By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Although the issue wasn't raised at Kessler's trial, two of his clients were Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta - whom Kessler had continued to represent after the 1979 drug trial. Defense attorneys believe that Kessler, who is serving a 30-year prison term, is cooperating with prosecutors and will testify against his ex-clients at their trial. While federal officials won't confirm this, they eagerly point out that attorney-client privilege does not extend to a criminal conspiracy (such as money laundering) between a lawyer and his client. "It would not surprise me at all that he may be a witness," attorney Frank Rubino comments.
Based on documents Murphy provided, prosecutors claim that the Murphy, along with Kessler and Juan Acosta, assisted Falcon and Magluta in setting up dozens of offshore corporations in the Netherlands Antilles, the Bahamas, and the British Virgin Islands. Once drug money was smuggled to these countries and placed in dummy corporation accounts, it would be transferred from one Falcon-Magluta corporation to another until its trail was impossible to trace.
The drug dealers' assets were so extensive, claims one federal investigator who requested anonymity, that Falcon and Magluta probably aren't aware of just how much they own. "We found 163 corporations, either offshore or domestic, that they had connections to," the investigator says.
During the 1980s, when law enforcement agents wanted to know who was involved in drug smuggling, all they had to do was head down to the Florida Keys and take in a few powerboat races. Among the princes, sheiks, and wealthy businessmen who found the sport an exciting diversion were some of the big-time drug runners of all time.
George Morales set a world record during a 1985 race from Miami to New York, piloting a 46-foot catamaran through 1257 miles of rough water in less than twenty hours. Hailed by Motor Boating and Sailing magazine as the best speedboat driver in the world, Morales pleaded guilty in 1987 to charges of drug trafficking and tax evasion. After years of smuggling marijuana and Quaaludes into the United States from Colombia, he was arrested while working on a deal to bring more than a ton of cocaine into South Florida. Like fellow racer Augusto Jay, Morales, who was sentenced to a sixteen-year prison sentence, claimed honor would prevent him from snitching on any of his business associates. "I'm not willing to testify against no one," he told a federal judge at his sentencing. "I have my principles, you know." (It appears that prison eventually loosened those principles: Morales's sentence was reduced to seven years after he agreed to cooperate with federal agents, and he was released in December.)
Ben Kramer won the 1984 American Power Boat Association's World Cup and a national championship in 1986. Not merely content to pilot boats to victory, Kramer invested millions constructing a marina and factory on Thunderboat Row, the fabled North Miami Beach street that is the heart of the powerboat-racing industry. Those millions, federal prosecutors would argue successfully, were the profits from tons of marijuana Kramer smuggled into the United States.
Brazen and arrogant, Kramer once smuggled 45 tons of pot into New York aboard a barge the size of a football field. He believed - and rightly so, at the time - that police and U.S. Customs agents would never suspect that a barge whose decks were laden with a ton of cement had its ballast tanks filled with Colombian buds. Kramer was convicted in 1990 on racketeering and drug-smuggling charges and is in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. (Kramer's name also surfaces frequently in connection to the murder of racer and boat builder Don Aronow, who was gunned down Feb. 3, 1987 on Thunderboat Row in the midst of designing the Blue Thunder, a powerboat that would be used by federal drug agents to interdict drug traffickers. Kramer allegedly offered to buy the company from Aronow so that he could stop production of the boat. Aronow initially agreed but later reneged, costing Kramer $600,000.)
"At one time, two-thirds of our national champions were convicted drug smugglers," asserts John Crouse, powerboat racing historian and author of Searace: A History of Offshore Powerboat Racing. Often, Crouse says, while smugglers chopped through the waves for fun and bragging rights, lawmen roamed the parking lots, jotting down license-plate numbers, taking notes, and snapping photos.
"The offshore powerboat racing machine was really the catalyst for the major drug movement in the United States," Crouse says. In the 1970s, marijuana was the primary Colombian import, usually hauled to the United States by freighter. Pot-laden ships anchored off the coast in international waters and off-loaded bales of cargo onto smaller boats to sneak ashore. "That meant they had to have fast boats in the middle of the night that could outrun the law, and that's where the offshore racers came in," says Crouse. "The same guy that raced on the weekends would be out running at night. They'd pick up 50 grand a night." When cocaine - and airplanes - began to dominate the market, Crouse adds, powerboat drivers continued to be employed to ferry cargo from landing strips on offshore islands to the mainland.