Glorious & Notorious

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

"We found the dope, the money, but Rudy claimed it was income from his seafood business. The IRS eventually gave him half the money back, and he went to the Mutiny and put a bottle of Dom on every table."

Raul Martinez, assistant chief, Miami police: "We took significant numbers of people out of there at gunpoint. Sometimes you couldn't help it. One night myself and a couple other investigators were walking down the stairs and one of us bumped into Carlos Quesada. When you bumped into him you could feel the handle of a gun, so we arrested him for packing a firearm. I arrested Willy Falcon there on a 1980-81 wiretap case known as Video Canary, and he pleaded guilty, the only thing he was ever arrested for that stuck. He was a puppy then, basically. The level of dealing he was doing at the time definitely magnified over the years.

"Monkey Morales, we arrested him there on one case, and later on he became an informant for us. He testified against Carlos Quesada. The Villaverdes were involved in that one, too. That's the world of informants. They get caught and want to work off a case, or they want to hurt their competition. Today's drug dealer could be tomorrow's informant against somebody else. So there are friendships, but no loyalty. For instance, I remember George Valdes hanging out at the Mutiny back when he was Willy Falcon's supplier, then he became an informant against Falcon.

"The Mutiny was a place that you didn't go by yourself. Or at least you had to be very careful when you went there, because you could get set up. Working undercover there was exciting, dangerous, kind of foolish at times. It exposed you to false allegations by any scumbag, which could be hard to disprove. Also, there were a lot of high-level attorneys with high-level clients, which created stares across the room. The attorneys wondered if you were there maybe watching them, or their clients, and they would send over drinks and you would have to send the drinks back. I did, anyway."

Steven, attorney, former federal prosecutor: "Usually the people with me were other prosecutors or agents, and a lot of the time we were just there out of sheer curiosity. It was the height of the cocaine cowboy era, which a lot of people have forgotten about, and from the eyes of a federal prosecutor it had sort of a sinister feel. Maybe sinister isn't the right word. It was like being in the Wookie bar in Star Wars.

"You've got to put Miami in context. You can't really understand the place unless you knew it then, and if you wanted to understand it then, you had to check out the Mutiny. The Mutiny was beyond a hangout, it was almost a cult. A lot of undercover meetings took place there. In the old days this town was loaded with informants. The U.S. Attorney's office was absolutely swamped. A lot of people came in from out of town on short-term detail to help us out, and the first place we always took them was the Mutiny.

In 1960 seven Miami men were recruited and secretly trained by the CIA to assassinate Cuban president Fidel Castro, Raul Castro, Che Guevara, and five other Cuban government officials. This so-called Shooter Team included Raul and Rafael Villaverde, who two decades later showed up at the Mutiny as regular customers. Two years after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, other members of the intact Shooter Team were reportedly caught by local police smuggling narcotics into the U.S. from Cuba, leading one CIA supervisor to worry about "problems of control" and illegal profiteering. Meanwhile, at least ten years before being observed at the Mutiny with the Villaverde brothers, Monkey Morales was also working for the CIA, and spent two years on assignment for the Agency in the Congo in 1964 and 1965.

What to make of the unmistakable odor of espionage that blew through the Mutiny some nights, as strong as the scent of freebase Marlboros? Some former patrons believe that, as late as the mid-Eighties, the hotel and its club were a hatching-house for Reagan-era covert schemes aimed at Central America, or at least a relaxing spot for mercenaries and intelligence operatives who were involved in them.

In 1977 rogue CIA agent Edwin Wilson reportedly met with Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza and offered Somoza the services of the original 1960 Shooter Team for the purpose of assassinating top leadership in the revolutionary Sandinista movement. The price: $80,000 per man, plus $250,000 in expenses for the operation. Somoza declined, but two years later Shooter Team members, along with CIA representatives, met Somoza in the Bahamas to discuss supplying weapons, aircraft, ammunition, and military equipment to Somoza's dispossessed officers, now known as the Contras. On his return to Miami, Edwin Wilson set up Orca Supply Company and later used it to ship arms from Florida to Nicaragua.

By 1983 John Hull, an American rancher with past CIA associations, was allowing his property on the Costa Rican border to be used as a base for cocaine smuggling from Colombia to Miami; at the same time it was being used as a landing strip for arms shipments from Florida destined for the Nicaraguan Contras. Two sources claim to have seen both Hull and Wilson at the Mutiny in the early Eighties.

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