My name is Tim McBride and I am a former marijuana smuggler/pot hauler/ living on the edge of the Everglades in Southwest Florida. From 1979 to 1989 I ran these southern waters and the Caribbean with a band of modern day pirates known by locals as, Saltwater Cowboys. Night after night we offloaded up to 20 tons at a time from any vessel that would make the trip from South America. How did I get involved in this crazy profession, you may be asking yourself. Well, my life changed in the spring of 1974. I had just ended my sophomore year of high school in the small town of Delavan, Wisconsin. We lived in a beautiful house on the lake that bears the town’s name. My brothers and I had a few friends over to help us put our boat dock in for the summer and one of the guys had a joint. I had never tried marijuana before. I wasn’t against it so much as ignorant of it, however. That was the day I learned all about weed. We smoked it before going to work on the dock…well, the dock didn’t get put in that day. We were too stoned. After that day I continued to smoke weed and, not long after, I began experimenting with other drugs. Smoking weed had no influence whatsoever on my choice to try other drugs. The awareness just wasn’t in your face like it is today. Nevertheless, I managed to graduate from high school and I had a good job working as a machinist. I was stoned all the time, even at work. In the summer of 1979 I got a call and was asked by a friend if I wanted to move to Florida with him. Just like that the next day I packed everything I owned into the back of my Mustang and took off. We set out for Southwest Florida, more specifically Everglades City, a small town on the edge of Everglades National Park. From there we took a short ride across a causeway to our new home on Chokoloskee Island in the heart of the “Ten Thousand Islands.” Shortly after arriving I began crewing with my friend on a fishing boat trapping stone crabs. My first day of work was actually my first night hauling pot. My second day of work went the same way. I had worked two nights and I earned $5000 each night smuggling over 50,000 pounds of marijuana. Not bad for two nights work. That was just the beginning. The smuggling continued and seemed to have no end. It became almost routine, pulling traps and catching stone crab by day and hauling pot by night. As the pot hauling work increased, so did my pay. After those first two nights my rooky pay increased to anywhere from $25,000 a night to $70,000 per night depending on how many tons we were handling. The loads ranged in size from no less than 15 tons to as much as 60 plus tons. In the beginning we were working a lot. Once or twice a week was the usual pace but there was a time when I had worked 28 nights in a row. I was being called to my captain’s house so often to pick up paper bags full of cash I could not remember which job I was being paid for. My position at that time in our little organization was crewman on a larger boat that went offshore to unload the motherships. We transported the marijuana into shore where the smaller boats could take it through the shallow waters of the 10,000 Islands to a small fishing village located on Chokoloskee Island, where it was stashed for the night in someone’s home. All of this was done during the cloaked hours between sunset and sunrise. The next day our shore crew would load the bales into cars, trucks, vans, motor homes and even dump trucks. If we could stuff it into a vehicle, it went down the road. Chokoloskee Island was connected to Everglades City by causeway, and from there we would drive the bales out of town to US 41, then on to Miami in broad daylight under everyone’s nose. One thing I told myself was that I would never be one of those guys that drove the stuff to Miami. Because on the road they were all alone except for guys running the route in other vehicles keeping in contact with everyone else by way of radios. These were the guys who were keeping an eye on the Highway Patrol and local sheriffs, etc…. There was a margin of safety provided to you, therefore, but in the event you were stopped all you could do was hit the Everglades and run, if running was even possible at all. Our Saltwater Cowboy Chase Boat: PairADice I preferred the safety of being on the big boat offshore. If our radar showed an unidentified vessel approaching we would abandon the boat and jump on board our chase boat and leave the load behind. When it came to our chase boats we spared no expense, because they were our escape hatch. It didn’t matter the make, we built them very powerful and we built them very fast. If everything was all clear we would simply go back and re-board our boat and continue on our way. These were the years of the Miami cocaine wars. The Cubans and the Colombians in Miami were killing each other left and right over control of the drug trade in Miami. According to Time magazine Miami had become “Paradise Lost.” When the United States government and every agency under the umbrella of the US Treasury Department stepped up their efforts to regain control, they also set their sights on our little neck of the woods here on the south west coast of Florida. When they finally did come they came in two waves. The Government called them “Operation Everglades I” and “Operation Everglades II.” These two operations were reasonably successful in that they did manage to seize some property and the bosses who were setting up the jobs for all of us to work. It must have been their thinking that if you cut the head off the snake the body will die. But in this case that didn’t happen. Things slowed down for a while but that was about all. It was only about three weeks after these operations went down that a Cuban friend of mine from Naples and a Cuban friend of his from Miami came knocking on my door. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to move, he said, can you do it?” I said, “hell yes!” I had just gone from working the jobs to setting them up and in the process increasing my pay from $50,000 plus a job to over $1 million. The Cubans and Colombians didn’t work well together in those days. They were still killing each other in the streets of Miami. So in order for these deals to work they put a white guy/gringo like me (service provider) in the middle, someone they both trusted to handle their money and their loads. I was making connections in Miami and those in turn led to connections in Colombia, Jamaica and throughout the Caribbean. If I wasn’t moving their loads I was either in Miami, in Colombia or elsewhere working out the details. Details such as transporting money to Caribbean and central American banks, checking the quality of the product and along the way paying off certain individuals in law enforcement to look the other way or assist. So at this point in my life I never worried about getting caught or even about being in danger, even though everyone I was now associated with, except for my own crew, were carrying guns. We never carried guns, there was no need for them. We weren’t violent, we were just a bunch of good old boys who possessed a unique skill set and were using it to make a pile of cash. We were modern day pirates doing what pirates do best. It was still just a game in those days and I never gave it a second thought. But with all the romanticizing aside, in retrospect I was now becoming involved with some of the most dangerous people on the planet. All I could see was how easy it was to get these loads passed the law and the rush I felt standing in rooms filled with money. I justified everything I was doing because of my own use of and belief in the harmlessness of weed. Add all this up and the simple fact remained…we couldn’t get the stuff into this country fast enough to meet the demand. In the nearly ten years that I was involved in smuggling, an estimated 25 million plus pounds of Colombian and Jamaican marijuana was brought through our little corner of the world and distributed throughout North America. If you were tokin’ on fine Columbian and Jamaican weed during the late ’70s and all through the ’80s, chances are we hand our hands on it first. But it all ended for us in late 1988 when the United States government, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the DEA, the United States Customs, the U.S. Marshal’s, and state and local law enforcement initiated “Operation Peacemaker.” This operation was directed specifically toward us. Ultimately their years of failed and frustrated efforts to stop what was going on lead them to get one of our own to betray us. The domino effect was set in motion. One after the other each one of us was indicted on federal charges of importation of marijuana and conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana in the United States. It wasn’t long before a knock on my door was followed by a piece of paper being handed to me that read, “The United States of America verses Timothy S. McBride.” I tried to imagine it, the most powerful nation on Earth against me…I was screwed. After the dust of this operation settled, 141 people including myself went to prison. I was sentenced to 10 years mandatory to life. The war on drug’s had finally caught up with us. But that was only the beginning…Read more Read less
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