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Martinez quickly moved from being Hernandez's courier to being his partner. In 1980 he bought himself a half-million-dollar house in the luxury Coral Gables waterfront development of Cocoplum, where so many drug traffickers have lived that local law enforcement officials have nicknamed the area "CocainePlum." Living next door to Martinez on Los Pinos Boulevard was Jose Antonio Fernandez, a major drug trafficker who won fame and a long jail term after he used his drug profits to purchase Sunshine State Bank.
Martinez sold his clothing company and started a construction business, retaining the name Mr. Martinez of Miami, and he built a two-million-dollar office building from which to oversee his drug and construction operations. He drove a gold Lincoln Town Car and sent his children to Gulliver Preparatory School on Kendall Drive, one of Miami's fanciest private schools.
Martinez also began to win respect within the Cuban exile community, with whom he shared a loathing of Fidel Castro and the common conviction that anyone who is not a Republican is a communist. Martinez backed up his views by helping to smuggle into the United States other refugees from Campo Florido; in time he became the self-styled leader of exiles from his hometown. In 1980, authorities later ascertained, he took his yacht, the 77-foot My Three Sons, to Costa Rica to pick up a group of twenty people fleeing Cuba. He brought them all back to Miami and even put one of them to work - in his drug business. Every summer he sponsored a retreat for ex-Campo Floridians living in Miami; hundreds of people attended, and Martinez picked up the tab. When he was finally arrested in 1989, 70 people appeared at his bond hearing to testify to his good name. Ten of them were prepared to forfeit their houses if he jumped bail and fled the country - which federal prosecutors said he was sure to do.
The early-Eighties drug trade was booming, and in 1981 Martinez began smuggling marijuana as well as cocaine. He was both bold and adept in his methods. In Colombia during March 1981, he arranged a shipment of 24,000 pounds of pot, taking the load to Everglades City and selling it all, netting $900,000. The next year he hired a local gas station owner named Alcides Cruz to transport marijuana from the Bahamas in the high-powered "go-fast" boats favored by smugglers of the day. Martinez and Cruz imported at least ten loads of 8000 pounds each in the early 1980s, switching to luxury yachts for transport when drug enforcement agents began hounding every go-fast boat on the water.
A reputation for violence became part of the Leonel Martinez mystique. In 1968 and again in 1980, he was arrested for aggravated assault. He has been charged with a 1978 double murder, and has also been implicated in the 1984 and 1987 killings of men who worked for him. Metro police investigating the 1978 case believe Martinez ordered the victims killed after they discovered his cocaine operation and tried to extort money from him. One member of Martinez's organization later told police why he wouldn't testify against Martinez: he had heard that the wife of a previous informant had found her husband's severed arm in her refrigerator.
Martinez was not at all shy about his success. When he was arrested for carrying a concealed weapon in 1981, he told his probation officer he was worth eight million dollars. Also in 1981, he began spending $100,000 per month to build a new waterfront house at 7020 Mira Flores Avenue in Cocoplum, a 13,000-square-foot, nine-bedroom, self-designed pleasure palace complete with a movie theater and a basement disco that could hold 100 people. His wife Margarita had her own sewing room, and out back was a swimming pool as well as a dock for his $1.3 million yacht. There was also a secret hideaway to which Martinez could escape and live for days if police ever came in search of him. He later said he had built the $2.2 million house so his kids would not have to seek entertainment away from home.
In December of 1983, Leonel Martinez moved into his dream house. He had come a long way from shining shoes in Campo Florido, Cuba.
That same month, December 1983, Jeb Bush launched his political career. Since moving to Miami, he had concentrated on three real estate operations he had launched with Armando Codina's help: Bush-Klein Realty, the Codina-Bush Group (initially called InterAmerican Investments), and Bush Realty. The ventures were quickly successful, and Jeb was urged to get into local politics. As his father had done 21 years earlier, Jeb sought the top office of his county's Republican Party. Although he was quoted in the Miami Herald at the time as saying he had made hundreds of phone calls to line up support for his election to chair the Dade GOP, the job was his for the asking.
For one thing, he was the son of Ronald Reagan's vice president, and Ronald Reagan was immensely popular here. Jeb was also ideally prepared to bridge the deep divisions between Anglos and Cubans in the local party. The Anglos tended to be genteel country-club types who had fled the cold winters up north. The Cubans were brash, middle-class strivers who had fled Castro's one-party state. Collectively the two branches held each other in veiled contempt.