DEVILS OF CONTRABAND: How a Former High End “Escort” Survives South Florida’s Narcotics Underworld

By Matthew B. Cox

STANDING OUTSIDE THE SUITE, she checked the chambers of the snub-nosed, Smith & Wesson .38 Special, one last time, before slipping it into her Louis Vuitton purse. Her eyes nervously darted up and down the hotel’s empty hallway. She took two deep, cleansing breaths and softly rapped on the door of room 921.

A Holiday Inn sitting on the hot white sandy beach of Miami Beach, Florida, is as good of a place as any to exchange $1.2 million in cash for 4,000 pounds of high-grade Colombian Gold. At least it seemed that way to Marlene Hudson in May 1975. At 36, she was a dead-ringer for Raquel Welch; with Playboy bunny curves, high cheekbones, and dirty-blonde Farah Fawcett hair. Despite the perspiration seeping into her sleeveless silk blouse and Jordache jeans, she appeared calm.

Her contact, Earl “The Pearl” Keller, had setup the whole thing a couple days earlier. He knew the buyer, “Bud,” from his stint at the Federal Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. He’d assured her that “Bud was cool.”

Samples of the product had been arranged. The price agreed upon. The time and place of the exchange set. Still, Marlene didn’t know Bud or his crew of Georgia rednecks.

The door opened and there he was, Bud, all 6-feet 300-pounds of him. His eyes drifted over the casual attire barely concealing her sensuous body. He motioned her into the suite with his unshaven chin.

Inside sprawled out on the double-bed and a couple guest chairs were four of Bud’s “boys,” draped in denim and sweat stained wifebeaters. There were several ashtrays over flowing with Marlboro butts and a dozen empty Pabst Blue Ribbon cans scattered around the room.

The door closed. Marlene could feel Bud’s backwoods brethren ogling her. One of them whistled and another mumbled, “Pretty brave comin’ up here all by herself.” Fear rippled up her spine, goose-bumps danced across her skin, and she grimaced in disgust.

Bud asked for another sample and she tossed him a small bag of the marijuana. This was supposed to be a quick swap, she thought, as Bud was rolling up a joint. The cash for the keys to the two vans sitting in the hotel’s parking lot; each packed with 2,000 pounds of Colombian.

Bud took several drags on the end of the blunt and coughed out, “This…this the same shit from yesterday?”

“It’s the same,” she replied. It was all she had. High-grade Colombian Gold straight from Bogota. Marlene had everything riding on this. She owed “The Jew” over $125,000 for the boat and another $200,000 to Raul’s people in Colombia for the product. Neither was the type of man who took kindly to losses. If she didn’t walk out of that room with the cash, she’d be dead and buried somewhere deep in the Florida Everglades within weeks.

Bud handed the blunt to one of his fat friends sitting next to the sliding glass doors leading to a balcony. He took a hit and the room began to fill with the pungent bluish vapors. “This ain’t the same quality as yesterday,” he said. “Damn sure, ain’t worth no three hundred a pound.”

Several of the crew shared an amused glance and a few grins. Marlene slowly unzipped her purse and slipped a hand inside; then casually glanced around the room, wondering where they’d stashed the cash. Marlene had already decided, if she didn’t walk out of that room with the money, no one was walking out…period.

“Yeah,” agreed Bud. “I ain’t payin’ that kind of money for this…” Marlene slid her fingers around the Smith & Wesson’s grip. Bud shot one of his crew a nicotine stained smile and said, “Hell, I ain’t even gettin’ high…”

Suddenly, Marlene bolted forward while simultaneously pulling the snub-nosed .38 out of her purse. Everyone froze as she jammed the revolver’s barrel into the flat center of Bud’s forehead and growled, “You’d better start gettin’ high you inbred motherless cocksucker! Or I’m gonna splatter your fuckin’ brains all over your fat hillbilly friend’s lap! Now where’s my fuckin’ money?!”

Bud’s bloodshot eyes damn near bulged out of his skull and he yelped, “God damn! God damn! Pay ‘er! Pay her!”

Within months of walking out of that Holiday Inn, Marlene Hudson immersed herself—along with her two young sons—into the perilous world of international drug-smuggling. A criminal industry infested with snitches, junkies, wise guys, and assassins; all intertwined with drug enforcement and geopolitics. She and her crew of dope-running-cocaine-cowboys became one of the industry’s most prolific smuggling-rings. Over the next decade she and “her boys” smuggled roughly 300 tons of marijuana and cocaine along Miami’s intracoastal waterways, during one of the most violent periods in South Florida’s history.

However, the Hudson family’s twisted tale of drug smuggling, money, and murder, wasn’t conceived of in the choppy waters of the Florida Straits; it was spawned in the smoldering heat of the Arizona desert.

MARLENE DIDN’T SLEEP for three days in 1960, according to her son Michael Hudson; after managing to get herself arrested by the federales, in the dusty border town of Nogales, Mexico, for attempting to smuggle two kilos of marijuana into the U.S. The bricks were discovered tucked underneath the spare tire of her Ford Fairlane 500. The 22-year-old was yanked out of the car, marched into the local border patrol substation and thrown into a filthy holding cell that smelled of urine and vomit.

She’d heard the horror stories about the Mexican guards drugging the gringas’ food and raping them. Their favorite victims, being pretty little white chicas just like her. So while Marlene’s affluent mother contacted Senator Barry Goldwater, to intercede on her daughter’s behalf, Marlene sat in the corner of a cell reciting nursery rhymes to ward off hunger and sleep.

Over the next several days she refused to eat or drink anything. Just before the senators’ staff finalized Marlene’s release, her mother appeared outside her cell. She told her rebellious daughter, “This is the last time I’m bailing you out;” and it came with a price. Pregnant and married by age 16, and divorced with two toddlers by age 19, Marlene had been the consummate disappointment to her devout Mormon mother. “I’m taking the boys and you’re leaving Arizona, for good.”

“Mama, please,” she begged, “not my boys…” But it was too late for tears—the papers had been prepared—and her mother let Marlene know if she didn’t do precisely as she asked she’d leave her daughter in that “stinking cage.”

Marlene hadn’t slept in three days when she signed over custody to her five-year-old, Michael, and his younger brother, Douglas, age three.

Marlene’s mother wasn’t a young woman, nor was she in the best of health. She couldn’t keep up with two rambunctious boys. At the urging of the local Bishop of the Church of Latter-Day-Saints, she allowed the boys to be adopted by a Mormon family. According to Mike, his adopted mother and ex-military stepfather were loving people, however, they were also big believers in “spare the rod; spoil the child.” As a result, Mike and Doug had a difficult time. The boys grew up in the harsh desert, never knowing if they’d see their mother again.

MIAMI IN THE EARLY 60s was a hotbed of politics, wealth, and crime. The city was teaming with gangsters and upper-class Cuban exiles who’d escaped Fidel Castro’s revolution.

Marlene and her girlfriend, Terry, rented a place in Miami Beach. She spent the first few years as a waitress, bouncing between upscale restaurants on the beach. Despite the big tippers and free meals, Marlene was struggling financially; then she met Ricky Cravero, head of the Dixie Mafia in Miami—the undisputed boss of South Florida.

The way her son, Mike, tells it, one of Cravero’s associates, “Pinky” Schiffman*, could see the desperation in Marlene’s eyes. He made her an offer she couldn’t refuse.

* Footnote: Schiffman was also the president of the local labor union.

While President John F. Kennedy stared down Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and most American citizens were digging fallout shelters in their back yards—during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962—the rest of the world read about U-2 spy planes, nuclear ballistic missiles, and the U.S. naval blockade; Marlene entered the world’s oldest profession. Her looks and flirtatious personality, quickly turned her into one of Miami’s most expensive top-shelf call girls; plying her wares to wealthy tourists and mobsters at the luxurious Doral, Fontainebleau, and Eden Roc Hotels.

Schiffman wasn’t exactly her pimp—most of the time customers happily paid—but he did help Marlene out if she got into a jam. Once, in a suite at the Fontainebleau, Marlene was zipping up her dress after spending the last hour “balling” a client—some executive in town for the week. She fixed her hair and makeup, turned to the client, who was shirtless on the bed with a glass of scotch in his hand and said, “Sugar, I’m gonna have to get going. I need to get paid.” “For what?”

They’d already agreed on $500. “Don’t do this to me sweetie,” she smiled politely, “we have an agreement.” For the most part, Marlene was even tempered and calculating, but if you crossed her, she could be unmercifully cruel. She didn’t argue, she simply went down to the lobby, slipped a dime into the payphone, and called Schiffman. Within half an hour, he met her in the bar, flanked by two union thugs.

