Last year, New Times published a feature detailing the strange last days of Max Mermelstein, the master cocaine smuggler who turned snitch in the mid-80s and died under government protection in 2008.
Among the readers: Rochelle Desiree Mermelstein Gomez, Max's 36-year-old daughter who he had abandoned in Puerto Rico in 1976, when she was two. Her mother, Gladys Gomez, had been trying to track down Max since then.
Both of them found out that Max had died only by reading the New Times story.
Mermelstein was the American point man for the Medellin Cartel, smuggling an estimated 56 tons of cocaine-- worth $12.5 billion-- into the United States in the late 70s and early 80s. Upon his arrest in 1985, Mermelstein became the most valuable informant in law enforcement history, using his inside knowledge of the drug business to help indict or trap some of the globe's biggest druglords. As we revealed, he died broke in Kentucky, living under an assumed identity with a $3 million bounty presumably still on his head.
A South Floridia screenwriter, Brett Tabor, bought Mermelstein's life rights and managed to spend time with the ex-smuggler in the months before his death. He's currently in Los Angeles trying to make a major motion picture based on Mermelstein's life.
The Max Mermelstein that Gladys Gomez married in New York in 1972, before moving to Puerto Rico together, had not yet entered the drug trade. He was a hotel engineer working at the San Juan Sheraton. In 1976, he left his wife and their two-year-old daughter Rochelle, Gladys says, to headed to Miami with a new woman. He married her-- because her identity is protected, let's call her Lara-- and they would have two daughters together.
Gomez spent the next two decades trying to track down Max for child support, she says, adding that Puerto Rican authorities even attempted to enforce the payments. It wasn't until 1985, when Mermelstein had been caught and turned witness, that his ex-wife and child learned, from a newspaper article, that he had become a drug smuggler.
Five years later, Rochelle received what might be the most bizarre letter a 16-year-old daughter ever received from her father. (We've embedded it on the next page.) "This in no means says that I did not or do not love you," he wrote, before explaining his current situation: "The government made a deal with me for me to cooperate and testify against a number of druglords."
Mermelstein mentioned arranging a visit with his estranged daughter through the U.S. Marshals service, but Rochelle says he never contacted her again. "I don't know what kind of love it was that he professed," seethes her mother Gladys on the phone from Puerto Rico. "He behaved so cowardly towards his daughter."
Mermelstein wrote about Gladys only briefly in his memoir, The Man Who Made it Snow, and didn't mention having a child with her: "My Puerto Rican wife at the time, Gladys, was a different person once I took her back to her own country. Like all Latin women, she seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of relatives. Finally she left me to go across the island and live with her feuding parents, who needed her as a buffer."
Gladys and Rochelle provide some pretty incredible materials backing up their story, including the smoking gun: Rochelle's birth certificate listing Mermelstein as the father Some of the documents, such as Mermelstein's own birth certificate and social security card, will be manna for scholars of the drug trade. We've embedded it all in the next page.
So what do they want? If you guessed money with the film possibly in production, you're not wrong. Gladys says that she feels they are still owed child support and alimony: "I'm handicapped, and we want to make ends meet."
But Rochelle says in an e-mail that she wants to "contact... Brett Tabor because he was close to my father when he died. I want to know my little brothers and sisters. I have a story that is the missing link of my father Max Mermelstein."
Tabor declined to comment when Riptide called him, and doesn't have an update on the production of his film. We're still waiting to hear from Max's other kids as to their take on this newly-revealed sibling.
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- Max Mermelstein Slideshow
- The Mermelstein Files: The Former Smuggler's Last Will and Testament, Filed Under an Alias
- The Mermelstein Files: The Cocaine King's Letter to Nancy Reagan
- The Mermelstein Files: Max Testifies in Front of Joe Biden