One of the strangest chapters from Miami's pot-smuggling glory days came to an end in federal court today, when ajudge sentenced Mark Steven Phillips
-- a long-lost associate of the Black Tuna ring -- to five years in prison.
Phillips fled during the gang's infamous 1979 trial and hid under fake names Chile and Germany for thirty years before returning to South Florida in 2010 to live out his Golden Girls dreams in a West Palm retirement home. Agents arrested the 62-year-old in January, leaving him with a potential life sentence hanging over his head.
U.S. Judge James Lawrence King -- the same judge who sentenced Phillip's Black Tuna associates thirty years ago -- agreed to go easy on the fugitive, though.
Phillip, after all, played a small role in the group, which hauled more than 500 tons of weed from South America to U.S. shores in souped up yachts. He owned a boat dealership in Fort Lauderdale, and his biggest crime was helping the gang buy yachts to haul the marijuana.
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Here's what Robert Platshorn, the Black Tuna's leader who spent thirty years in prison, told our Broward sister blog The Juice in January when Philip was arrested:
"He never sold so much as a seed of pot and was no insider in the Black Tunas," Platshorn said. "He is a nice guy and may now spend the rest of his life in federal prison. After 32 years, to hunt down and 'capture' a bit player in a pot case is no credit to our government. It's a big waste of money. And a long jail term will be an even bigger waste of tax bucks."
Five years still seems like a lot for a guy with bipolar disorder who sold some boats thirty years ago that hauled a drug most Americans think should be legalized, but hey -- it's better than a life term.