In January, I wrote about an amazing high-tech submarine race to the bottom of the ocean. In the story, I mentioned how a Hialeah strip club called Porky's had once been the staging ground for an incredible plot to smuggle Colombian cocaine to California in a Russian sub.
Then, at the end of August, New Times received a crackly long-distance phone call from Panama. "You want to know the real story about Porky's strip club?" a man said in a thick Long Island accent. His name was Tony Galeota, he said, and he had run Porky's for 18 years before being locked up in Panama's worst prison for a crime he didn't commit.
"This is real mafia shit," Galeota says of his life pulling strings in Miami's murderous, mob-fueled prostitution industry. "Real people, real families, real beatings, and real killings."
Galeota and I spoke many times over the phone about his high-octane, often highly-illegal life. He is the first to admit that he's no saint. He has made a lucrative career out of selling sex, starting as a teenager in New York when he would drive his friends to the West End for hookers.
"He's not going to win any character contests," says friend and former Porky's DJ Josh Weiss.
But Galeota is brutally honest, both about his own life and the cocaine-fueled, mob-connected strip clubs that have dominated Miami for decades. In fact, it was here, in the mob-infested waters of South Florida, that the fishmonger found his true calling.
Starting in 1991, Galeota turned Porky's -- a hole-in-the-wall near Miami International Airport -- into a one-stop-shop for strippers, sex, and serious drugs. The line between stripping and prostitution was as thin as the girls' g-strings.
"Someone would come to Porky's, see a girl they liked, and ask me: 'Is she good to go?'" Galeota says. "A lot of girls wouldn't usually sleep with guys. A lot of other girls would. Sometimes if you upped the ante, offered her $500, all of a sudden the girl changed her tune."
When cops raided Porky's in 2009, Galeota moved to Panama where prostitution is legal. But greed and government corruption would conspire against him.
Now he is rotting inside La Joya, one of the western hemisphere's worst jails. There, inmates kill each other over $10 and bury the bodies in the prison yard.
I visited Galeota inside La Joya last month. The jail is about an hour's drive from Panama City, a glistening collection of glass spires alongside the Panama Canal.
At La Joya, I rented a faded red t-shirt for $1 from an old lady (to distinguish me from the prisoners, who aren't locked up during the day and roam around the prison yard, playing soccer and drinking Coke) before entering.
Then a Panamanian police officer ushered me into a cinderblock outhouse where I was strip-searched for contraband.
We drove around potholes the size of VW minibuses until we arrived at La Joya's gate. The prison's muddy yard smelled like raw sewage. Mangy dogs hobbled around looking for scraps.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
I walked up a moldy double staircase with handcuffs hanging off of it like bunting, and out onto a balcony. There I found Galeota arguing with U.S. Embassy officials.
"You guys do nothing for us in here!" he yelled. "This is all they give us," he said, holding up a bottle of multivitamins. "They can't even bring us clean water."
Check out this week's feature story to read about the conditions inside La Joya, how Galeota ended up in the horrible prison, and how Miami's era of cocaine-fueled, mob-connected strip clubs might be gone forever.