Zagovor


I had a six-hour road trip yesterday—confined to my car, but it was a beautiful spring day. It was long past dark by the time I got home, and to keep myself busy while the white lines flew by, I binged out on Wind of Change, the podcast I told you about last week.

In the end, it reminded me of Churchill’s definition of the Soviet Union—’a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’

Although the whole Wind of Change trip sounds like a red herring, if you excuse the double Soviet pun, some bits of it have the true mark of zagovor—conspiracy.

The most fun part of the story, and  certainly the most verifiable and the most bizarre, is the tale of drug smuggling from South America to the United States in the second half of the 1980s.

Recall that this is the heyday of the War on Drugs—in the fall of 1986, Reagan signs the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, and in 1989, George H.W Bush, aka Bush 41, appoints William Bennett ‘drug czar’—love the Russian terminology.

The manager of a bunch of heavy metal bands, including Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, and The Scorpions, is a larger than life character called Doc McGhee. Indulge me in two quick linguistic excursions: first, the unorthodox use of umlauts means the band’s name is pronounced Moh-tlee Cree-e, and second, the good doc’s surname is spelled in the same way as the clarified butter (ghee) widely used in Indian cooking—but I digress.

McGhee, who was neither christened ‘doc’ nor possessed a doctorate, apparently changed his name by deed poll. Doc was allegedly involved in drug smuggling when he got into the music business, managing a moderately successful band called NiteFlyte.

Their greatest hit, called If You Want It, is a classic example of what my friends and I used to call disco shit—the sort of stuff that made Dr. Hook write If You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman and Sexy Eyes—except they were clearly taking the piss. This was 1980’s Miami—coke, women, and disco.

By the mid’80’s, Doc is a very successful band manager, but he’s also notorious for massive splurging on Crystal champagne, limos, hotel suites—all the usual suspects.

He’s very generous with the bands, but no one asks where the money comes from. Enter Steven Michael Kalish, a Texas drug smuggler—known for his aversion to guns and violence. Kalish’s bag (sorry) is smuggling weed, and Doc’s deal (sorry) is fronting the money.

But the Colombian connections are not Kalish’s, they’re Doc’s. And in a further, conspiratorial twist, Manuel Noriega, Panama’s dictator who ended his days in an American federal penitentiary, comes into the mix—Kalish talks about a direct connection with Noriega for money laundering through the Bank of Commerce Credit International, of bringing the dictator a personal gift of three hundred thousand dollars, and doing lines of coke on the guy’s desk.

The Luxembourg-registered BCCI served as a conduit through the years for the cash earned from smuggling pot and coke into the US, and was liquidated in 1991.

Kalish, McGhee, and a host of others smuggled hundreds of thousands of pounds of weed into the States—the way Kalish, who now lives in Hawaii, tells it, they would sail a fishing boat from Colombia to one of the southern states and then offload to tractor-trailers. Louisiana and North Carolina were typical destinations.

Kalish recently wrote a book called The Last Gentleman Smuggler, ghosted with Nikki Palomino, but I can’t find it for sale it anywhere.

An operation with that many folks involved stateside, plus the South American angle, was bound to end in tears—his last joint—oops, jaunt—involved a hundred people offloading bales into six semi-trucks. Kalish’s 1989 trial is reported by the Associated Press, and provides firm evidence that McGhee got off with a $15,000 fine and a five-year probation, mandating him to spend a further 250k and 3000 hours on his Make a Difference Foundation.

At a separate case in Louisiana, McGhee faced ‘150 years in jail and a $400,000 fine’. Once again, he walked. Kalish was sentenced to fourteen years and served eight and a half. Noriega’s name appears repeatedly.

So the real Zagovor is how McGhee beat the rap—and there’s the rub—the only agency that could get him off the hook was the CIA.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: