Many interesting characters hung around the bar at my brother’s marina. One that comes to mind seemed to always be at the end of the bar, either outside in the summer, looking at the river, or inside in the winter, looking at the fireplace. I knew he had a limo-taxi business and seemed to run it from the barstool with a black and white marble notebook and a cellphone. This was about the time that Bell Telephone was dismantled and thousands of people who had jobs at Bell Labs and affiliates in Monmouth County now had to commute up to northern New Jersey to work. The roads were terrible and crowded and he saw an opportunity. He bought several 15 person vans and got contracts with several of the large employers up north to transport their people back and forth to work. In addition, he bought some limos for weddings, proms and runs to the airports and all he had to do was make sure everything ran smoothly.
I told him I envied him and asked how he got started in the business and he told me this story: Years ago, he had a light plane and a pilot’s license and got mixed up in transporting drugs from Jamaica to Florida. This was long before satellite surveillance and he knew the routes to fly “under the radar” and to avoid the “Eye in the Sky,” (a large balloon moored along the coast to spot suspicious activity). He’d pick up the cocaine at a private landing strip in Jamaica and fly it to a secluded field deep in the Everglades. Unlike a lot of people in the business, he didn’t use the stuff he transported, and he put all his money in an offshore bank account.
He was meticulous about maintaining his plane and all the other details about the job and was very successful for several years. One of the things he paid special attention to was fuel. Some of the islands in the Caribbean were notorious for having bad aviation fuel, so he always made sure he had enough for the entire trip before taking off. One day, his usual supplier was out of fuel, so he was forced to buy it from someone else. He figured “Just this once, what can go wrong?”
As he was flying back over the ocean nearing the Bahamas with the plane loaded full of 90 Igloo coolers, each one containing two kilos of cocaine, one fuel tank was getting low. He switched to the other tank and immediately, his engine started to sputter and then died. He switched back to the first tank, got the engine restarted and began looking for a place to land. There was none!
At this point he knew he was in deep trouble, not so much in crash landing in the ocean, but how to explain his cargo when/if he was rescued. He immediately began tossing Igloo coolers full of cocaine out the door as the plane got closer and closer to the ocean. When he finally hit the water there was still some left inside that he couldn’t get to but there was nothing he could do about that.
He sat on top of the wing as the plane was slowly sinking beneath the waves when along came a Bahamian fishing boat. They asked if he needed a lift and he hopped in. Then he noticed that their deck was covered with his Igloo coolers! Evidently, they had been following his progress, plucking the coolers out of the ocean as he tossed them out of the plane! They took him in close enough to an island where he could swim ashore and as he was thanking them, their final parting words were “Hey, Mon, we no see you, you no see us.”
As he waded ashore, he figured “At last, home free!” Suddenly, he was surrounded by a bunch of guys wearing Hawaiian shirts, black pants, dark sunglasses, and earbuds! It seems he had swum ashore on the private island where then President Richard Nixon was on vacation!
Of course, the Secret Service investigated his entire story, found his plane with enough drugs still in it to convict him for smuggling. Luckily, he was in Bahamian jurisdiction, where they didn’t worry quite so much about drug smuggling. He lost his plane and his pilot’s license and spent a couple of years in a Bahamian prison (which he doesn’t recommend). While in prison, he decided on a career change, one that didn’t involve drugs, and far away from Florida, as there were some people there who were still annoyed about all their lost cocaine. He had enough money stashed away in his offshore account to finance about anything he wanted to do, so he wound up owning the limo service that he ran from the stool at the end of my brother’s bar.
He told me the biggest thing he learned from the whole ordeal was “Be careful where you buy your fuel.”