Schiffman asked her what the “stiff” owed her and his room number. Two minutes later, Schiffman and his goons barged into the client’s suite, grabbed him by the neck and shook some sense into him. They always came up with the money.

Within a few years Marlene had met a much much older sugar-daddy, Hal, the vice president of Lawnboy Lawnmower Corp. Rich and generous, he showered her with cash and expensive gifts. Eventually he bought her a home in exclusive Miami Shores. However, Hal spent most of his time with his wife in Chicago.

Marlene knew Hal wouldn’t take care of her forever and she wasn’t getting any younger. She made it a point to start rubbing elbows with Cravero’s Dixie Mafia associates at the infamous Executive and Polo Lounges. Networking with Ronnie Chandler, Paul “Jake The Snake” Jacobson, Bobby Greenwood, “Big Paul” Thompson and Stan Harris; the wise guys and feared outlaws responsible for running prostitution, loan sharking, book making and drugs throughout most of the southern states. The bulk of their operations culminated in North Bay Village, in Miami, known as “Gangster Row.”

She began by being fronted a hundred pounds of pot straight off one of Cravero’s boats. By the time Hal’s wife started asking questions, in the early 70s, Marlene was moving several hundred pounds of weed a month.

WHEN THE HUDSON BOY’S mother showed up in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1972, Mike didn’t even recognize Marlene. She was a well kept gorgeous blonde and Mike was a 17-year-old high school dropout—sporting long hair and tie-dyed shirts—who’d spent the summer hitchhiking around the west coast with the “STP family.” A rebellious, hippie teenager taken with the idea of free love, LSD, and Pink Floyd.

Mike and his younger brother were living in a cheap rental and burglarizing homes throughout the neighborhood to pay for their rent and a steady supply of drugs.

There was a tearful reunion, at the boy’s aunt’s ranch out in the desert, where Marlene told them to pack their stuff, ” “You’re coming with me.”

They’d never seen anything like the lavish Miami lifestyle. The huge house in Miami Shores. The gangsters. The luxury cars. The flashy clothes. Their heads were still spinning when Marlene stuck the two boys from the desert on a 40-foot Spencer Open-Fisherman with Captain Martin. “You listen to the captain,” she said. “He’s gonna teach you everything you need to know… There’s a lot ‘a money to be made on the water down here.”

Over the next year, Mike and Doug spent several days a week fishing off the Florida Keys; learned the nautical rules of the road, basic seamanship, and became adept at offshore navigation. However, in early 1973, Mike and his mother had a falling-out over her numerous boyfriends, words were exchanged and he moved back to Phoenix.

Marlene called him several times over the next few months. “I had plans for you boys,” she told him. “Plans for us.” But Mike had plans of his own. He began burglarizing homes; and over the next year Mike was arrested half a dozen times.

In March 1975, he was sentenced to three years, to be served at the Arizona State Penitentiary at Florence—one of the most violent prisons in the U.S. at the time.

Weeks before Mike was to report, he and a friend were getting stoned, while watching Papillon* at the drive-in. As Charrier cut open the belly of a fellow convict with a shiv, Mike’s buddy turned to him, wide-eyed, and hissed, “Is that what prison’s gonna be like?”

* Footnote: In Papillon, Steve McQueen plays Henri Charrier, a French thief sent to the ultra-violent Devil’s Island penal colony in the 1930s. Determined to escape, a series of escapes and recaptures follows.

Mike’s hand shook slightly in the dark as he took a drag of the joint. “God,” he replied, “I hope not.” It turned out, the Florence Pen was much worse.

ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS Marlene told Mike and Doug, Hal wasn’t going to live forever. But she had a plan. In the summer of 1975, Marlene borrowed heavily—using her house as collateral—from a loan-shark the Dixie Mafia boys called, “The Jew.” She put $150,000 down on a 40-foot Hatteras Sport-Fisherman and convinced Cravero to “hook her up” with his contact in Bogota, Raul. After a dozen international calls and some arm twisting, Raul agreed to front her 4,000 pounds of high-grade Colombian. Marlene then arranged for a Colombian freighter out of Cartagena to rendezvous with Doug in the Dry Tortugas, west of the Florida Keys; where he’d take on the load and smuggle it into South Florida by looping south of the Keys, west of Andros Island and past Bimini to Miami.

The only snag in Marlene’s plan was when she met Bud and his crew of Georgia hillbillies at the Holiday Inn. However, using her snub-nosed .38, she cleared up any thoughts Bud had about renegotiating the deal and she walked out of the suite with the $1.2 million in cash. Within a month Marlene and Doug had brought in two more tons of Colombian Gold. Two months after that they arranged for a third load.

DOUG WALKED INTO FLORENCE Penitentiary’s visitation room in early 1976, sporting a $10,000 gold Piaget and a 2 Karat Star Sapphire pinky-ring.

Sitting across from one another, hunched over in two chipped fiberglass chairs—surrounded by some of the most venal convicts in the state—Doug laid out the smuggling operation for his older brother. “Mike, we got over one thousand pounds sittin’ in a fuckin’ warehouse right now and another two tons comin’ in next month.”

Over the last year—out of absolute necessity—Mike had joined the Highwall Jammers* outlaw biker gang. It was that or run the risk of being stabbed as a “non-affiliated white boy.” In Florence, you clicked up or you died. He’d spent the last month surviving a race war between the Aryans and the blacks. There had been multiple riots and dozens of stabbings. He’d witnessed murders and seen plenty of blood. Too much blood.

* Footnote: The Highwall Jammers eventually became the Aryan Brotherhood.

“I got fifty grand sittin’ in Mom’s safe,” whispered Doug. “The money’s unreal.” While Mike was working-out and boxing in “the yard” three to four hours a day—with a shank tucked into his waistband—and sleeping with his boots on, his 19-year-old kid brother was driving around Miami in a brand new Cadillac Coupe de Ville. “You gotta come back to Florida when you get outta here.”

“Shit,” he grunted, “I’m not sure I’ll ever make it outta here.”

The way Mike tells it, he went into prison a scared shitless, skinny, mischievous hippie kid who rode a motorcycle, however, upon his release in September 1976, he emerged a six-foot, 220-pound predator biker; and he didn’t return to Miami, instead—after a short stint working as a miner, like a regular citizen—Mike bought a 1948 Harley Davidson 74-cubic-inch Panhead monstrosity and set his sights on a different lifestyle, albeit illegal.

He hooked up with Dave Burns—the premiere Harley Davidson motorcycle thief in Phoenix at the time—and decided to enter the trade.

MARLENE’S SMUGGLING organization had grown to: two 40-foot Hatteras Sport-Fishermans and a 57-foot Chris Craft Constellation, three reliable Cuban off-loaders, and a revolving crew of two to four hardened island hoppers—including her youngest son, Doug. They were clandestinely meeting Colombian freighters, taking on several tons of marijuana every other month, and stealthily moving the cargo through the Caribbean to Miami. The bulk of the product was unloaded at the boat docks of rented homes on various canals off the intracoastal. Most of the weed was being sold to Italian wise guys out of New York; and the money was rolling in.

Marlene had homes in Miami Shores and North Miami. There was nearly half a million dollars in gold and platinum Rolexes, diamond studded Tiaras, necklaces, and bracelets sitting in several floor-safes throughout her house; along with a garage full of glossy black Corvette Stingrays and a Mercedes 450 SL. She vacationed in New York, Ocho Rios, Jamaica and Nassau, Bahamas.

With the exception of Doug’s ever increasing drug habit, everything seemed to be going according to Marlene’s plan. Then in the summer of 1977, Doug and two crew members were making their way between Rum Cay and Nassau when—sometime around dusk—the Bahamian Coast Guard boarded and searched the Hatteras.

Its bowels were stacked to the ceiling, from the forward berth to the main salon, with 80-pound bales of high-grade marijuana, totaling 3,500 pounds. The Bahamians were not pleased.

They arrested Doug and the crew, and charged them with smuggling. Days later Doug agreed to plead guilty if the Bahamians would drop the charges on his crew.

“The barrister says I’m lookin’ at ten years,” Doug told his mother during a call shortly after the crew was released.

“I’ve already taken care of it.” Marlene had contacted Raul in Bogota and the Colombians had “a guy” en route to the Bahamas at that very moment. “Where are they keepin’ you?”

“Oh god Mom, I can’t even describe how bad this place is.”

Caribbean prisons are notoriously brutal, Fox Hill Prison on New Providence Island, near Nassau, however, was exceptionally savage. The restroom facilities consisted of a feces smeared hole in the floor, prisoners were fed slop thrown into a pig trough. There was never enough to go around and inmates constantly had to fight over the scraps. Dysentery was rampant and violent murders were a constant. The nights were the worst, Doug hardly slept the first month.

