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La Cosa Nostra - Crime Pays || Virtual Vice Excerpt

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#1 Jason M. Kays

Jason M. Kays


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Posted 25 August 2009 - 04:16 PM

La Cosa Nostra: crime pays

White continued in his drunken narrative and told McKenzie that it was after his sister's murder that he had resolved to distance himself from the family. He had flown to Jamaica to spend a month with Lance Astor, a high school friend who had opened a successful bar on the island. It hadn't taken long for Scott to realize that the bar was a front for laundering drug money. It took him even less time to decide he wanted in on the action. Astor started off the rookie on small runs, delivering packages of marijuana to the roughly two dozen men he had stationed on tourist beaches to sell the drug. Astor referred to these men as "kiosks", because they were assets in identifying which hotels and clubs had the highest demand for drugs in a given week. The drug kingpin had strategically placed sources in these venues as well. Concierges, doormen, and bartenders doubled as drug dealers. During the 1970s, the demand for cocaine was on the rise. Astor had partnered with Ernesto Velez, a Colombian living near Santiago de Cali, to supply him with coke.

Within a few years, White had become part of Astor's inner circle of trusted runners. He convinced his friend that he should try his hand at export to the U.S., volunteering to spearhead the risky expansion of the business. Scott had picked up some basic piloting skills during his work for Astor. The plane of choice for transport to the U.S. was the powerful Beech Duke. The twin-engine aircraft had ample capacity to accommodate a large payload. Fast and capable of long-distance flights at high altitudes, it was unlikely to be as easily detected by either the DEA or the Coast Guard. White used an abandoned grass airfield in rural Northern Maine to fly in the marijuana. He then drove the bales to distribution centers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. White used his mother's house near Westbrook, Maine, to stash the drugs while he confirmed transfer points. The marijuana was of premium quality – far superior to what could be obtained in the U.S. domestic market. It was a hit with the Eastern Seaboard states' rich preparatory and Ivy League college students.

White was tight with his money and managed to sock away a tidy sum for investment back into his thriving business. After five years of building his distribution network in the U.S., he felt he had maximized his revenue to expense ratio. Expanding operations further would result in overhead that would disproportionately diminish his profits. White was not particularly intelligent, sophisticated, diplomatic, or skilled, but he did have the ability to apply himself 110 per cent to a given endeavor, to the exclusion of all else. It was this freakish idiot savant myopia – and selfishness – that allowed him to succeed despite his undisputed shortcomings. By studying the business paradigm of his mentor, Lance Astor, White came to the realization that at this juncture, he would only be able to grow his business through the diversification of product.

With the advent of Studio 54 drug chic during the mid-70s through the 1980s, cocaine was becoming the drug of choice with the celebrity set and amongst the upwardly mobile. Demand was such that the price point of the drug was at a premium. White knew that the profit margin in cocaine trafficking was far greater than in the selling of marijuana. The risks in selling and distributing the drug were also significantly higher. White wasn't dissuaded by the enhanced risks. Astor was content with his share of his friend's U.S. marijuana trade. He wasn't interested in expanding his cocaine distribution to America. So White had Astor's blessings when he met with Ernesto Velez to propose an association.

Velez held a prominent rank within the Cali cartel. He counted Gilberto Rodríguez Orejuela amongst his good friends. Velez's estate sat upon a 100-acre natural game reserve on the Pacific Ocean, just outside the city of Buenaventura. He retained an army of men, many of whom were soldiers belonging to Colombia's military, to guard his compound. White was stopped at the ornate wrought-iron gate to the house, where security swept his Mercedes for car bombs. He made his way up the winding drive, flanked by mahogany, oak, walnut, and pine trees, to the sprawling colonial-style mansion. Velez's barrister met White at the door to escort him to the library. Two large men in dress khakis and berets stood guard with machine guns on either side of the doors leading to the lavishly appointed library. White was patted down for weapons before being granted entry. As the massive twelve-foot-high doors swung open, he stepped into the large room. The hand-painted domed ceiling and furnishings were done in the baroque style. The lithe, strikingly handsome Velez approached to greet White. Dressed in a conservative, three-button Saville Row suit and Hermčs tie, the man was as impeccably appointed as the room they were meeting in.

