How big was your smuggling operation at its peak?
Seriously huge – 75 tons of marijuana was our biggest load. I had three fishing vessels – a 160-footer, a 100-footer and a 58-footer – bringing in huge shipments of weed from South East Asia.
How could you possibly shift that much grass around unnoticed?
These days, the only way you can pull off something like that is to make it look like a regular business. There was a time when you would be able to bring it on the beach in Zodiac boats and shove it in the back of pick-up trucks, but this was too much.
How exactly do you “hide” 75 tons of marijuana?
We had a fishing company that caught and killed fish, millions of pounds of fish, for cover. We had thousands of wet fish boxes in the hold, some containing fish and some weed, and all of it bar-coded. When the ships moored in North America, we’d take a box of fish, break it on the side of the dock to keep any onlookers from becoming suspicious, and begin firing the cargo from the ship along a conveyor belt into the back of our trucks. You could start at dawn and have five trucks loaded and on their way to California by 11 o’clock.
Surely you could have made more money moving the hard stuff?
Coke’s fucked, it’s a fucked up drug. I had my own demons with coke and I knew it was no good to be in that business – it’s full of gangsters and crazy people. Part of the deal with our operation was no one did coke. If you did it you were out, and that’s how we ended up getting the Drug Enforcement Agency onto us. One of our partners couldn’t stop doing coke so we gave him the boot. He then went to the DEA and told them what we were doing.
What’s the closest you ever came to getting nicked before that?
I went down to Bogotá to score some coke in the early days. I got $500 worth because that’s all I had on me. I used a heated paperclip to open a sealed pack of cigarettes and stuffed the drugs inside. I then resealed it and it looked as good as new. I’d had a couple of lines and was feeling brave so I just walked through customs with the pack in my pocket together with an open pack. Next thing you know I got a tap on my shoulder and it was the Municipal Police – “Could I go into this back room?” Pretty soon they were asking me to strip naked. I offered the guys a cigarette from the open pack, held both packs in my hand and began undressing. It seemed to take ages, they searched through every item of clothing piece by piece and I’m stood there, naked, with this fucking coke in my hand. Then they said to me: “Sorry sir, enjoy your trip” and I was allowed to go!
And did you have an arch nemesis cop chasing you around the world like they do in the films?
Yeah, there were these two Canadian cops called Orther and Pucker who were always after me. One time I was living in Jamaica – I was on the run from a couple of people – and I walked into the Holiday Inn and there they were! I turned around, walked out and got straight back into the car. The galling thing was that we were paying the Jamaican cops to tell us when there were police on our tail.
How did you manage to keep one step ahead of the cops for so long?
We had scanners. At the start we could never listen to the Feds – the FBI, the DEA or the CIA – as we couldn’t isolate the transmission feed. But then we brought in this guy who had something called a spectrum analyser. One day I picked up the ship’s captain from Seattle and all of a sudden my radio lights up and I can hear the Feds talking about me. So I look in the rear view mirror and what do you know? They’re on my tail. So I just take off. I drove like a maniac and lost them but it took me six hours, going down dirt tracks, back streets, dead ends, whatever.
Did you guys use clever code words over the radio?
Yeah, we did. Brown cod was cannabis resin – and we’d communicate through dictionaries. So, we’d talk at prearranged times and say things like: “Check part number 62-18.” And that meant page 62 in the dictionary, 18th word down.
So are marijuana smugglers always caned themselves?
Not all of them were but I was. I smoked dope all the time. I loved it. I didn’t think I had a dope problem though – I had a coke problem.
Did you make any Pablo Escobar-type enemies in your dealings or are dope dealers all squinty eyes and smiles?
I once called a guy a fuckin’ asshole on the phone and hung up. But he called me back and said, “Fuckin’ asshole? You’ll see.” About a week later he turned up with a goon. This guy was 6ft 4in and he put his face in mine, pointed to his boss and said: “He’s paid me to break your arm, but I don’t think I can stop there.” Thankfully, at that moment my wife walked in with my daughter. The goon just turned to his boss and said, “I told you, no women and children – I’m outta here.” And he walked off.
We plan to take some quality Cuban cigars to a mate of ours in America – tell us how...
I wouldn’t smuggle even a cigarette into the States – they’re meaner than junkyard dogs, buddy.
Oh, go on...
Well, if you’re going to do it anyway you should stick them into your pocket. They mostly don’t search your body until they’ve inspected your luggage. If they’ve had a look at your shit and they’ve no reason to suspect you’ve got something on you, they’ll leave you alone. The closer to your body it is, the better off you are.
Do chicks dig drug smugglers?
I had a wife, but before I got married I always had nice girlfriends. I lived the lifestyle that was attractive. A fleet of nice cars, good vacations, a nice house… people were attracted to that.
Ever had to ditch product to get away?
We ditched 15,000lbs once in a plane crash off the coast of South America. We’d loaded the plane in a salt mining town in Colombia, but as soon as we took off we lost the first engine – it was a four-engine plane – and a little further on we lost the second. We were screwed. The guy who was flying the plane had never flown a four-engine before but he told me he’d read a book about it. It was terrifying.
How did you walk away from that one with all your fingers and toes?
Thankfully, we ditched very close to shore, but we had to wave goodbye to our load. The next day every local newspaper had a picture of the tail of that plane sticking out of the ocean.
No wonder you stuck to ships – but what about pirates?
Yeah, one of our boats got accosted by pirates in the South China Sea. This Chinese vessel of ours – crewed by Brits – was coming out with the load and these pirates approached us, but we convinced them to go away.
How does one convince a pirate to “go away”?
By firing a large rocket across their bow. The thing about pirates is that they go for the low hanging fruit. If you show them that you mean business they’ll leave you alone. They’re not prepared to die. They’ll just go and find someone else.
Did you have to sell anyone out to get a lighter sentence?
Nope, and they even offered to take care of my citizenship and my future legality in the US if I talked. You got to remember that I was one of five main players and we had 109 people working for us. I chose not to because I just simply couldn’t have lived with myself afterwards. They told me that I was going to serve 80% of a 30 years to life sentence, but I still said no. I ended up doing ten years.
Was it worth it?
Do I have any regrets? Yeah, I traded time with my children when they were growing up for substances. It wasn’t. Fucking. Worth it.