Black Tuna Gang Leader Gets Out of Jail

Robert Platshorn was the first big bust of the War on Drugs. Almost 30 years later, he's free and talking.

"Put 500 people in front of me," Platshorn likes to say, "and I'd get into 300 pockets."

Things were going well: He was married and had a son on the way, as well as a few successful businesses. Born in Philadelphia, Platshorn graduated from high school in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He studied communications and journalism at Temple University and at the University of Miami, but he never graduated. He was a smart middle-class kid with a restless soul. Unlike many who entered the drug trade, he wasn't clawing his way out of poverty; he was just a natural-born salesman and entrepreneur.

At the state fair, he met an old acquaintance from Philadelphia who was looking for some buyers to offload several shipments of marijuana. And so it began for Platshorn, who got a little dough for referring a contact to Robby Meinster, his childhood buddy. (Meinster declined to be interviewed.)

Robert Platshorn, a 64-year-old former pot smuggler, has eschewed his ragged prison sweats for slicker duds since his April Fool's Day release.
Jacek Gancarz
Robert Platshorn, a 64-year-old former pot smuggler, has eschewed his ragged prison sweats for slicker duds since his April Fool's Day release.
Platshorn's daughter, Hope, sits in his lap. She died at age 12 of an asthmatic condition while Platshorn was in federal prison.
Courtesy of the Platshorn family
Platshorn's daughter, Hope, sits in his lap. She died at age 12 of an asthmatic condition while Platshorn was in federal prison.

Richard Nixon was out of the White House by then, and the prevailing attitudes toward pot suggested to Platshorn that legalization was just up the road. There was an opening for profits, but he had to move fast. Besides, moving marijuana was so much more exciting than hustling no-run hosiery.

In 1975, Platshorn moved to Miami and began ascending the pot-purveying hierarchy, establishing Miami-Cuba connections as a middleman. These Cuban connections would later be severed as the Colombians violently wrested control of the cocaine trade.

Platshorn lived in the Spring Gardens section of old Miami, on the Seybold Canal. In the spring of 1976, he and Meinster opened the South Florida Auto Auction on seven acres at 2979 NW 36th St. Meinster relocated to Miami, and business began moving on all fronts. When Platshorn went to Barranquilla, Colombia, to salvage a failed deal that his weed-hustling customers' money depended on, he met "Johnny."

Platshorn needed a load of pot on credit, and Johnny knew just the right people. Johnny introduced him to Raúl Dávila-Jimeno. The Associated Press later described him as "dark-eyed and handsome," a man who "never [moved] without his local militiamen or his silver-plated .357 Magnum beneath an expensive leisure suit." From a prominent Colombian family, he was the only one from his country charged in the Black Tuna case. He was never extradited to the United States to face those charges.

The deal gelled, and Platshorn established a good working relationship with Dávila. For his second load from the wealthy Colombian, Platshorn arranged for 5,000 pounds of some "primo Colombian yerba." As collateral, Platshorn offered himself. He'd be released as soon as the load was sold and payment was deposited in an account.

It was in the fall of 1976, after an almost three-week stay in El Rodadero de Santa Marta on Colombia's Caribbean coast as a "hostage," when Platshorn finally rendezvoused in Aruba with a couple of pilots and the DC-3. They flew to a clandestine airstrip near the Caribbean coast in La Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta, jokingly referred to as O'Hare South, and took on the load.

But as they prepared to leave, Colombian soldiers began filtering out of the jungle, shouting, "¡Tranquilo, hombres!" — which, roughly translated, means "Don't move, stay calm, and put your hands above your heads!"

The soldiers glanced nervously at the glinting pistol stuck in Dávila's waistband and began disarming everyone. The noon sun glared high overhead, and Platshorn was wilting in the oppressive humidity. The soldiers pointed to the far end of the runway to the man in charge. He was a lieutenant, dressed in olive-drab fatigues, with two Dobermans on a leash in one hand and a chrome automatic in the other. When he finally joined them, the lieutenant asked Platshorn if he was the boss. Platshorn said he was just a laborer: "Yo campesino solo."

The Colombian officer didn't buy any of it. So he ordered Platshorn, laborer that he was, to begin unloading five tons of Colombia's skunkiest, one fecund 50-pound bale at a time. Platshorn was desperate for something to drink and eyed the lieutenant's canteen greedily. The officer chuckled and waved him toward the DC-3 with his gun.

The cargo hold had by then turned into an oven, and waves of heat stole his breath when he stepped inside. But the heat was suffused with the odor of baking marijuana. The THC — tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in pot — from 5,000 pounds of Santa Marta Gold was coaxed into the air by the rising mercury, intoxicating him like some massive vaporizer as he toiled and sweated. He stacked the bales in fours, but after only a few stacks, he found himself utterly stoned.

His business partners had left to retrieve money to buy off the lieutenant — a requested $2 million. But the lieutenant's patience was wearing thin, and he was toying with the idea of shooting Platshorn, making him an example of what happens to traffickers who don't pay his "landing fees." Platshorn wasn't worried — not a bit. He tore a corner off one of the bales and joined four rolling papers. Then he rolled a massive joint and lit it like some pungent torch. The Colombian soldiers laughed at him and crowed, "Loco." Then, with the lieutenant off in the shade somewhere, Platshorn offered the joint to the bemused, carbine-toting Colombians, and a few accepted. To them, this man didn't seem to be much of a threat at all.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

I wish Bobby a lot of luck. I was in marion Illinois supermax with him in the early 80's. He is a good guy and did not deserve to do all that time let alone spend hard time in a supermax such as marion I will buy his book as he has one great story to tell..

Miami Concert Tickets