Luckily for Doug, the guards were as corrupt as the inmates were brutal. The Colombians’ guy was able to slip a guard $25,000 to leave a door unlocked; just after midnight in August 1977, Doug was able to crawl a quarter-of-a-mile to a cove where the Colombians had left a 38-foot Cigarette boat idling*.

* Footnote: At the time Don Aronow, of Cigarette Racing, made the preferred speedboats of smugglers.

No sooner had Doug raised the anchor, than a 40-foot Bahamian Coast Guard Interceptor came around the embankment into the cove. His heart nearly stopped when the spotlight hit him. Doug hit the throttle and the boat roared forward as the Bahamians opened fire with a 50 caliber Browning mounted to the forward deck. Rounds whipped by Doug’s head, chopping up the water around the Cigarette, and thumping into its bow while tearing through the hull. Seconds later he lost the interceptor in the night.

At high-speed, Doug made it to the southern coast of Florida in under four hours. He landed sometime around 4 a.m. and abandoned the bullet riddled Cigarette on Ft. Lauderdale Beach.

MIKE WAS HAVING PROBLEMS of his own in Arizona. Following Dave Burn’s arrest by Detectives Jack Hackworth and John Giordano of the Phoenix Police Department’s Special Investigations of Motor Vehicle Thefts Unit, the detectives were now looking for him. Since being released from prison Mike had stolen over 300 Harley Davidsons. Everything from 80-cubic-inch Lowriders, Dressers, to the older 74-cubic-inch Shovelheads and Panheads.

Sometimes he’d notice a Harley in traffic and follow the rider home. Other times “spotters” would call with the locations of bikes. Once Mike’s buddy, Pat Graef, informed him there was a biker who had a 74-cubic-inch Superglide. The bike, however, was guarded—24 hours a day—by a massive Great Dane. But Mike was patient, he waited until the temperature dropped below freezing one night—the biker had no choice but to bring the dog inside. Around three in the morning Mike stole the Superglide.

Less than a week later, Pat, informed Mike the same biker had bought a brand new 80-cubic-inch Lowrider; and it was sitting in his carport.

In the middle of the afternoon, while the biker watched Gilligan’s Island with his carport door wide-open, Mike slowly, silently, backed the biker’s Lowrider out of the carport and down the driveway. As Pat sat in his car wide-eyed with his mouth gaping in shock a block away, Mike walked the motorcycle to the dead-end at the end of the street, where he hotwired the ignition. Minutes later, Mike roared by the biker’s house as he came running out of the front door screaming and waving a .44 Magnum.

Mike was only arrested once for motorcycle theft—which was how the detectives got on his trail—but the owner of the bike never showed for trial and the charges were dismissed. He was sleeping at strippers’ houses and crashing at friends to avoid the detectives questions. It was kind of a game.

He’d fence the Harleys for around $1,200 a pop or strip them down and sell the parts to his cousin, Keith Warlock, owner of Cosmic Choppers. Most of the cash got dumped back into his bikes.

By December 1977, he’d won the International Motorama for the second year in a row with a ’69 Shovelhead—customized by Keith. Mike was at the show when he was approached by “Fast Bob” and “Drifty” with the Phoenix chapter of the Dirty Dozen Motorcycle Club—which ultimately become the Phoenix chapter of the Hell’s Angels. They asked him to “stop by the club sometime.”

Mike suffered through 60 days as a “prospect” and, in early 1978, he became a member of the Dirty Dozen. The next several years were pure insanity. Marlene convinced Mike to distribute roughly a ton of weed a month, which he moved through members of the Dozen.

She was constantly pushing Mike to move more product. “It’s not worth it to me, Michael,” she griped during one call. “I’m sending you fifteen hundred this month.”

“Mom, we can barely get rid of what you’re sending us now.”

“Then tell those stinkin’ wannabe Viking friends of yours to get off their lazy fucking asses and start moving the Goddamn product!”

IN EARLY 1978, a dozen state and local narcotics officers banged on Marlene’s door. They flashed their badges and a search warrant. After rooting around her residence, the cops seized roughly 50 samples of high-grade bud—less than five pounds of marijuana.

Marlene was arrested, but bonded out hours later. The following morning the bondsman, Richard Gladstone*, showed up on Marlene’s doorstep to relay a message from the judge in her case. Judge Ellen Morphonious** was notorious among drug industry members. For the right price, she’d look favorably on a defendants motions or throw out a case altogether.

* Footnote: Name has been changed; **Unable to pinpoint the exact date

due to the age and nolle prosse.

“The judge wants ten grand for a nolle prosse…”

“Shit!” she spat. However, begrudgingly, Marlene paid.

Before Gladstone had backed his vehicle out of her driveway, Marlene had stomped into the kitchen and called an associate. “That fucking bitch Morphonious, she just reached out and touched me for ten grand. I hear she fucks blacks and she takes it up the ass too.”

Unfortunately for Marlene the narcotics task force hadn’t removed the wire tap on her home phone. The taped conversation was delivered to Judge Morphonious. She wasn’t happy. Shortly thereafter, Gladstone showed up at Marlene’s house for a second time. They sat in her living-room and he played the taped conversation for Marlene. As the blood drained from her face, the bondsman shook his head, and sighed. “Now she wants one hundred thousand dollars or you’re going to prison.”

Marlene came up with the cash a few days later and she stopped talking on the phone.

MIKE FELL IN LOVE with a dancer at the Squeeze Box, Kris Angle, an exquisite five-foot nine-inch dime piece. They were married in December 1979. Their Miami honeymoon coincided with Marlene’s famous week long Christmas/New Year’s bash—attended by wise guys and made men from the five families out of New York and South Florida’s Dixie Mafia.

The scene was surreal, according to Mike. Serious gangsters like “Fat Andy,” Jerry Segal, and “Tony Black” were eating Cornish game hens off Lallique crystal, “bustin’ balls” and “talkin’ trash” as the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive played over the Bose sound system. There were lots of Armani suits and Versace dresses; and a line of Lincolns and Cadillacs wrapped around the block.

Mike knew his mother was doing well, but, until that moment, he had no idea of the scope of her smuggling operation or the amount of money she was making. That’s where he met a couple of his mother’s cowboy partners: Robert “Bobby” Young, a smuggler Marlene had hooked up with to import “Lambs Breath” marijuana from Jamaica; and Bob Casalle, the owner of several DC-3s she was using to import Colombian Gold. Marlene’s fleet now included three Sport-Fishermans and two 70-foot shrimp boats—capable of handling 20 tons of weed.

Five minutes into Mike and Bobby’s introduction, the shaggy haired island jumper, pulled Mike aside. “We’ve gotta problem.”\

Three days prior, while having a drink at Hy Uchitel’s Steak House, Bobby had come across an acquaintance, Nicodema*, from the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. Nico was a greasy haired Italian with a history of home invasions and murder. The two ex-cons huddled together at the bar, shooting the shit for a few minutes, bragging about their latest scores.

That’s when Nico mentioned knocking off big-time drug dealers for big money. He glanced across the bar into the restaurant. Sitting at a table near the lobster-tank was Marlene and Doug. Nico had been surveilling them for weeks. He knew Marlene was a major player and where she and Doug lived. The only mistake he’d made was bumping into Bobby and asking him if he wanted in on the heist.

Bobby finished his eggnog, glanced across the living-room at Mike’s mother, and whispered, “Nico’s planning on takin’ ’em down the day after New Years. Robbing and killin’ ’em both.”

Bobby had agreed to drive the car and be the lookout. He hadn’t told Marlene or Doug for fear neither had the stomach to do what had to be done. Marlene might have sent a couple guys to talk to Nico, maybe rough him up, however, there was no guarantee it would work. Doug was a bone thin junkie, dangerous, but as strung out as he was, Doug was useless. There was only one guaranteed solution.

Mike clenched his teeth, leaned into Bobby, and growled, “Tell me everything you know about this cocksucker.”

Joseph Paterno**—a made man in the Gambino crime family, whom Marlene knew through his son and several associates—came to see Marlene at her house weeks later. He asked her if she’d heard from, or seen Nico. He’d disappeared. She recalled seeing Bobby and Nico talking at the bar, however, Marlene didn’t mention it to Paterno. She barely knew Nico, he was just some recent parolee who gave her the creeps.

* Footnote: Name has been changed and some of the details have been changed.

** Footnote: No relation to the former Penn State Coach Joseph Paterno.

“I wouldn’t be askin’ except for his uncle’s Genovese, and,” he grunted, “his crew is looking real hard for ‘im.”

That night Marlene casually mentioned Paterno’s visit to Mike and asked if Bobby had said anything. He tried to shrug the question off, but she wouldn’t let it go.

“Alright Mom,” he said, “but you might wanna sit down for this.”

