protection. On Sunday afternoons there's a tremendous amount of air traffic, all departing the Bahamas and the outer islands for the mainlands. They're basically known as mom and pop planes and so you get caught up there and lost in the radar. They're all many dots on the screen. Nobody's really paying attention. Then you simply drop down out of the radar off the deck of the ocean and bear to the right up the coast and then you're home free and land.
At that time you have to remember also that DEA was really not on top of what
was going on in the Caribbean. I mean, they were offloading huge motherships
constantly out there off the Bahamas and off the coast of Florida day and night
and as far as aircraft coming going they really didn't have the equipment or
the manpower to do anything about it even if they did know about it. I think
that they knew about it but they didn't think it was that much of a really
major problem and they just couldn't get the funding anyway because nobody
believed it and nobody really cared.
The money would go back packed into Chevy Blazers exported out of the United
States into Colombia. Carlos owned a place down there, a dealership, and was
purchasing Chevy Blazers in the United States and then money would be packed
into the door panels and what-have-you and they'd be shipped out of the country
into Colombia. And later, as time wore on, I said, "We don't have to go
through all that. We can fly legally out of the country. Why the hell not
just fly the money back down?" Obviously they hadn't thought of that.
I was a guy who had a lot of money and unlimited access to cocaine and even if
I looked like Bela Lugosi I still had the most beautiful women on the planet
because everybody at that time, especially women, were in love with cocaine and
of course in love with the money--the access to the automobiles, the clothes,
the dinners, the lifestyle. Basically I was no different than a rock star or a
movie star. I was a coke star. At that time I really didn't know who I was,
to be honest with you. I was snorting a lot of cocaine and I had lost myself
to a great degree. A lot of people, everybody was starting to realize what the
coke was all about and they were all starting to get lost. Yeah, I began to
wonder a lot what the hell it was really all about. Especially, [because] they
say that the marijuana business is done with a handshake and the cocaine
business is done with a gun. All the violence that was taking place
surrounding this business--I mean, it was distasteful as hell to me.
Any marijuana transaction I ever did with anyone, there were never any guns
involved, ever. It was simply just, you know, a handshake business and a trust
factor. And then in the cocaine business it seemed suddenly everybody was
Why? I think the cocaine drove them crazy and that it was a serious business
and there were huge, huge amounts of money, you know, in one place at one time
and you were responsible for that and if you lost it you basically lost your
Unbeknownst to me, was researching an island about 210 miles off the coast of
Florida called Norman's Cay. While he was doing this he ran into a fellow
called Robert [Vesco] and they more or less became buddies overnight. [Vesco]
somehow more or less took control of Carlos's psyche and he changed a lot
during that time. He convinced him that this would be a base for planes to fly
from Colombia and then shuttle smaller planes into the United States loaded
with cocaine. He introduced him to Bahamian authorities and the Prime Minister
and what-have-you and all this and pay-offs and [Vesco] wanted--you know, he
was nothing but a cheap charlatan. I believe in the end he would have robbed
Carlos blind and everybody else around him. That's more or less when Carlos
and I split and went our separate ways.
Well the island encompassed an air strip, had a small marina, a yacht club, and
maybe some one hundred homes on it. What Carlos basically did is he went to
the owners of the homes and told them that he was buying them out and it was
time to leave the island. It became something like out of a James Bond movie.
I mean, everybody on that island was coke-crazed, living under fear of death
and planes constantly coming and going loaded with cocaine shuttled into the
United States--you know, sex orgies taking place and people riding around in
jeeps with machine guns shooting at bottles and [sharks] and what have you. It
was just a totally out-of-control situation. The DEA began to become aware of
it. It was like putting a roller coaster in the Vatican, you know, as far as
people wondering what the hell was going on there. That was the beginning of
the end for Carlos. I was told that basically I was cut out of the cocaine end
of that transportation deal and he and [Vesco] were working together, and later
I found out that Richard had also cut me out and that I should go and work with
another family. We argued about it and he more or less threatened my life and
I went on my way.
Well, I still had the direct relationship. I mean, I was married into a family and I still had my connections with Pablo Escobar and I simply contracted independent loads. We snorted coke down there. He chopped a huge ball of coke open with a machete and said take what you want. We drank cognac. We sat there and watched the movie "Patton" over and over and over again to the point of redundancy. You know, it more or less--I had enough of Patton to last me the rest of my life. He worshipped Patton. I believe it was in late 1977 I went down there, and he understood completely what had happened to me. He knew that I wanted to take revenge and he told me that it would be a bad thing and it would cause many problems for everybody concerned. He understood--he didn't like Carlos either but Carlos was making money for everybody--and he would still work with me and that shouldn't be a problem for me or anyone concerned.
