Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, and the Sting That Launched the War on Drugsby Jason Ryan
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… See more details below
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.
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.
- Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
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- 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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