Dirty Money

John Ellis Bush was born in Midland, Texas, on February 11, 1953. His grandfather, Prescott Bush, had just been elected U.S. Senator from Connecticut. His father, George Herbert Walker Bush, was an independent oil operator seeking to cash in on the Texas oil boom. The Bushes soon moved from Midland to Houston, where Jeb attended private schools and his father became a millionaire. In 1962 George Bush got his start in politics, when he became chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, and in 1966, when Jeb was thirteen, his father was elected to Congress and the family moved to Washington. As a high school sophomore, Jeb was sent to Phillips Academy, the exclusive boarding school in Andover, Massachusetts, from which George had graduated 30 years earlier.

Friends from Andover recall Jeb Bush as a popular, bright, hard-working jock who excelled at tennis and squash. He took a semester abroad in Mexico to learn Spanish, and wound up in a small mountain town where he met a young woman named Columba Garnica. Jeb was smitten. In 1971 he graduated from Phillips Academy and went on to the University of Texas, where he played varsity tennis and graduated in three years with highest honors in Latin America studies.

Jeb married Columba in 1974 and took a job in Houston as a loan officer in the Latin American division of Texas Commerce Bank. He went on to serve as administrative assistant to the chairman of the board, and then in 1977 he was promoted to vice president of the bank's Venezuelan operation and transferred to Caracas. But he was growing tired of banking.

In May of 1979, Jeb took a leave of absence to work on his father's campaign for president. He worked as campaign manager for the Bush effort in Puerto Rico, where his fluency in Spanish and the access he had to monied Puerto Ricans helped his father win the primary handily. From there Jeb moved on to Miami for the Florida Republican presidential primary in March 1980. George Bush lost decisively to Ronald Reagan in Florida, and by May it was apparent that Reagan would clinch the GOP nomination. Jeb argued for fighting on; he was, in his father's words, "one of the last die-hards arguing in favor of an Alamo-style campaign finish, with guns blazing until the ammo ran out." The elder Bush, however, decided to withdraw from the race.

Jeb apparently liked what he saw of Miami. While campaigning in South Florida, he was befriended by Armando Codina, the self-made millionaire and real estate magnate who would eventually become Jeb's business partner. Codina later recounted to New Miami magazine a conversation he says he had with George Bush during the 1980 campaign, recalling that Bush told him Jeb was unhappy in Houston because of the way the Anglo community there reacted to his wife's Mexican heritage. George said Jeb was thinking about moving to Miami, where Anglo-Latin marriages are common.

Jeb Bush tells a different story about what brought him to Miami. He was especially close to his wife's family, he told a reporter for the Miami News in 1983. "On the personal side," Bush said, "my mother-in-law and sister-in-law were already living here." On the professional side, he said, he wanted to make money. "I want to be very wealthy," he told the News, "and I'll be glad to tell you when I've accomplished that goal." Bush seemed especially impressed with the commercial possibilities of Miami. "Any other city this size anywhere else in the U.S. has a big corporate base," he said. "But here...the business power is in the hands of a lot of entrepreneurs." One of the rising entrepreneurial stars of Miami in 1980 was Leonel Martinez.

Martinez was born in 1930 in the Cuban city of Campo Florido, outside Havana. His family was by no means wealthy; they supported themselves through work in the construction business; one man testified at Martinez's 1989 bond hearing that the two had worked together as shoeshine boys in Campo Florido. By the time Leonel was in his twenties, though, he was running a landfill company. Then Fidel Castro and the Communist Party came to power, and in 1962 Martinez fled to Miami, where he set up a clothing factory, employing his wife as a seamstress. The Martinezes lived modestly in a small duplex near Le Jeune Road and NW Seventh Street. Generally the business was profitable, although in 1978 one of his creditors sued him for nonpayment of a $46,000 loan.

There were early hints of Martinez's ambition, his temper, and his future livelihood. He had incorporated his modest clothing business under the grand name Mr. Martinez of Miami, Inc. In 1968 he pulled a gun on the husband of an employee who complained about a bounced payroll check. And in 1975 an informant told the Drug Enforcement Agency that Martinez had smuggled seven kilos of cocaine into Miami, hiding the drugs in Colombian artifacts.

Sometime later Martinez met Pedro Hernandez, a member of a well-established Colombian family who federal agents say was importing cocaine into the United States from Colombia via a commercial freight company called Air Condor, based in Cartagena. Hernandez paid Martinez $25,000 to pick up the cocaine, which arrived packed among aircraft parts, and to deliver it to Hernandez's Miami customers, twenty kilos at a time. Martinez later said he oversaw eight to ten such loads in the late Seventies, ranging from 15 to 400 kilos. Deputy Chief Assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Wilkinson, who prosecuted the Martinez case, says there were twenty loads, and with cocaine selling in Miami for $55,000 per kilo at the time, she estimates Hernandez and Martinez grossed $200 million.

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