Pablo Escobar basically had a Neanderthal ideology. He didn't understand
supply and demand, you know. It's that if you flood the country with cocaine
the price is going to go down and also it's going to expose everyone and bring
in more people at greater threat of being arrested or caught or what-have-you.
Why not keep the operation small and the price high and run it that way? It
would be highly efficient and people would be more or less safe from being
arrested or what-have-you. Because the bigger the operation gets, the more
people who come into it, the more you're at risk and the trust factor or
what-have-you. What happened is Carlos had the concept where he wanted to
flood the country with cocaine and destroy the political and moral structure of
the United States. As he stated, cocaine was the atomic bomb and he was going
to drop it on America. And so on one hand you have Carlos with his right wing
fascist political ideology and I think Pablo--there came into being a hierarchy
which I don't even believe he really had any concept of with regard to what was
really going down. You know, as the operation grew, I mean, it involved the
KGB, the CIA, and bankers and lawyers and doctors and money launderers and all
these people came on board to ride on the ship. I think Pablo was still known
as the head of the cartel but I think in that sense he really became a
figurehead. It all grew beyond his comprehension.
Over the few days that I was there, an individual was brought to the ranch in a
Chevy Blazer and he was taken out by two of Pablo's bodyguards and we were
sitting at a table on the patio in the back and he simply said, "Excuse me."
He walked over and executed the man and then he came back to the table. He
simply looked at me and he said, "He betrayed me." They took him away and then
he asked me what I'd like for dinner that night.
I knew one thing for sure, that I was never going to betray him. You know, in
a sense, I thought that I was playing out of my league. Basically, I really
was, because I had never an inclination to execute anybody. But I stayed,
though, you know. I was on a road to self-destruction and I couldn't turn the
wheel to get off.
What did I do with it? At first I used to hide it in certain homes that I had
and then it became so much that I felt it best to get it out of the country so
I transported it down to Panama, the Bank of Nova Scotia in Panama. At that
time a lot of smugglers were using it. That's where I kept it, with the
intention of transporting it out of Panama into other banks throughout the
Close to a hundred million.
You know, I mean--you know, like in "Scarface", just dump it. You wanted this
whole table filled with cocaine; I'll fill it three feet high. Who the hell
cares? Snort it. Stay here twenty days if you want. I don't care. Burn some
money in the fireplace, fuck it, you know, I mean--it all meant nothing. It
was insanity. The money meant nothing. After a while, the cocaine--I didn't
have any friends, you know. I was just alone and I didn't even like myself.
Yeah, that was terrible. You know, I mean, they took the baby out of the crib
and took it away and--you know, my house was invaded, ripped apart. That was
really the end of it, you know. That was the end of it---all coming down,
house of cards. I went back there. There was only, like three or four ounces
of coke there and the police thought that a huge load had been flown in and the
house was full of kilos of cocaine and money. And they'd been watching and
waiting for so long they got tired and when we were in there they came busting
in and they didn't find what they wanted to find. They were highly
disappointed but there was still enough to arrest everybody, you know, and the
last I saw was my daughter who was only a year old being taken away by a police
officer. That was the end of it.
Right. Well, we were facing ten years mandatory sentences in Massachusetts and
so I thought it best to leave. I was on the run from Massachusetts and I was
looking for a pilot to fly another load and my intentions were to go down to
Colombia and live. I ran into a pilot friend of mine, who used to fly in the
'60s pot for me, and unbeknownst to me he was working for the DEA and he wined
and dined me and I sold the load down in Colombia and it was all sponsored by
the DEA and when the load came in I was busted and that was the end of it
Well, the reason I made that decision is that Carlos Ledher had come to the end
of his rope too and he was captured in Colombia by the DEA, brought to the
United States, and I was approached to testify against him and I told them no,
I had no inclination to do that. And then several weeks later it came out in
the "Miami Herald" that he had written a letter to the Vice President of the
United States, George Bush, offering to cooperate fully for total immunity. I
just felt that that was the final slap in the face and I picked up the phone
and I agreed to go to Jacksonville, Florida. I made a phone call and I was
taken up to Jacksonville and interviewed. My story was checked out and I
simply became a witness.
The war on drugs was an ideology the government came up with, and there never
really was a war on drugs. I mean, to stop the importation of drugs into the
United States of America is an impossibility. There's 2,000 miles of border
along the Mexican border and the coastal areas, thousands of miles, and there
is no possible way to stop the importation of drugs into this country. But
then, you know, we have to come to the pool of self-reflection and therein lies
the monster of reason and we ask ourselves: was it the fact that Carlos and I
the courage to be bad or why did millions of Americans not have the courage to
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