In the middle of telling her the sequence of events Marlene screamed, “Fuck, fuck, fuck! That piece of shit was the nephew of a lieutenant with the Genovese family. This shit could erupt into a war, you crazy motherfuckers!”

WITHIN MONTHS OF RETURNING to Phoenix there were rumors of an FBI Task Force focusing on motorcycle gangs. Shortly after the rumors, Mike’s roommates, “Big George” and “Hillbilly,” were arrested for breaking an undercover agent’s jaw in a bar fight. Mike was stealing more and more Harleys—ultimately he stole over 500 bikes in and around Phoenix—while dodging Detectives Hackworth and Giordano. The local cops were periodically stopping members of the Dozen and checking the VIN numbers of their bikes. Suddenly, being an outlaw biker with the Dirty Dozen stopped looking all that appealing.

Then, after a high-end burglary, Mike’s wife came home early and walked in on him separating nearly a million dollars worth of gold bullion by karat. She’d had enough. The next day his new bride packed her things and left.

“Thank god that flakey broad is gone,” said Mike’s mother during a phone call. “Now you can come back to Miami and get on the boat.”

“Mom, I don’t… I’m in the Dozen and—”

“You’ve played biker long enough, Michael. Your brother’s a goddamn junkie; if somebody doesn’t straighten him out soon he’s gonna kill himself.” She told Mike to come home and this time, it wasn’t negotiable.

AS A WOMAN IT WASN’T EASY running a crew of “island jumpers” in the male dominated drug smuggling industry. Everyone—associates and competitors—were trying to “muscle in on the action” and take advantage of, what they considered, a weak link. Marlene was determined not to be that link.

During a transaction in early 1980, she met a couple of low level, but connected, wise guys out of New York, at the Marco Polo Hotel, on North Collins Avenue on Miami Beach. Something she did every month or two. Five hundred pounds of grass for $150,000. Only this time the New Yorkers asked if Marlene could sell them an additional 200 pounds. It wasn’t a problem, but she didn’t have it with her.

On her way to one of her warehouses on 79th Street, west of the railroad tracks, Marlene spotted a Ford Fairlane 500—she only noticed it because the vehicle was the same model she’d been driving when arrested by the federales in Mexico over a decade earlier. Same model she’d observed as she turned onto Biscayne Blvd. The same model she’d noticed tailing her Corvette, consistently staying three cars behind her.

Marlene calmly pulled into a Chevron gas station on West Dixie Hwy. She rolled to a stop alongside a pump and waited for the Fairlane to pull in. They stopped at the corner of the building. Marlene strolled into the office—ignored the cashier—and walked out the rear exit. Then she looped around the back of the station, pulled her snub-nosed, Smith & Wesson .38 Special out of her purse, and approached the two New Yorkers. She didn’t recognize either of them.

Before either man knew what was happening, Marlene had leaned into the open window and jammed the snub-nose’s barrel into the driver’s crotch. Both men yelped in shock and began squirming. They instinctively raised their hands, palms out, fingers extended.

Marlene calmly said, “I’m gonna assume you two goombas were tryin’ to find my stash; is that right?”

“Lady,” whimpered the driver, “I don’t know what you’re talkin’ ’bout. We’re just—”

“Shut up!” she barked. “You lie to me again and I’ll turn you into a fuckin’ eunuch.” She pulled the hammer back and it clicked into the locked position. Simultaneously, the driver lost control of his bladder. A dark stain spread across the crotch of his slacks. “What’d they tell you to do?”

“All we was supposed to do was find out where you keep the stuff,” he chattered in a panic. Terrified by the thought of being emasculated, “that’s all, I swear.”

“Huh,” grunted Marlene, not quite sure what to do. She couldn’t just let them go. Marlene thought about popping a few holes in the Fairlane’s tires, but there were too many bystanders within earshot. Instead, she relieved the driver and the passenger of their pinky-rings, watches—one was a Rolex Presidential—and their New York state driver’s licenses.

Marlene told them she was going to give the licenses to “her boys” and if anything ever happened to her “they’ll track you two down and dump your bodies in the ocean.” Then she told them not to come back to Florida, ever. “Not even to fuckin’ Disney World.”

TENS OF THOUSANDS OF CUBAN refugees began landing on the shores of South Florida in the summer of 1980. Fidel Castro had opened the port of Mariel to any Cuban wishing to leave the communist ruled island; in response to the Peruvian Embassy granting asylum to anti-Castro Cubans. Shortly after the announcement, Cubans started piling into fishing boats and rafts by the tens of thousands. In the midst of the exodus, Castro opened the doors to Cuban prisons and unleashed numerous career criminals into the chaos.

By October, over 125,000 of the islanders had made their way to the U.S. coast. Internment camps were established at Eglin Air Force Base and several tent cities were built in Miami’s metropolitan areas. Soon, authorities realized, mixed among the refugees were thousands of criminals.

Over the next several years—fueled by the arrival of this ultra-violent element and the massive importation of cocaine—Miami was struck by an unprecedented crime wave. The murder rate spiked and, seemingly overnight, Miami became the most dangerous city in the United States.

BY THE EARLY 80S EVERYTHING had changed. The Cuban and Colombian drug organizations were at war. Members were regularly shooting it out in the streets and malls throughout South Florida and the bodies were piling up.

Marlene’s smuggling empire had been dealt several blows over the last few years. After suffering a catastrophic propeller shaft failure, one of her shrimpers had gone down in the Florida Straits with 40,000 pounds of Colombian Gold onboard—a $14 million loss. A second shrimper, cargo, and crew went missing during Hurricane David. Roughly two years later, in November 1981, Bobby, Dana, and two crew members were transporting 3,500 pounds of marijuana when their 38-foot Broward Open-Fisherman drifted into Cuban waters. There was a shootout with the Cuban Coast Guard. Bobby, Dana, and the crew were captured, tried, and sentenced to 16 years.

No one thought they’d survive Cuba’s notoriously brutal Combinado del Este Prison.

Then, in April 1983, Doug and two inexperienced Cuban crewmembers, “Pablo,” a young American born Cuban kid, and a much older Batista supporter, “Philippe,” were headed to Jamaica in a 40-foot Spencer Open-Fisherman. Doug had been up for three days on coke, so once they had cleared the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti—despite the heavy seas—he told the crew, “Keep the compass between one hundred and ninety degrees and two hundred degrees; and wake me up tomorrow at noon.” Then he went below deck and passed out in the stateroom.

Over the next several hours the seas got worse. Ten-to-12-foot waves pounded the Open-Fisherman and it started to take on water. The crew tried to wake up Doug, but he was in a drug induced coma like sleep—dead to the world. They bailed water for the next few hours; then they spotted a Russian freighter, panicked, and fired a flare. The Russians fired a return flare. Unknowingly, the inexperienced crew followed the freighter into Cuban waters. They were immediately boarded by the Cuban Coast Guard; who found a 12-gauge shotgun and a .357 revolver.

The Coast Guard took Doug, Pablo, and Philippe to a naval base; where Doug was thrown into a cell and the two Cubans were strapped to wooden chairs and interrogated.

“What were you doing with the gringo Capitan?” asked an intelligence officer over and over. Neither would answer. He told them they’d both be shot as American spies if they didn’t start cooperating. “Now, what’re you doing with the gringo?!”

After an hour the intelligence officer was handed a sheet of paper confirming that Philippe was a Batista supporter who’d fled to Florida after the revolution. He pressed the barrel of his automatic to “the traitor’s” forehead and asked Pablo, “What were you doing with the gringo Capitan?”

“I’m only a hired hand, I don’t—” The intelligence officer squeezed the trigger and blew Philippe’s brains all over the rear wall. Immediately, Pablo franticly screamed, “Narcotrafficante! El Capitan narcotrafficante!” As grey matter and bits of skull slipped down the wall the terrified kid spilled his guts about Jamaica and the 4,000 pounds of Doug and Pablo received three years, and were thrown into Combinado del Este Prison with Bobby and Dana.

Marlene was frantic. She called the State Department, but there was nothing they could or would do. She began flying to the Bahamas and taking a turboprop to Cuba once a month to bring Doug and the crew 50-pounds of dried fruit—the maximum amount of food the prison would allow family members to provide prisoners.

She’d lost close to $10 million in boats and product. Marlene’s only remaining boat was a 75-foot Hatteras Sport-Fisherman sitting in dry dock at Sky Marina and it needed a complete overhaul, that she couldn’t afford. Her youngest son and crew were starving to death in Cuba and her cash reserves were dwindling. Marlene was desperate, but she just so happened to be dating “Joe Jr,” Joseph Paterno’s son.

