"Last year during top-secret 'Operation Startiek,' , a 54-day experiment with portable radar units, Customs radar showed 250 suspect radar blips, or 'bogies,', between San Diego and EI Paso. That's what the radar picked up, and most MAF pilots are experts at dodging radar. Twenty-three of Ihe suspicious bogies were tracked down and each captured airplane contained marijuana A Customs officer in EI Paso this year watched 13 illegal aircraft , cross the border on his radio scanner in one hour between EI Paso and Denning, New Mexico."
Casualties are heavy in ihe MAF: from January 1975 lo January 1977, more than 165 MAF planes had crashed with ai least 31 known dead. Another 150 dope-laden planes were confiscated by lawmen, and more than half of those planes were redeployed by DEA and Customs to the front lo chase smugglers. Peter Bensinger, head of Ihe DEA, said at a press conference in mid-1976 that "inexperience and amateurism" accounted for the plane crashes and seizures, but, in actuality, these figures represent but a fraction of ihe staggering volume of aerosmuggling. The EI Paso Intelligence Office estimates "10 percent" is the maximum action the law manages to stop.
Loads of up lo a ton are routinely flown in on Lockheed Lodestars or Cessna 310s, with the Howard 500, a converted high-speed cruiser, growing in popularity. Unlike Caribbean aerosmugglei's who prefer multi-ton Douglas cargo crafts, the Southwest pilots need a plane with the versatility of a cow pony: quick, agile, able to make sharp banks and short landings on rough terrain. Frequently pilots file flight plans and smuggle while on ostensibly legitimate business. During a round trip from Tucson to Hermosilla, Sonora, the plane can make a pick-up after departing (lie Mexican airport and deliver it in the U.S. desert, returning lo Tucson empty. Most loads run from 200 to 2,000 pounds. Either loosely baled or compressed into bricks by garbage compacted, the pot is lightly packaged and waterproofed, should il need to be jettisoned. The daredevil . pilots who make the inns earn up lo $25,000 a trip. Maintenance crews, landing engineers, loaders, drivers and others generally _ receive about $1,000 for their short-term work. Up to three dozen people may be involved in a single operation.
Safely on U.S. turf, the Mexican shipments quickly begin lheir dissipation. Vans pick Ihe pot up from the airstrip, preferably the people making Ihe purchase directly from the importer. If there is no immediate pickup, the pot is stored in warehouses. As many as 19 vehicles have been busied while unloading planes, and parades of vehicles streaming across the open desert invite investigation. Warehousing is yei another step, since pot is a quickly perishable vegetable, not given to storage. Nonetheless, warehousing is a growing phenomena, particularly as a hedge against drought..
A ton shipment, not that big by smuggling standards, would be divvied between two or three U.S. buyers, certainly not more than a half dozen, each paying the importer about $50 a pound. An importer who has spent $25,000 buying a ton and another $25,000 getting it to market siands lo make at least that much profit.. First line purchasers can be counted on lo al least double iheir price even when selling only weight, driving prices up to around $100 a pound. Purchasers al this level, say, Leslie from San Francisco buying 60 pounds at $5,000 from his Phoenix supplier, then turn the pot at street prices-$175-$225 a pound. If the pot is very good the price will increase geometrically, costing more lo begin with and passing through more hands. A classic example of this was the 1973-74 crop from Acapulco and environs, sold First as Acapulco Gold for up lo $325 a pound. Immensely popular, Gold soon reappeared as wacky weed,'1 wilh a $400-plus price tag and a vague lineage that included strains of dubious herilage. The cost of Mexican weed increases farther from the Southwest. , A pound in Los Angeles al $175 may cost $200 in Boulder and $225 in Madison or Detroit..
Very litlle Mexican superpot makes it to the East Coast, For one thing, there is such a demand on the Wesi Coast that it can be sold al mosi asking prices without traveling the 3,000 miles. Secondly, the Easi Coast market is dominated by the Caribbean connection.
THE CARIBBEAN CONNECTION Though Mexico supplies most of the imported pol in the U.S., it is not because consumers want ii lhat way, bui because Mexico is nearby. What consumers want is Colombian marijuana and they'll pay a high price lo get it. Colombian import deals are at the peak of high finance, ihe long-shot, big-buck schemes lhat span continents and involve millions of dollars. Again, no one knows how much gets through, but the losses are staggering. In ihe eight months preceding this writing more than 150 tons of Colombian weed alone has fallen prey to the long arm of the law, more than 80 tons of ii in the hold of one ship, the Panamanian freighter Don Emilio. And a lot of ii was not seized, but almost given lo ihe feds: ten ions found bobbing in Biscayne Bay; four tons that rained from the sky after being jettisoned from a disabled aircraft; numerous ions found on abandoned ships. Eight ions were nabbed on a DC-6 in Pocono,
Pennsylvania, in December 1976. f,It fucked up Christmas for an awful lol of people/' lamented one dealer who had invested heavily in the ill-faied adventure. The Caribbean Connection is ihe big league of pot dealing, wilh players spread from Capetown lo Boston. The heart of this network is the Colombia-Miami axis, and while Ecuadorian, Peruvian, and even Brazilian pol is irickling in, the prototypical Eastern Smuggling Establishment network is based along this line and will continue to be so.
An importer on ihe CC needs a plane or a boat capable of crossing 1,000 miles of hurricane infested ocean, and enough pot lo fill if. Deals of less than a ton hardly make the nut.. Independent smugglers do make small runs-college students, yachl-setters, nomads-with a few hundred pounds, but again ihe risks are great for dabbling in such small poiaioes. If ihe deal is not big enough so the Colombian seller's cut is bigger than the government reward for turning in smugglers-and a recent allocation by the DEA kicks back a minimum of $l,000-the seller may well opi for ihe government's, bucks. Also, Customs and Coast Guard inspection of incoming Caribbean travelers is heavy.
