Miami People

Mickey Munday: Twilight Cowboy

When Mickey Munday saunters into Bulldog Barbecue in North Miami, he picks a table across from a mirror so he can see everything behind him. And as he does whenever he enters a room, he makes a mental note of all the possible exits. "I guess it's an old habit," drawls the 65-year-old former cocaine smuggler, two decades (and a seven-year prison sentence) removed from a work environment fraught with cutthroat Colombians, snitches, and FBI raids.

Not that Munday is in hiding. His long, fading locks and floppy cowboy hats make him instantly recognizable. He's a regular at a few local haunts — Bulldog, Tobacco Road, Cameo — and since being featured in the documentary Cocaine Cowboys, he has entered that weird world of celebrity where you have no day job, rappers name themselves after you, and strangers in Italy want to be your Facebook friend. As Munday chats with New Times, the restaurant's owner brings him a free plate of chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk. "If somebody was upset with me," Munday remarks as he dips a cookie, "I'm real easy to find."

The North Miami native was the son of George Munday, a heavy-browed footballer who spent four seasons in the NFL, playing for Cleveland, Saint Louis, New York, and Cincinnati. Munday's mother was a former Ohio beauty queen. He graduated from North Miami Senior High and studied architecture and drafting at Dade County Junior College. Not exactly the makings of a criminal mastermind — but you could say Munday was a late bloomer.

In 1978, Munday was 33 and running a concrete block company he inherited from his dad and a high-speed motorcycle shop. He wasn't desperate for cash, but he was bored — so he organized the sale of 2,000 pounds of pot for a friend. "I was amazed that I could make that type of money for something so easy," Munday recalls. "And I got to thinking that transportation is always the key to everything."

Then he met Max Mermelstein. The American point man for the Medellín Cartel found an occupational soul mate in Munday, an experienced pilot with a knack for logistics. Munday joined a crew that spent the '80s importing Cessna-loads of cocaine with a value totaling upward of $2 billion, cementing this city's reputation as Shangri-la for gun-battling smugglers — and hell for the citizenry.

The spree came to a crashing halt when Mermelstein flipped on his cronies in 1987, making Munday a fugitive before finally sending him to prison five years later. The 2006 cult hit Cocaine Cowboys transformed Munday's life. Paramount Pictures bought his story rights for a film about him and Miami drug dealer Jon Roberts, who will reportedly be played by Mark Wahlberg. Who's being discussed for Munday's part? "I've heard Leonardo DiCaprio," he says with a wry smile. "He's handsome enough."

Mermelstein died broke and isolated in the Witness Protection Program. But his old pilot says there's a reason he's enjoying a peaceful postprison life: "I never hurt anybody. I never did understand the violence that went with the business. How can you make money when you're killing everybody?"

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Gus Garcia-Roberts