Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugs

Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugs

3.7 15
by Jason Ryan
     
 

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The outrageous lives and crimes of the most colorful pot smugglers of the Reagan era, and the international manhunt that brought them downTheir nicknames—Flash, Rolex, Bob the Boss, Willie the Hog, and Disco Don—read like a roster of mobsters. Their destinations for acquiring drugs and depositing money—the Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica, and

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Overview

The outrageous lives and crimes of the most colorful pot smugglers of the Reagan era, and the international manhunt that brought them downTheir nicknames—Flash, Rolex, Bob the Boss, Willie the Hog, and Disco Don—read like a roster of mobsters. Their destinations for acquiring drugs and depositing money—the Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica, and Lebanon—were either exotic, white-sand resorts or rugged, war-torn coasts. To some, they were cult heroes and folk legends, intrepid enough to walk away from college degrees and safe careers for danger, sun, sex, and the high seas. The South's "gentlemen smugglers" followed no rules but their own. But to the government investigators and prosecutors emboldened by President Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs, the gentlemen smugglers were Public Enemy No. 1. Through indictments covering just a portion of their alleged misdeeds, the government accused a few dozen men of smuggling 347,000 pounds of marijuana and 130,000 pounds of hashish into the United States. Speaking to reporters, U.S. Attorney Henry McMaster conceded that "most of it got through, a lot of it's been smoked." Still, he said, these outlaws' days were numbered. No matter their cunning, the gentlemen smugglers would not escape the pioneering task force he had assembled with investigators from five federal agencies: Operation Jackpot.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Ryan writes a thoroughly researched account of Operation Jackpot, the drug investigation that ended the reign of South Carolina's "gentlemen smugglers," marijuana kingpins who kick-started Reagan's war on drugs. As a result of Operation Jackpot, more than 100 men were charged with smuggling, racketeering, tax evasion, and conspiracy, relatively tame charges, as Ryan stresses, compared with the violence surrounding contemporary drug trafficking. Ryan draws on extensive interviews, grand jury and trial transcripts, personal correspondence, news articles, and police reports. Still, rather than a comprehensive survey of marijuana and hashish smuggling in the 1970s and '80s, his book profiles personalities, focusing on "a few talented smugglers" and their wild exploits, such as a 1976 incident in the Florida Keys when the approach of police caused smugglers to scatter, sending a 65-foot sport fishing yacht with 15,000 pounds of marijuana on autopilot toward Cuba "never to be seen by the smugglers again." The last member of the crew to go to prison, having evaded the law for 25 years, pleaded guilty in 2008. Ryan recreates the era with a vivid, sun-drenched intensity. (Apr. 20)
From the Publisher
"Endorsement of The Day: A Great Book About the Early Years of the War on Weed…. Before Juarez was a war zone, before coke-rich Colombia was the hostage capital of the world, and before an ex-B-movie actor with a good haircut declared War on Drugs, a group of wayward Southern gentlemen yachted the globe with unseen amounts of marijuana and hashish, and did it with style. The adventures, the long-gone economy, and the sting that ultimately brought them down and changed US drug policy are meticulously documented and lucidly spun by reporter Jason Ryan in Jackpot…. Part New Yorker feature-part Jimmy Buffet song. . . . The result is adventuresome, lavish, informative fun. Try it. You'll like it." —GQ "Over the course of Jackpot's rollicking story, Ryan manages to pack in one amusing tale after another: the day after a shipment, the crew stumbles upon a bale of marijuana accidentally left on the side of the road; they pilot a pot-filled sailboat that is taking on water all the way back from Jamaica; … they help U.S. forces during the invasion of Grenada, earning one trafficker, Bob 'The Boss' Byers, the nickname rocket launcher.... Jackpot is a rip-roaring good read." —Charleston City Paper "High times on the high seas: Investigative reporter Ryan recounts the glory days of dope smuggling and their terrible denouement.... The protagonists are, in the main, decent and hardworking guys who just happen to be engaged in something very illegal—a trade that, as Ryan notes, is an ancient one along the South Carolina coast, where contraband smuggling is a big intergenerational business, whether of cigarettes, booze or pot. The principals of the story long enjoyed a place at the top of the smuggling pyramid, landing, in one year, more than 30,000 pounds of marijuana in three moves alone.... A well-told tale of true crime that provides a few good arguments for why it should not be a crime at all." —Kirkus Reviews "[A] thoroughly researched account of Operation Jackpot, the drug investigation that ended the reign of South Carolina's 'gentlemen smugglers,' marijuana kingpins who kick-started Reagan's war on drugs.... Ryan recreates the era with a vivid, sun-drenched intensity." —Publishers Weekly "Mr. Ryan has hit the jackpot with this tale of drug smuggling on the high seas. . . . [Jackpot] reads like an international thriller. . . . chock-a-block with hilarious and hair-raising anecdotes of fast times." —Sam Millar, New York Journal of Books
Kirkus Reviews

High times on the high seas: Investigative reporter Ryan recounts the glory days of dope smuggling and their terrible denouement.

Back in the 1970s, bringing brain candy from offshore or Mexico wasn't the deadly game it is today—at least not so deadly, though surely just as lucrative. The protagonists are, in the main, decent and hardworking guys who just happen to be engaged in something very illegal—a trade that, as Ryan notes, is an ancient one along the South Carolina coast, where contraband smuggling is a big intergenerational business, whether of cigarettes, booze or pot. The principals of the story long enjoyed a place at the top of the smuggling pyramid, landing, in one year, more than 30,000 pounds of marijuana in three moves alone; writes Ryan, "even with the lax drug patrols in South Carolina, that so many ventures could be accomplished successfully is a testament to the sophistication the gentlemen smugglers developed." Eventually, though, the smuggling ring drew the attention of the feds, who brought it down in a showcase operation that heralded the Reagan administration's war on drugs. Classically, it also set friend against friend, cousin against cousin. Particularly bothersome to those on the wrong side of the law, Ryan writes, was the fact that so many "cooperating witnesses spilled their guts when they had relatively little exposure to serious charges." Ultimately, the league of gentlemen smugglers was torn apart, its members imprisoned. But, Ryan notes in closing, smuggling persists, and now it's "less romantic and much more deadly."

A well-told tale of true crime that provides a few good arguments for why it should not be a crime at all.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780762780303
Publisher:
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Publication date:
08/07/2012
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
503,065
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Jason Ryan is a South Carolina journalist and former staff reporter for the State newspaper.

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