Sometime in September 1983, Marlene arranged a “sit down” with Paterno for Mike at Hy Uchitel’s Steak House. “You know I love your mother; she’s like a daughter to me, Mikey…and I know she’s hurtin’ for the bills,” said Paterno. “I might have somethin’ for ya.” Paterno told Mike about several “zips,” nonaffiliated Sicilians, who were moving a significant amount of coke out of the King Cole Hotel in Normandy Isle. The mob—at the time—frowned on the drug trade so Paterno didn’t have a problem putting Mike onto the hotel, “As long as we can wet our beaks.”

Mike was introduced to one of the zips by a made Gambino soldier and he started buying “keys” every few weeks from the Sicilian that occupied a suite on the 8th floor of the King Cole. The procedure was simple, Mike would call and tell the zip he’d be there to talk in 30 minutes, but he could only stay for three minutes. That meant he wanted three Kilos. Mike knew the Sicilians weren’t keeping their entire supply of coke in the room, so he paid a couple of Jewish kids—Levi and Ephraim*—to watch the hotel’s valet station in the hope they’d figure out who was dropping off the keys.

*Footnote: Names have been changed.

Eventually they recognized a swarthy Sicilian with a ponytail driving a burgundy Volvo coming and going. They followed him to a stash house three blocks away. To determine how many people were occupying the house, Mike had Levi and Ephraim stake it out. Several days later they knew there were a total of three zips that came and went.

Levi and Ephraim took turns watching the house for the next four days, until only one of the Sicilians was in the house. Using hand-held radios, they called Mike. Using a payphone, he turned around and called the Sicilian at the King Cole. “I’m gonna stop by in about thirty minutes, but I can only stay for five minutes…”

The zip said he wasn’t sure it was a good time. Knowing they wouldn’t want to pass on a sale of five keys, Mike told him if he couldn’t stop by now he’d have to go somewhere else. “Call back in five minutes.”

When he called back the zip told him, “Come on over, I’ll have it.”

With Levi watching the hotel and Ephraim watching the stash house, Mike waited until the zip left the house to deliver the coke. He then pulled his rented silver Chrysler Newport with stolen plates to the back of the house. He entered the rear door by crushing the knob with a pair of vise-grips and quickly searched the house; kitchen cabinets, the dresser—where he found $50,000 in cash—and the master bedroom’s Armoire.

Inside the walk-in-closet, Mike found three heavily taped cardboard boxes of Charmin Tissue. He yanked them open and found 52 kilos of uncut cocaine; each was stamped “La Reina (The Queen),” courtesy of Griselda Blanco straight from Medellin, Colombia.

As Mike was carrying the first box out of the rear door Levi’s voice came over the radio. “The Sicilian’s headed back to the house; get outta there!” When Mike shoved the second box of Charmin into the trunk Levi started screaming something about “the zip” just tearing out of the hotel’s parking lot. “Get outta there!”

By the time Mike was tossing the contents of the third box into the backseat of the Chrysler—there wasn’t enough room in the trunk—he heard the Volvo screech to a stop in the front driveway. Then he heard the front door slam and yelling.

Mike dropped into the driver’s seat and burned down the alley as the rear-door burst open and a swarthy zip came flying out of the house. Mike snatched his .9 mm Browning out of the small of his back and cranked off two rounds into the air. The zip hit the grass and covered his head as the Chrysler disappeared down the alley with over $1.1 million in coke and cash.

The zips put out the word that they believed Mike had hit the stash house and they were planning on murdering him. But after Joseph Paterno had a sit down with them, where he explained, “Mikey had nothin’ to do with it,” they came to their senses. “Besides,” he told the Sicilians, “you come after him, you might get ‘im, but I guarantee he sends ten of your guys to the morgue…”

Over the next several months, Mike and his mother moved the keys through her New York connection; and by the end of the year he was on the refurbished Hatteras headed to Colombia for more.

WHEN THE REVEREND JESSE JACKSON announced his campaign for President in November 1983, he had a problem; the public didn’t see him as a patriot, they saw him as a political dissident. But that was about to change. Shortly after Jackson announced his candidacy, he travelled to Syria and convinced Syrian President Hafez al-Assad to release captured American pilot, Lt. Robert Godmon. Jackson then travelled to Cuba and negotiated with Castro to release 16 American prisoners—most of whom had been convicted of drug smuggling—and seven Cuban political prisoners.

On June 29, 1984, as dusk settled over the island, Doug, Bobby, Dana, Pablo, and a dozen other battered, emaciated, Americans were taken from Combinado del Este prison to Havana’s tattered Jose Marti International Airport; where they were joined by several political prisoners. No one knew what was happening. Just before the entire group was marched aboard Jackson’s Boeing 707 they were told by a Cuban soldier, “You’re going home to America.”

Sometime around midnight they landed at Dulles International Airport outside Washington DC. Not one of them ever thought they’d live to see freedom again.

Marlene was in Boston when she called home to check on Mike. She’d personally driven an RV, a Fleetwood Pace-Arrow, from Miami to Texas and into Cuidad Juarez, Mexico. She had the cartel pack it with 10,000 pounds of Mexican sensemilla. Then she drove it back across the border and up to Boston—a task she would have typically assigned to one of the crew, but they were all locked up.

“The exchange went fine. I’ll be home in—”

“Mom, Doug, Bobby…they’re in Washington.”

Marlene and her sister, Carol Jean, immediately drove to DC with over a million dollars tucked away inside the RV. They picked up Doug at the FBI’s Washington Field Office—the feds held Bobby for several months before releasing him.

BLOW WAS HALF THE WEIGHT, one third the volume and ten times the profit of weed. With Mike, Doug, and Bobby back in Miami, Marlene rebuilt her fleet and ratcheted up the pace. By late 1984 they were meeting Colombian freighters twice a month in the Turks and Caicos. While the deckhands frantically unloaded the keys—haphazardly stacking them on the deck of the Sport-Fisherman—soldiers with the Cali cartel would stand at the ready. Their faces hidden behind black cotton ski-masks, their torsos wrapped in Kevlar and their AK-47s trained. Their fingers on the triggers.

Ambushes, high seas rip-offs and piracy were commonplace, but the money was coming in fast. Mike was driving a new silver, Cartier edition Cadillac Eldorado, Doug was sporting a black Mercedes 450SL and Marlene was living like a queen. However, things were even more dangerous in the city of Miami.

During what should have been a routine drug transaction of ten kilos to Jon Panzavecchia—a soldier with the Dixie Mafia—Doug and Panzavecchia got into a heated argument. At a busy intersection in broad daylight, Panzavecchia took a shot at Doug.

Hours later, Panzavecchia showed up at Marlene’s house hoping to quash the dispute. But it was too late for apologies. According to the transcripts of Bobby’s debriefings, Mike waited in an adjacent room with a shotgun while Bobby and Panzavecchia discussed the situation. Tempers flared, Panzavecchia went for his weapon, Bobby whipped out his .25 and shot him in the head—five times.

According to Bobby’s transcripts, they threw the body in the trunk of a rental car. Days later, Panzavecchia’s remains were tossed in a swamp off Alligator Alley. Unfortunately, the body was discovered by a fisherman before the alligators had a chance to consume it. Shortly after that, the City of Miami Homicide Unit showed up at Marlene’s residence with a search warrant.

Ultimately, Mike and Doug were taken into custody and questioned regarding the Panzavecchia murder, by Detectives Nelson Andreau and Jon Spear. But the interviews didn’t go the way the officers had hoped. Mike told them, “You can stick those questions in your ass;” Doug had been freebasing coke for five days and fell asleep cross-armed on Spear’s desk. By the time he woke up, Marlene’s attorney had shown up and they were released for insufficient evidence.

BY 1985 MARLENE’S BOYS were out of control. They were partying all the time and Doug’s drug use had reached an all time high. They were spending money on jewelry, weapons and women. One morning, around 6:00 a.m. Marlene wandered downstairs and found Mike, stark naked, having sex with a stripper on her expensive leather sectional.

“That’s it!” yelled Marlene, standing in front of her 29-year-old son, while the bare assed girl straddled him, trying in vain to shield her breasts. Mike and Doug were bringing home stray women and murdering people in her house. “You’ve gotta go.”

“Ma’,” laughed Mike, “come on.”

“No, Michael, you and that junkie brother of your’s have to get your own place.” Marlene wanted the house to herself. She wanted to spend quality time with her young boy toy, Joe Jr. She wanted the boys out.

A week later, Mike and Doug bought a luxury high-rise condo on Miami beach. But without Marlene to watch over them, their bad decisions only worsened.

Law enforcement was gunning for drug dealers and traffickers throughout South Florida. Don Aronow was making high-powered catamaran speedboats, known as Blue Thunders, for U.S. Customs. Smugglers who were once able to outrun the Coast Guard and Customs agents’ underpowered interceptors with their cigarette boats and Midnight Expresses—also made by Aronow—were now getting caught at regular intervals.

