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Griselda Blanco has acquired many monikers in her 65 years. The Colombian drug dealer earned the title of "Cocaine Queen" in Seventies New York, and she became La Madrina — a.k.a. "The Godmother" — when she moved her operations to Miami. Because of her tendency to bump off her own husbands, three in all, she has also been dubbed "Black Widow."
Blanco got busted in California in 1985, and she was subsequently convicted in federal court of conspiring to import cocaine.
The conviction made the nightly news, which is how Charles Cosby, a small-time street hustler from Oakland, California, learned about her. He was gob-smacked, he says. "My drug dealing was confined to the hood," he recounts in a telephone interview from California. "I couldn't see beyond the ghetto. I never knew anything about the higher echelons."
Cosby saw Blanco as a role model, someone to be emulated. In 1991, he sent a fan letter to her California prison cell, and she wrote back. The two struck up a fast correspondence friendship. Authorities wouldn't let Cosby, then 23, meet the 51-year-old Blanco in person because, he says, he was on probation for carrying a machine gun.
But after months of written exchanges plus daily phone conversations, Cosby finally got cleared for a jailhouse visit.
"I'll never forget it," he says. "When the officers brought her in, everything stopped. She commanded the attention of the entire room. She was beautiful. She immediately embraced me and stuck her tongue in my mouth."
According to authorities, Griselda Blanco was behind many of the murders that rocked Miami in the late Seventies and early Eighties as cocaine dealers resurrected the murderous mayhem of Prohibition-era Chicago. In the midst of the torrid cocaine wars, hundreds of people were killed — flattened by machine guns, murdered execution-style on back streets, sometimes rubbed out in public places in the bright Florida sunshine.
Blanco is a central yet elusive character in the 2006 documentary Cocaine Cowboys, which chronicles the way Miami flourished with drug money. When researching the movie, director Billy Corben and producer Alfred Spellman came across photos of Cosby.
The documentary-makers, who are about to release a straight-to-DVD sequel titled Cocaine Cowboys II: Hustlin' with the Godmother, July 29, say they often wondered, Who is this young black man? They were unable to locate him.
After Cocaine Cowboys was released, Cosby found them. The filmmakers invited him to Miami, where they run a production company called Rakontur, to record an interview they could tag on to the DVD as an extra feature.
Meanwhile, fans were clamoring for more information about La Madrina. "There's surprisingly very little out there about somebody who was responsible for much of the Wild West activity in Miami," Spellman marvels. "The one character that didn't speak in Cocaine Cowboys was the one that everyone wanted to hear about."
Via a lawyer, Blanco had declined the Rakontur team's request for an interview. In 2004, she was released from prison and deported to Colombia. Now, here was this guy who knew her on an intimate level, wanting to share his memories. Corben and Spellman say they decided to tell Griselda Blanco's story through Charles Cosby.
"Out of all the people Griselda did business with, so many of them are dead," Spellman says. "That makes it almost impossible to develop any kind of first-person narrative. That's why Charles is so important."
Cosby is the central narrator in Rakontur's new 97-minute film, which Magnolia Pictures will issue on disc. It's one of several sequels Rakontur hopes to turn out, with each focusing on different personalities from the Miami cocaine wars. The first Cocaine Cowboys became a runaway underground hit, especially with the urban crowd, helped immensely by South Florida rappers such as Trick Daddy and Pitbull shooting video shoutouts for the flick.
When Cosby first met Blanco, he says, she was still in the drug business, by her own estimates pulling in $50 million a year while behind bars. Cosby had hit the big time. A few days after the visit, Blanco sent two boxes full of coke to his house as a first installment in their fireball relationship. Within weeks, Cosby was a millionaire.
The second time he saw Blanco, they retreated into a prison closet for rapid-fire sex. The guards were in on it: Blanco uninhibitedly handed out bribes. As such, she enjoyed privileges like those quickies with Cosby, and she was allowed to dress in silk suits instead of jailhouse scrubs, Cosby says.
The new documentary doesn't quite match the high-speed intensity of the first Cocaine Cowboys, which made Miami Vice and Scarface seem almost tame by comparison. But Cosby knows how to spin a good yarn — he relates disturbing tales with engaging detail in a nonchalant tone. The film begins in California, focusing on Cosby's entry into the crack business. It's a sharp detour from the Miami drug scene, with old photos of Cosby looking like a character from Boyz n the Hood. There's even a demonstration of how to condense cocaine into crack on a stovetop.
Cosby offers a street-level glimpse at the impact the Colombian Cocaine Queen had on a single community — it's a scene that was playing out in neighborhoods across the nation. Blanco is thought to have smuggled tons of powdered cocaine into the United States during her heyday.