Velez had an authoritative and deliberate manner about him. He greeted his visitor in a resonant voice, overlaid with a cigar-and-whiskey patina, as he motioned him to join him for coffee on the adjoining veranda. Velez got right down to business. The drug lord stated quite clearly that he had distribution already established in New York and California; thus, he wouldn't stand to benefit from White's Rhode Island and Massachusetts network. Velez had a virtual air force of cargo and jet airplanes at his disposal, piloted by military veterans. White's shuttle service would, therefore, not add value to the kingpin's operation. Given the situation, he began to wonder how it was that he had merited an hour of the overlord's time. Velez suggested that White might be of assistance in the Pacific Northwest.

Vancouver was a prosperous city with a quiet influx of moneyed Hong Kong resident aliens. It had a demographic profile of the young and the rich, with a propensity for hedonism. Seattle fit a similar profile. The latter had experienced a severe economic downturn during the 1970s, but as the 1980s approached, its economy was on the upswing. And like Vancouver, Seattle was a young city with a healthy appetite for recreational drugs. High-potency marijuana from British Columbia, Canada, "B.C. bud", had long been a staple among Seattle's collegiate and bohemian set. Heroin was firmly entrenched as a counter-culture drug.

Due to the heavy drug traffic coming from our neighbor to the North, bringing in drugs across the Canadian-U.S. border was becoming more and more difficult as Customs agents on both sides ramped up their efforts. Given this trend, Velez thought it best to map out new routes of entry along the Washington State coastline, most of which was lightly policed by the U.S. Coast Guard. White had an advantage in this respect: he had worked summers in his youth on a crabbing boat off the Washington and Alaskan coasts. He had a good working knowledge of all major and minor ports and those places along the coastline where a plane or boat could enter undetected. Velez unilaterally set the terms of the arrangement: there was to be no negotiation. The drug lord would receive sixty-five per cent of any profit. He would supply the aircraft and men to get the drugs to the U.S., but White would be required to cover all other costs from his thirty-five per cent. Velez would retain a Seattle area accounting firm of his choice to audit White's books quarterly.

The Colombian stressed that while his reputation globally was that of a fair and honest man, if one of the random audits showed a discrepancy, he was not a forgiving man. A slight smile crossed Ernesto Velez's face. White looked out over the expansive estate and formal French gardens. Red deer, pumas, and jaguars appeared to peacefully co-exist there. The drug lord directed his attention to a clearing, fifty yards from where they stood. White watched as a local boy, no older than fifteen, was fed alive to crocodiles by two of Velez's guards. The drug lord charged that the child, employed as a local mule, had been caught with a kilo of stolen cocaine – Velez's cocaine. He reiterated that he was a fair, but unsentimental – and unforgiving – man. He stated that he would show mercy in the execution of the boy's younger sister and parents: they would be shot dead in their sleep, painlessly and unceremoniously. The two men closed the deal with a handshake. White returned to Washington State to begin work on establishing a new network on the West Coast.

He hired off-season fishermen to pilot the drug boats, as they knew the waters and shoreline better than the DEA and Coast Guard. Velez was spot on in his forecast of market trends in the Pacific Northwest. Cocaine's popularity in Seattle and Vancouver would quadruple in the 1980s during the Reaganomics "me generation". White's overall markets were modest in terms of volume of product moved in the larger California and East Coast metropolitan areas, but as the forerunner in virgin geographic territory, his relative market share was formidable. Velez was pleased with the progress; within six years, White was the primary conduit for uncut cocaine in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

White maintained a low profile, but didn't shy away from using the party circuit to promote his product. Seattle had a surplus of clubs catering to the twenty-something set, but did not offer many venues where doctors and lawyers could be in their element. Given that the latter demographic had the most discretionary income, White went to work, creating a playground for the young professionals. He purchased six spacious houseboats and the private Lake Union pier to which they were moored. He used the party boats to move his product, and the investment proved a smashing success. It was through this facet of his business that White became acquainted with Harold Cracker.

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