What worried Marlene more than anything, more than Customs, the Coast Guard, the DEA or the local drug task force, were the snitches and rats. They were everywhere.

On June 4, 1985, Mike stopped by his mother’s house to grab a key of coke—part of a five kilo deal he’d negotiated through a friend of a close confidante, whom North Miami Beach Police had flipped. What Mike didn’t know at the time, was that the whole operation was an elaborate sting designed to get Mike off the street. The local cops knew he was involved in smuggling and the Panzavecchia murder.

“I don’t like it,” Marlene told him. “You don’t know this guy. That’s not the way we do things, Michael.” She was adamant her son not bring any coke to the meeting. Instead, Mike wrapped a kilo of sugar in cellophane and ductape.

He met the buyer in front of the Deauville Hotel on Miami Beach. The instant Mike got into the undercover officer’s vehicle he felt uneasy. Then the guy pulled out a test kit and Mike knew something wasn’t right.

Mike yanked out his .22 over-under Derringer revolver, jammed it into the side of the cop’s cheek and snarled, “Don’t move motherfucker or I’ll blow out your fuckin’ brains!” He grabbed the cash and stepped out of the vehicle.

Members of the surveillance team—which had been listening to the conversation from an adjacent van—immediately scrambled out of the side door. With their weapons drawn they quickly closed in on Mike while screaming, “Get on the ground! Get on the ground!”

Mike was charged with assault, armed robbery, and trafficking*. After some fierce arguing by his high-priced criminal attorney, Mark Krasnow, Mike was sentenced to five and a half years in the state of Florida’s Department of Corrections.

AS THE DC-3 APPROACHED the dirt landing strip, all Doug could think about was, how bad he had to piss. The narrow channel had been cut into the thick foliage of the Colombian jungle by FARC guerrillas. The transport plane’s expansive 95-feet wingspan barely cleared the tree line.

The aircraft touched down hard, slowed and rolled to a stop. Doug yanked the plane’s rear-cargo door open and jumped onto the dusty strip. He staggered into the jungle while struggling to unfasten his belt and zipper as the local Indians began loading the bricks of coke. Doug didn’t think much about it as two military jeeps pulled up beside the aircraft and several Colombian uniformed military types stepped out. They’d already been paid by Marlene’s smuggling partner out of Arizona.

Doug had just finished relieving himself when he heard the first pop. Instinctively he crouched down. Then came four more shots in quick succession. He saw the Indians running into the tree line—deep into the jungle—and Doug followed them.

Weeks later, Marlene got word through Raul that the local FARC unit hadn’t been paid. As a result, both the pilot and the co-pilot had been executed. The plane and the cocaine had been seized. Doug was in the mountains of Cordillera Oriental, southwest of Bogota, chewing coca leaves and very much in need of an exit strategy.

It took Marlene over a month to arrange for another plane to fly into the jungle and pick him up—along with 2,000 kilos of coke.

That was it for Doug. The cartels and gangs had turned the streets of Miami into a war zone; there was so much bloodshed, the sidewalks were beginning to resemble a Jackson Pollock painting. It wasn’t the DEA or the local drug task force agents he was worried about, it was his own people—the Griselda Blancos and the Pablo Escobars of the drug world. They were the real danger. Greedy murderous sociopaths.

“Fuck,” he told Lawrence Klaker one night at the bar, “we might as well be robbin’ banks. Nobody gets killed robbin’ banks. They just give up the money, that’s it.”

Doug and Klaker kicked open the door and stormed into the American National Bank, Jacksonville, Florida, on October 28, 1985. The women shrieked and the men flinched as Klaker pointed his .357 revolver at the bank customers and yelled for everyone to freeze. There were no security guards. No off duty police officers. Doug held his Uzi waist high as he approached the tellers and demanded they empty the cash drawers.

The first robbery took a little over two minutes. By their third bank, they’d cut the time in half. After they’d hit the fourth bank, Doug decided Jacksonville was too hot. It was November 5, they had over $50,000 in cash, and it was time to split.

The next day, they travelled west into Louisiana on their choppers. Hours later, they checked into a couple of rooms at the Chateau Le Moyne in the French Quarter and spent most of that night drinking in a Bourbon Street bar.

The two wannabe bank robbers, stumbled out of the bar sometime around 9:00 p.m.. They tried to climb into an occupied cab. There was an altercation. Klaker pulled out his .357 and the cabbie took off. While standing in the middle of Bourbon Street, surrounded by hundreds of pedestrians, Klaker fired several rounds at the back of the cab.

* Footnote: Mike was personally prosecuted by Janet Reno, whom at the time was the Dade County State Attorney, and her Assistant State Attorney Sally Weintraub.

Suddenly, all hell broke loss. People immediately scattered. Two undercover New Orleans Police Officers eating dinner at a street-side restaurant—less than 30 yards away—immediately drew their weapons and headed toward the commotion. Doug caught sight of the them as they exited the restaurant. He yanked out two Detonic .45 autos. The cops shouted, “Freeze! Get on the ground!” and Doug started firing.

Klaker tossed his .357 revolver to the sidewalk and dropped to the asphalt as Doug and the officers had a good old fashioned gunfight in the middle of the French Quarter.

Doug was hit twice in the torso and once in the abdomen. He staggered backward, yet, continued to pop off rounds as he retreated down an alley. He was struck in the leg, dropped to the pavement, but kept firing at the advancing officers. Doug collapsed as the last of the officers’ bullets thumped into his torso. When it was over, Doug laid motionless in a puddle of blood and casings. His spent smoldering automatics at his side.

THE FBI AGENTS were already seated at the table, when the guard led Mike into the small conference room reserved for attorney client meetings. He’d been incarcerated for over a year and was being housed at Baker Correctional Institution. His wrists were cuffed. He didn’t accept a seat, just stared at the agents expectantly.

“We got your brother, Douglas, over in New Orleans,” said one of the two agents. “He and an accomplice robbed several banks in Florida. Got himself shot up pretty good in the Quarter. Nine times. Tough fucker your brother, he survived.”

“Bullshit,” spat Mike. “We’re smugglers, not bank robbers.” The agent pulled a dozen, grainy black and white still photos of Doug holding an Uzi, taken from the banks’ surveillance cameras. Then he slid a couple of color Polaroids out of an envelope and placed them on the table. Pictures of Doug wrapped up like a mummy, handcuffed to a gurney in some hospital room.

“Huh,” grunted Mike. “I got nothin’ to say to you.”

“Don’t you even wanna know why we’re here?”

Mike turned and yelled to the guard outside the room. “We’re all done here!”

BENJAMIN “BENNY” KRAMER had a problem. As one of the largest drug smugglers in the industry, Benny had millions of dollars in product coming into Miami on a weekly basis.

There was a time—years earlier—when Benny’s contraband arrived like clock work, unmolested by U.S. Customs or the Coast Guard. However, since Don Aronow began building the Blue Thunder interceptors for federal law enforcement, Benny’s shipments were consistently being seized. The confiscations were costing him millions and the arrests of his crews had led to multiple investigations into his smuggling ring. In Benny’s mind, it had all stemmed from Aronow’s Blue Thunders.

There was also the minor issue of Aronow holding back a million dollars in cash on a botched attempt to purchase USA Racing by Benny. Money that Benny felt he was entitled to. He couldn’t let it go.

“I want that motherfucker dead,” Benny hissed into Marlene’s ear. Her eyes drifted around the bar at Hy Uchitel’s Steak House. The lights were dim. None of the patrons were paying them any attention. “Give me somebody that’ll take care of ‘im. He’s as much of a problem for you as he is for me.”

With both her sons in prison and her smuggling operation in shambles, that wasn’t exactly true. Still, Marlene wasn’t happy about the interceptions. The DEA. Customs.

“Shit,” sighed Marlene. She knew she shouldn’t get involved. “Bobby,” she whispered. He was already wanted by the City of Miami Homicide Unit for the Panzavecchia murder. “Bobby’ll do it.”

For $100,000* Bobby and an accomplice stalked Aronow for several days. They noted when he came and went from his office at USA Racing. They were patient. On February 3, 1987, the two men sat in a rented black Lincoln Town Car and waited for the powerboat mogul at the mouth of Thunderbolt Alley.

As Aronow’s white Mercedes 560 sports coupe came to a stop beside the assassins’ vehicle the driver beeped the horn twice, waved, and ducked. Aronow was waving back as Bobby raised up from the back seat holding a .45 automatic. He was close enough to spit in Aronow’s face. Instead, he squeezed the trigger and unloaded the clip into the driver’s side of the vehicle. The first round hit the door. Instinctively, Aronow raised his left arm in defense. The second went threw his wrist and blew the Rolex off his arm. The third struck him in the armpit. The next few missed him altogether, however, the final three rounds struck Aronow in the chest killing him instantly.

