Glorious & Notorious

Casablanca had Rick's; Vegas had the Stardust; Miami's cocaine jazz age had the decadent Mutiny Hotel

Lazaro, private detective, former Metro-Dade police undercover narcotics officer: "Miami was crazy in those days. It was fun but it was also very dangerous -- all those sensationalistic hits, the shootouts down U.S. 1. For a long time you had some local American guys involved in grass smuggling, and they were happy-go-lucky, sort of mellow types. Then the fishermen started getting into cocaine and had all of this money, and then the Colombians started coming in the mid-Seventies. After that cocaine started getting really heavy and it was a more violent type of world. The cocaine types were more vociferous, more aggressive.

"In the middle of all this mayhem, the Mutiny was like a no man's land, sort of a sanctuary. There weren't very many fights because everybody was armed. I remember Monkey Morales sitting there one night. A couple people came in who he didn't like, so he asked for a basket of bread, and in the basket of bread he had put his weapon. That's how he did it. So if the police searched him he was clean, but he had his gun close at hand."

Monkey Morales -- stocky, scary, possessed of simian features -- began his career the same year the Mutiny opened, and eventually reigned as king of a court that included such colorful top-flight drug traffickers as Rudy Rodriguez, Carlos Quesada, and Francisco Condom-Gil. In 1968, after defecting from the Cuban secret police, Morales was arrested for the first time in Miami. But instead of going to jail he became a paid FBI informant, testifying later that year against fellow anti-Castro zealot Orlando Bosch, who was caught at the port of Miami trying to shoot missiles at a Cuba-bound Polish freighter. Throughout the years, as he became one of Florida's most successful cocaine importers, Morales informed on virtually all of his Mutiny drinking buddies, who, oddly, continued partying with him.

In 1977 police bugged the phone of Morales's sometime friend and business partner Carlos Quesada, and later arrested Quesada, Rudy Rodriguez, and Morales, and seized 56 pounds of cocaine. The wiretap transcripts were ruled inadmissible as evidence, and the case began to collapse. But Quesada and Morales turned snitch and helped send Rodriguez to prison. Three years later, Morales assisted police in orchestrating the so-called Tick-Talks investigation, named for a bug placed in a wall clock at Carlos Quesada's house. Forty-eight people, including Condom-Gil, Quesada, and the Villaverde brothers, were arrested. Out on bond, Rafael Villaverde vanished while on a fishing trip in the Bahamas. Free, but running out of friends, Monkey Morales entered, then dropped out of, the federal witness protection program. In 1982 he died from a gunshot wound to the head at a bar in Key Biscayne.

Lazaro, the undercover narc: "Monkey had a table at the end of the bar, and sometimes he'd be sitting there with Carlos Quesada. I liked Monkey. Quesada, I didn't like him as much, he was less intelligent, basically a silk-shirt punk. One day he's putting vinyl on people's car tops at a joint off Le Jeune and Eighth Street, a year and a half later he's driving a Rolls and a Mercedes. He wasn't in the same class with Monkey, but then again, he's still alive.

"Anyway, you had nights when you had the top drug dealers in town sitting with Customs, DEA, Metro, all drinking at the same bar. Beepers were a new thing back then, but sometimes you walked in there and it sounded like a symphony with all the beepers going off. There were nice ladies there from all walks of life, everything from hookers to corporate executives. Everyone was there to have fun. The worst you had in the way of violence was wives walking in on drug dealers with their girlfriends. Sometimes you'd go in the men's room and there'd be three or four guys sniffing and snorting. I never saw any selling, but I sure saw a lot of giving.

"You keep asking me, Why was the Mutiny allowed to operate so openly for so long? Let me explain. It's like in espionage, the government knows who the spies are, so they leave them in place. That way they can study them. At the Mutiny we knew who was hanging out with who. We left them alone because we wanted to study the genealogy. You did a lot of intelligence gathering at the Mutiny just by going there. You would know who just brought in a load because they would be celebrating -- it was that open. Then sometimes you'd see two guys who you thought should be at each other's throats, and instead they're best buddies now. A lot of people came from out of town to meet at the Mutiny. You got their tag number, and the next morning you drove out to the airport to the car rental office, and you would see who rented the car. If you wanted to spoil somebody's night, you'd come by and sit at their table and let everyone see you doing it.

"We had a gentleman, Rudy Rodriguez, who we arrested with about $900,000 in cash at his home. In those days there were no money laundering statutes. Rudy was on his way to the Mutiny when we came in, and here's what he was wearing: white shoes, white socks, a white frock, and a white top hat. His wife was dressed in white. There was a white Rolls Royce out in front of Rudy's house with a guy named Sunshine Sammy playing a small piano, a keyboard, in the back. Rudy used to roll his base in Marlboros and then put the cigarettes back in the cigarette boxes. It was a very antiseptic smell that you could sniff when you walked into the Mutiny. It permeated the air, and you knew Rudy was there.

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