By Robert Platshorn
Senior (Old Guy) Contributor
HIGH TIMES Medical Marijuana
I was standing on a Miami street corner in deep shock after my van was totaled by a lady who ran a light at full speed. I could barely figure out how to use my cell to call my wife and ask her to call a wrecker to tow away my sweet little old 1993 Villager when I got an incoming call from Art Tifford, my long-time attorney. “Mark Phillips has been kidnapped in Chile and returned to the states for sentencing.
Mark had disappeared 32 years ago during The Black Tuna Trial in Miami. He was barely a bit player in the scheme of things, but was nevertheless convicted in absentia as a major member of the so-called “Black Tuna Gang.” He’s now facing sentencing on RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) charges and aiding and abetting that old gang of mine in the importation of mucho yerba for which I was convicted in 1980 as a non-violent, first time offender and spent 30 years in prison for pot.
When I had recovered enough from the accident to go online I saw that Fox News had, as usual, got it all wrong in a story titled, [link|http://www.foxnews.com/us/2011/01/28/report-s-marijuana-kingpin-arrested...|1970s Marijuana Kingpin Arrested at Seniors Community]
“A key member of a Miami-based marijuana-smuggling ring was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service on Thursday, more than 31 years after skipping out of a federal trial. Mark Steven Phillips, 62, was arrested in his apartment at Century Village, a seniors community where he had been living in recent months, according to a press release by the U.S. Marshals Service … Authorities estimate that the ring smuggled 500 tons of marijuana into the U.S. in the mid-'70s.”
But it seems that there was a lot more to the story of Mark’s capture. The [link|http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/crime/while-federal-marshals-hunted-fu...|Palm Beach Post] actually did some investigation.
“While one federal agency was doggedly hunting a fugitive drug smuggler who fled the country 31 years ago, others arranged for his return to South Florida and even loaned him money for housing when he landed here. As a wanted man living in Chile last year, Mark Steven Phillips, 62, who supplied customized boats for a massive South Florida drug-smuggling operation in the 1970s, went to the U.S. Embassy in Santiago and asked to be sent home.” According to the Post, the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF) was under the impression that the charges against Phillips had been dropped. The Post continues:
“When Phillips arrived last year, DCF moved him into a Roadway Inn … paying for the room with money passed from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to the Florida DCF through the U.S. branch of the International Social Service.”
But, the paper that got it all right was the Broward/Palm Beach New Times, an entertainment weekly owned by The Village Voice, which ran the headline: [link|http://blogs.browardpalmbeach.com/juice/2011/01/mark_phillips_drug_smugg...|Mark Phillips, Smuggler Fugitive Arrested After 31 Years, Was a ‘Bit Player’]
“Platshorn, who holds the dubious distinction of being the longest-serving pot prisoner in American history, made it clear that, while Phillips and his family sold the gang some boats, he was a very peripheral player in the operation.
“’He never sold so much as a seed of pot and was no insider in the Black Tunas,’ Platshorn told the Juice this weekend. ‘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.’”
Mark was more of a pal than an associate. While he was aware of our boat purchases from Striker Yachts, we dealt primarily with his father Herb Phillips. The reason was that Mark was going through a contentious divorce and was being pushed out of the family business. His forte was the social side of the yacht business, not running a company. Additionally he was drinking heavily and very disturbed over his loss of wife, child, and position in the family business.
We liked him, went to fishing tournaments with him, but never felt comfortable trusting him to any serious degree in our smuggling enterprise. Only one of our boats was modified at the Striker yard. I remember making arrangements with Mark's dad and paying off the yard manager at Herb's suggestion. Neither Robby or I trusted Mark to oversee the raising of the water line nor any other work needed to ready a boat.
As for the allegation that he picked up a briefcase of cash, it’s possible that such a thing occurred – and if it did, it would have been payment for a boat to convey to his father – but I doubt it ever happened. I cannot think of any reason we would have felt comfortable trusting Mark with a lot of cash. He was always desperate for money after his family cut him off and I can recall we all frequently lent him money, but only in small amounts because he was a physical and mental mess.
Lastly, the allegation that Mark was the group's treasurer is silly. The government gave immunity to Howard Blumin who was both our treasurer and bookkeeper. They chose not to use him as a witness because the books and his testimony indicated the Black Tunas were small fish.
This poor guy could potentially die in prison over crimes he never committed. I believe that the thirty years I spent in federal prison for a non-violent marijuana offense was enough time in prison for all of us.
Preview the entire story in my memoir, Black Tuna Diaries at www.blacktunadiaries.com or catch me in the new movie Square Grouper, by rakontur – the producers of Cocaine Cowboys. The movie will be premiered at SXSW in Austin this March.