Bobby fled the state. At the time no one but Marlene and Benny knew Bobby had killed Aronow.

* Footnote: Depending on the source—the press, transcripts, or witness statements—the amount Bobby was paid for the Aronow’s murder varies between: $60,000 and $100,000. However, the transcripts of Bobby’s debriefing by the ATF state $100,000.

MIKE CALLED MARLENE just after watching the national news segment regarding the murder.

“Someone killed Don Aronow,” he said, leaning against the prison payphone.

“I know Michael. I know all about it.”

He didn’t like the way that sounded. “What’d you do?”

“The phone, Michael, the phone,” she hissed. After a long pause, Marlene said, “I gave someone a name. That’s all.”

In November 1987, Benny was indicted for running a continuing criminal enterprise and conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Nearly a year later, in October 1988, he went to trial. Benny was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

BENNY PUNCHED the pilot’s cell phone number into the inmate payphone at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, Miami, Florida, just after noon on April 7, 1989. He did not want to spend the rest of his life in prison, nor did he plan to. Shortly after Benny’s conviction he’d set a plan in motion. He contacted his brother, Marc, who contacted an associate of an associate, Charles Stevens. For a few hundred thousand dollars in cash, Stevens had agreed to break Benny out of prison and transport him to Colombia. However, Benny’s ride was late.

The phone was still ringing when he heard the thumping of the rotors. Benny dropped the receiver and ran for the small E-Unit recreation yard.

The two-seater MASH-style Bell helicopter was hovering inches above the ground—blowing sand and grass across the yard. Its rotors suspended between the rec yard’s 14-foot-high-fences with less than six-feet clearance.

Benny pushed his 250-pound frame through the crowd of gawking inmates. Hunching as he approached the chopper. He stepped on the skid and yanked open the passenger side door. Benny reached inside and grabbed the side of the passenger seat to stabilize himself. Then, in an attempt to pull himself into the cockpit, Benny grabbed what he thought was a benign piece of equipment. It turned out to be one of the control levers.

Suddenly, the helicopter’s tail spun left. The rear tail rotor hit the concertina-wire and the aircraft violently spun out of control. Chunks of rotor blades shot through the air and the chopper catapulted itself over the fence. In an explosion of fiberglass and aluminum, the helicopter smashed into the prison grounds outside the rec yard.

Benny fractured his ankle, Stevens however, broke both his legs and sustained several serious lacerations. Both men and their associates were indicted for the attempted escape. Benny received ten years on top of his life sentence; Stevens cooperated, and got 30 months.

MARLENE WAS ALREADY showing signs of emphysema when Mike was released from prison in May 1989. Exhaustion and shortness of breath. With her boys gone and Bobby on the run, she didn’t know who to trust. Between the snitches and the DEA, the city of Miami had become a police state.

Regardless of her condition, Marlene didn’t slow down. At 52, she was still a stunningly attractive woman, dating a much younger man. She had plenty of money and assets. Enough to live out her days smoking marijuana in her big house. Even then, with the emphysema slowly robbing her of oxygen, Marlene was moving a key or two a week. Despite all she had, Marlene wouldn’t stop. She liked the thrill of it.

Around the same time, Marlene got word that an associate, Ross, had been busted on a private flight with two suitcases containing a total of 80 kilos of coke. Ross knew quite a bit about Marlene and according to her sources he was cooperating with the DEA.

Marlene had Mike drag Ross to her house around 2:00 a.m. one night, for a chat. Shortly after entering the residence, Ross was on his knees begging Marlene for his life.

“Quit your fuckin’ crying!” she spat, pressing a .357 Magnum revolver to his temple. “I just wanted to let you know, if you mention me or my boys to the stinkin’ feds, I’ll have you killed. Got it?!”

“Got it!” he sobbed, while sniffling back tears. “I got it!”

She looked up at Mike and sighed. “Get ‘im outta here.”

As far as Mike knows, Ross never breathed a word about Marlene to the DEA.

While on supervised release, Mike worked security at an upscale club in North Miami Beach. Facade was the posh, trendy place to party in the late 80s. Miami’s version of New York’s Club 54. The staff wore tuxedos and catered to their rich and famous patrons. Rock stars like Greg Allman with the Allman Brothers and superstar athletes like Hector “Macho” Camacho frequented the club.

Between breaking up drunken arguments and tossing underage patrons, Mike sold the occasional eightball to celebrities like Pierce “007” Brosnan, and partied with Mick Fleetwood, of Fleetwood Mac. Overall, Mike was trying to stay out of trouble, keep his probation officer happy and take care of his mother.

WHEN MIKE BACKED his V-12 XJS Jaguar into a street-side parking space in downtown Miami, he wasn’t looking for a problem. Unfortunately, some guy and his two buddies in a pickup truck shot him a bird for holding up traffic. It was May 9, 1991, and Mike was having a bad day. Admittedly, he did return the gesture and yelled out something about them being “white trash.”

The three rednecks immediately exited the vehicle. They caught up to Mike on the sidewalk and started giving him a hard time. Mike was a 36-year-old, six-foot, 210-pound athlete who trained five days a week with Tony Aiello and Vinnie Curto at 5th Street Gym. He had virtually no body fat and was as hard as coffin nails.

“You don’t want any of this, fuckboys,” he growled at the three trouble makers. “Just walk away.”

“You gotta slick mouth motherfucker—”

Mike hooked the guy on his right first—knocked him out cold. He dropped to the sidewalk and never got back up. The guy to his left swung, grazing Mike’s shoulder. Mike hit the redneck in the center, square in the jaw and he stumbled backward. In a scene straight out of a Clint Eastwood movie, Mike proceeded to brutalize the two remaining rednecks until the police showed up.

Because Mike chased two of the rednecks into a nearby restaurant and knocked out one of the guys front teeth, the judge sentenced him to 364 days at the Dade County work release program.

He got a job at Robert’s Roofing. Then jumped from one roofing company to another, learning the trade as he went, until eventually he landed a job as a crew supervisor.

ALL BOBBY HAD TO DO was get a job and settle down. But it wasn’t in his nature to lay low. Instead, he was living between Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, under the alias Bobby Scott. Moving large amounts of cocaine between Colombia and Jamaica. Playing the big shot and running his mouth, according to Mike, that was what Bobby did best.

In August 1987, Bobby and an associate got into a disagreement over money. Bobby shot the guy twice and got charged with armed kidnapping and aggravated battery. Shortly thereafter, he was federally indicted for distribution of cocaine by an Oklahoma federal grand jury. In May 1988, Bobby was arrested.

Lying on a sweat stained mattress resting on a bunkbed in the Dade County Jail, Bobby’s numerous cases aligned. Jail house snitches gave statements regarding Bobby and his involvement in the Aronow murder. Phone and pager records were tracked down. In addition, Benny, now serving a life sentence plus ten years, had confided in several inmates that he’d hired Bobby to murder Aronow and paid for Bobby’s criminal defense attorneys. All of this came out during a Dade County grand jury.

In March 1990, Bobby was indicted for the first-degree murder of Don Aronow. Between the kidnapping and aggravated battery charges, the federal drug charges, the Panzavecchia murder and the Aronow hit, Bobby was facing life. Potentially the death penalty. The Florida hot seat, Old Sparky. However, with the information Bobby had, it didn’t take him long to reach an all inclusive agreement with the State of Florida and the federal government. All he had to do was hand over Benny Kramer. To Bobby’s credit, he never once mentioned Marlene or her boys.

Bobby was sentenced to 19 years, however, he received a reduction for his cooperation. Benny received an additional 19 years on top of his life plus ten years.

MIKE GOT THE PAGE he’d been dreading on March 12, 1994. Marlene had collapsed. She was in Miami Heart Institute. Again. Months earlier her doctor had told Mike to prepare himself. His mother was a strong woman. She’d been fighting her whole life. However, someday soon she’d succumb to the lack of oxygen and the disease would take her.

Marlene had always had the brightest emerald green eyes, recalls Mike. But in the hospital, struggling to breathe, they looked dull and glassy. Joe Jr., her sister Carol Jean, her best friend Monty Rock III*, and Mike were all there. Nine days later, on March 21, 1994, Iona Marlene Hudson passed away. She was 57-years-old.

* Footnote: Rock played the “DJ” in “Saturday Night Fever.”

Doug called from prison a few days later. “She’s gone,” Mike said. “Mom died.”

He didn’t speak for nearly a minute. Even then, all Doug could manage was,

“I can’t believe she’s gone.”