Lip until aboui a year ago most importers would arrange for their own transportation, purchasing their pol through a Colombian-based agent, loading their ship or boat wilh iheir own people and handling it themselves as is the case with the Mexican connection. But a lol of the gringos who warned lo invesi were unable or unwilling to come up wilh boats, and the coastal Colombians, most of whom can sail, boats with the ease Americans drive cars, soon were negotiating for delivery off ihe shores of Miami for an added price. Today ihis practice has reached the point where floating pol stores in international waters play host to consumers in sloops and speedboats.
Whether the importers arrange their own transportation or score from offshore merchants, ihey invariably bring iheir product to ihe Miami marketplace. Despite relentless pressure from authorities and ihe boundless in-house intrigues between various smuggling organizations, Miami remains the capital of Colombian trading. Though loads may come ashore miles from Miami and remain warehoused in obscure swamps lo avoid ihe heat, ihe deal-makers and negotiators return to Miami where the buyers wait in anticipation, sitting in line with iheir elbows on the bar like birds on a wire.
During the peak of the Colombia marijuana harvest, when new crops are posted on the Miami exchange several times a day, ihe scene at even a
r HiciiltiMESKWhi.n'dW you get into smuggling full-Siiiroc? | ' f'^ ' ' ■
| smuggler: I don't ttiink that most smugglers are into JWit fuil-limti. I think that almost no «.no could really take the pressure of being into it full-time. And I think urn? of the purposes of smuggling is to mnke enough money to lay hack for a while. Aisn, it's just in (he nature, of smuggling—it's an orgiastic kind of , thing Where you build up to itr you do it and. you kniiw, you Joy back for a while. One thing you have to understand is that smugglers are always thinking about making tha big run to clean up, so one doesn't really develop a career as a smuggler—one just looks ¡1- back And realizes that one has had a career as a smuggler!
ne running $ dope operation is a sort of minor guru^maybe even a major i^uru. He can be quite a J charismatic figure..He has mure glamour, more money, more women, better dope and lives higher ari^ faster.than any rock star He also travels more. He'U own three or four boats, msy have a plantation 'ii down- in CohjjnLif\t f i vuvorsix houses, a plane or two, <;^ ^v cduplc bffjpcks; may have interests in several | legitimate fronts—you= know, a number of trucks.
rented cars—he may be rutiningquitea big scene. He I may hava quite a fe^v women.
| if'thirjk that;the nature of smuggling generally is %closer to thatof a^far East religion than it is to an ; American corporation. The guru provided the spiri-strength nf the flbck, the followers who are going #6n faitfv. '
More than anything else, smuggling is psychological, which is something that most people don't understand, including a lot of smugglers, especially when they're first doing it. This is the government's main deterrent to smuggling. I moan, your actual chances of getting caught are very, very small until you figure in tha psychological factor
Today the government says that they colch 10 percent. I think that fyr once the government is understating their own prowess, and it's probably more like 20 percent, but they say 10 percent to get more funding.
liut everything you've ever been taught, all your conditioning, everything you read in the papers, every rumor, story, anecdote that comes along to you is a psychological deterrent to smuggling. So you have to consciously psych yourself up to Lhink that £ you can make it when paranoia is all around you. paranoia in a smuggling ring is extremely thick1, it's
ItftiCH TiMÉst smugglers rctjuire spec la 1 skills in : shippihs traffickiii^ that might be useful in ycommercial employment «fter legalizati »n?
:;smügci!er«Not really, because their primary criteri-
:;smügci!er«Not really, because their primary criteri-
usefuiness in modern business as was seen in some recent indictments, but overall, you have to understand mass-scale efficiencies. An education at Wharton School of Business would be more useful than ten years of smuggling in the Caribbean.
On the other hand, Tve come into contact with people in Florida who art third- and fourth-genw-tion smugglers-marijuana is the gig now, but their fathers smuggled rum and Scotch, and their grandfathers smuggled gunpowder and slaves. Smuggling is something that's been going an for several thousand years, and it attracts a certain typ« of raentalHy. In the same way that there have always been musicians <md there have always beea prostitutes, and there have always been politicians, there's & certain segment of the population that will probably always be attracted to smuggling,
moderately-sized importer's headquarters looks like the New York Slock Exchange. Up to a dozen people may be in the room, and though many dealers prefer making their deals in comparative privacy, the side transactions and numerous grades of pot to choose from make open dealing preferable. Like OPEC oil ministers, the pot barons cannot afford to make individual deals too favorable to one person without enraging others, both buyers and sellers alike. So stern J s the unwritten code against selling below the fair market price that, as one Miami agent said, ''you get paid a visit by your competitors and asked to get your_ price in line. If you don't you stand a good chance of getting ripped for your next load, no one will do business with you, and you can get hurt if you're really stepping on somebody's toes.''
The Colombian market fluctuates with the growing cycle, reaching its peak in February and March and closing in July and August..The yearly drought during these months generally comes to an end in September when "immature" Colombian begins to trickle in. The pot cycle is highly predictable in Colombia, seasoned buyers knowing within a few days where they should look for the best crops. Colombian pot matures at later dates and at higher altitudes. The pot also gets stronger at higher altitudes. The green and immature grass that matures in September and October is grown at sea level.. Brownish pot wiih more seeds, grown at 2,000 feet, matures about a month later. The longer growing period is necessary because of the colder weather at the higher elevations. Aiound December the first red strains begin maturing at about 4,000 feet- Top shelf pot, Santa Marta Gold and "rainbows"-bright reds, greens and go Ids-ma ture at 5,000 feel
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