During Marlene’s tenure, she navigated the world of international drug-smuggling—managed a crew of dope-running-cocaine-cowboys, snitches, and assassins—while simultaneously importing approximately 300 tons of marijuana and cocaine into Miami’s intracoastal waterways.

BOTH MIKE’S FRESHLY WASHED Dodge trucks and his new Jaguar were sitting in the driveway, glistening in the Florida sun. Suds were running down the hood of his white Ram 3500 dually when Bobby pulled up in his brother-in-law’s old Pontiac. It was Christmas day 1999. The Federal Bureau of Prisons had released Bobby, months earlier, with the condition he was to call his probation officer once a month and not leave the state of New Mexico.

Mike dropped the sponge into the bucket and gave Bobby a bearhug. “Christ, you barely did any time at all.”

“Well,” he grinned, “they never really had much of a case against me.” Mike had no idea Bobby had given up Benny—all the papers had said he’d refused to cooperate with the authorities.

Now, he wanted to borrow the startup capital to bring in a load of cocaine from Colombia. Despite the big house and the vehicles, Mike didn’t have that type of liquidity. He’d opened Comanche Roofing years earlier, but the recession had hit South Florida hard and he was struggling.

“It’s been years,” said Mike, “but I might be able to get you in contact with one of Mom’s old connects, Rodrigo.”

By late January 2000, Rodrigo had financed a 60-foot Trimaran and arranged for the Cali Cartel to front the two smugglers 1,000 kilos. In early February, Bobby and Mike were south of Union Island (near the island of Grenada), standing on the Trimaran’s deck, surrounded by two 40-foot Go-Fasts powered by five Mercury Black Max’s. There were .30 cal Brownings mounted forward and aft, and a dozen Colombians wearing Kevlar, gripping AK-47s and M-16 assault rifles. Just like the good old days.

Twenty minutes later, they were headed for the Windward Passage, between Cuba and Haiti, with the coke concealed in the Trimaran’s bulkhead.

Weeks after leaving Ottley Hall Marina on the Island of St. Vincent, Mike and Bobby unloaded the keys at a private residence on the intracoastal in the exclusive Rio Vista neighborhood of Ft. Lauderdale. Two months later, they brought in a second load.

Under the guise of a charter scuba diving company, the smuggling operation quickly expanded to include several crew members, a second captain, a 40-foot Sport-Fisherman, and two 31-foot Cigarette boats.

They were importing 700 to 1,000 keys every two or three months by late 2000 and the cash was piling up. Bobby and his new stripper-wife, Sarah Wuchevich, were buying expensive jewelry and vehicles. Everyone was living in posh houses and driving luxury vehicles. With the exception of Bobby and his wife’s ever-growing addiction to high-priced call-girls and cocaine, and Bobby’s recently issued federal warrant for parole violation, things were going smooth.

THE HOOKER PUSHED the rick-sized chunk of cocaine into Bobby’s anus. He couldn’t snort the stuff anymore. The mucus membranes in his nose were blown out. Nor could he inject it. Most of his veins had collapsed. And Bobby refused to smoke it, because freebasing was beneath him.

For the most part, the coke left Bobby sexually nonfunctional. So he sat in a chair next to the bed, with the coke in his ass, and watched the three call girls take turns pleasuring his wife. Eventually, paranoia set in and Bobby started wondering who the prostitutes really worked for, DEA maybe. Then he began imagining people outside the house. He was sure they were coming to rob him. They were trying to break in. Bobby grabbed two Smith & Wesson .9 mm’s and began running around inside the house yelling and screaming, while waving the weapons at the imaginary intruders.

Sarah called Mike, begging him to come over and calm Bobby down. It was a common occurrence, according to Mike. Bobby was coming unglued. He’d been making mistakes. Big mistakes, like getting hooked on his own product. He was spending $30,000 a week on hookers. Holding back money from the crew. Telling everyone his business.

Then, in August 2001, during a fit of drug induced paranoia, Bobby ran naked down the street. With a golf ball sized piece of coke in his ass, standing in the middle of his affluent neighborhood, Bobby emptied his automatics into the air.

Officers with the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department were on the scene within minutes. They disarmed Bobby and placed him in the back of a cruiser. Inexplicitly, Sarah was able to convince the officers Bobby thought they were being robbed. They ran his alias, Johnny Eversole, which showed no outstanding warrants and released him to Sarah, but they kept the weapons.

THE PARANOIA HAD TAKEN over Bobby by the time Sarah walked into Banco de Guatemala, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, on September 10. Bobby was certain he was going to be robbed by a competitor. Sarah set the two Louis Vuitton briefcases on the bank’s vice president’s desk and popped the locks. The deposit had been arranged by a financial advisor in Miami. For $40,000 cash, according to Bobby, it had all been taken care of. Sarah flipped open the cases—revealing $1.2 million in greenbacks and the vice president’s eye nearly bulged out of his skull.

Less than 30 seconds later, Sarah came running out of the bank’s front doors with the cases. She frantically climbed into the cab where Mike and Bobby were waiting, and screamed, “Go, go, go! The police are coming!”

Bobby’s guy in Miami had never arranged the deposit. To hear Mike tell it, the financial advisor had scammed Bobby out of the cash. Mike doubts the guy even knew anyone at the bank.

The following morning Mike was sitting in his penthouse suite at the Intercontinental Hotel when the planes hit towers one and two of the World Trade Center. He watched it on CNN. All flights into the U.S. were cancelled. It took nearly a month to get out of Guatemala via private aircraft.

KATHLEEN KUNZING WAS BOBBY’S big-tittied ex-wife. He’d left her for Sarah. Bobby and his new wife were living in a multi-million dollar residence in Lighthouse Point on the intracoastal waterway. Kathy was jealous, vindictive and looking for payback. Somehow, she found out the address and contacted the DEA.

Agents watched Bobby for over a month from the house across the street. However, they never saw any sign of drug smuggling. Just a half crazed, paranoid junkie and his stripper-wife. Regardless, the DEA had a pair of Smith & Wessons confiscated by the Ft. Lauderdale Police Department with Bobby’s fingerprints all over them and a federal probation violation warrant for his arrest.

In the spirit of multi-agency cooperation, the U.S. Marshals Service, FBI, ATF, and the DEA simultaneously executed the warrant at 4:00 a.m. on October 29, 2001. They bashed in the front door, smashed out the windows and swarmed into Bobby’s residence. The agents seized cash, drugs and a .38 revolver. Subsequently, he was sentenced to nine years for possession of a handgun.

At some point, Bobby decided he didn’t want to do the nine years. He knew from experience, if you hand the federal government enough people, they’ll practically let you walk out of prison. So he made a couple of calls and in the summer of 2004 multiple agents interviewed Bobby at the U.S. Penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia. Over the course of those interviews, he implicated half a dozen of his smuggling organization’s members—including Michael Hudson.

WHEN HURRICANE KATRINA cut across Florida on her way to New Orleans in 2005, she did a considerable amount of damage. Mike and Comanche Roofing’s crews couldn’t have been happier. Hurricanes were his bread and butter.

He was already living in a $2.5 million home on several acres in Southwest Ranches. The roofing company was churning out over two million dollars a year in commercial jobs. He was driving a brand new silver Dodge Viper and dating a gorgeous, 28-year-old.

Then, Hurricane Wilma slammed into Florida’s west coast and moved across the state. Mike thought the roofing business would never slow down. Life couldn’t have gotten any better.

In early November 2006—days before the statute of limitations ran out—Mike was indicted for conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute approximately $45.5 million of cocaine and importation of a controlled substance into the United States.

On November 7, the feds showed up outside his house and took him into custody. There were no drugs, but with Bobby willing to testify, Mike couldn’t risk it. He pled guilty and was sentenced to 17 years to be served in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

AT 61, MIKE is one of the most dangerous inmates I’ve interviewed; his platinum white Gunnery Sergeant flattop only accentuates Mike’s permanently clenched jaw. Underneath his tight cotton t-shirt is the body of a man who’s spent a lifetime pumping iron in a gym or on a prison rec yard. Like an angry coiled snake, he always seems ready to strike.

I spoke with Mike over several months at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Central Florida. After seeing me with Mike, numerous inmates have approached me with comments like, “That guy you were talkin’ to, Mike Hudson, he’s one of the last cocaine cowboys” and “He’s not some wannabe gangster, he’s dangerous.”

During one of our last conversations I mentioned Bobby’s death in March 2009. Mike shot me a fierce Dirty Harry sideways glare and growled, “That snitch-motherfucker got off easy. If the kidney failure (due to Hepatitis C) hadn’t killed ‘im, I’d have done it myself.” Based on the police reports, witness statements, newspaper articles, indictments and transcripts, I don’t doubt that for a second.