How much has COVID-19 affected the drug economy in Miami?
Despite the city’s closure of nightclubs and bars, attempting to slow the spread, perhaps not as much as you would think. In fact, multiple drug industry sources tell Celeb that business is still booming. And then they shared stories of working with Pablo Escobar.
Miami has long been referred to as the cocaine capital of the world since the late 70s and 80s and we have collectively been fascinated by it.
Miami Drug Scene
Most of us who don’t live under a rock have seen the south Florida city’s drug crimes glamorized in Oliver Stone’s film, Scarface. The era’s drug wars and the notorious “Cocaine Cowboys” influenced the iconic 80s TV treasure Miami Vice. In recent years, Escobar’s life was depicted on the hit show Narcos which led to the current spin-off Narcos: Mexico. Some of us who like to delve even deeper into the dark den of drug history are hooked on Netflix’ latest, the six-episode drug-trafficking docuseries The Business of Drugs. The material is endless, and it never gets old. Cocaine sells.
Florida’s geographical location has always been a magnet for drug activity, the 1,350 miles of coastline has handed Florida its drug reputation on a silver platter. And Miami is a port city, so it sustains the drug economy across the country. It’s not just about what’s just going on in Miami, it’s what Miami means to the greater industry.
Miami was reportedly responsible for trafficking 70% of the country’s cocaine and marijuana in its heyday. Of that amount, another 70% was coming straight from Escobar and the other 30%, from two or three of the smaller cartels, according to a former drug dealer I spoke with who worked for Escobar from 1979 to 1980.
Has Coronavirus Affected Anything?
A city world-famous for its hotspots, Miami has now earned that name for an entirely different reason as the Miami-Dade County’s corona climb is logged at 110,000 cases and 1,425 deaths. Not the worst area right now, but it’s up there.
LIV at the Fontainebleau hotel, Story, Basement, Treehouse, Do Not Sit on the Furniture, most of these hotspots would typically be open until 5 a.m.
Ultraclub E11EVEN was open 24/7. Heart Nightclub was also open 24 hours and was known to have record-breaking DJ sets lasting as long as 25 hours. (I need a pick me up just thinking about that)
The drug-fueled nights in da club may be kaput, at least temporarily, yet former club-goers may in fact be using more drugs. At the very least, it doesn’t seem to have slowed down the usage. Many don’t have jobs to get to at the moment, therefore they may be spending their unemployment money on drugs now that they have more free time to party.
While the setting may have shifted from a glitzy, pulsing, discotheque to a beige-carpeted apartment lair with vertical blinds, with people out of work all day, the partying could actually start earlier and continue for days longer.
A local Miami bartender tells Celeb some partying alternatives that clubgoers have been partaking in since the clubs have closed.
“DJs were setting equipment up on balconies and having house parties for a while,” he shares. “Lately it’s not happening as much it’s like everyone has been beat down with everything going on, it’s sad.”
Other partiers are taking it to the streets.
“I see a lot of people come down to the end of the street where I live and play music, smoke joints until it gets broken up. So we’re seeing a lot of that.”
Like many cities across the world right now, Miami appears to be losing its luster.
“It’s wild seeing a party town with all these rules. Miami Beach has a curfew of 8pm right now. It’s a totally different clientele. The majority of people are not respectful it’s especially hard right now for us. Tips are down 75% and I have one of the best gigs here.”
The barman then explained how the real effect is going to come now that the extra $600 federal payment is going away. “It’s going to get real dicey real fast. In a month from now if things haven’t changed there’s going be some shit going down.”
It’s safe to say that things in Miami have always been a bit dicey, that’s part of the charm. Typically, drug dealers roam the clubs like sharks, establish their presence, then become a fixture on certain nights of the week — if not every night of the week — making themselves visible for repeat offenders fancying a fix to enhance their night.
Dealers are navigating around these closures by ramping up their personal deliveries. I spoke with a few dealers anonymously for this story.
Business Is Good
“Business is up because people are basically staying home and drinking and getting f**ked up on coke all day long,” says Dealer X, who has done jail time. “There has been nowhere to go really, especially at the beginning. Being home all day, the only way to put up with that shit is by getting high.”
Dealer Y echoes that sales are up, telling Celeb that they are doing more delivery service, and the risk for getting busted is a lot lower not being in the clubs. “Cops aren’t as focused on sting operations and busting people for drugs with all this COVID shit. The jails have their own issues and don’t have room for more inmates with less serious offenses and they’re losing them anyways because of COVID.”
That may be wishful thinking considering President Trump visited South Florida just last week reiterating the momentum the White House has had cracking down on drug trafficking, specifically over 1,000 arrests and confiscating 264,000 pounds of drugs worth billions in the Western Hemisphere since April. They are also specifically targeting the eastern Pacific and the Caribbean Sea, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We’re determined to keep dangerous drugs out of the country and away from our children,” Trump said at the roundtable in Doral, Florida. “The traffickers are truly vile. They’re terrible, terrible people.”
Dealer Z explains that drug prices go up as the drugs get transported further and further from the Miami entry point, being stepped on, or cut, countless times along the way. “As it gets harder to get drugs in and harder to move it the cost just goes up.”
With so many handlers, it seems crazy that drug users aren’t worried about catching the virus through their habit. Dealer Y is actually currently recovering from COVID-19.
Paul Meegan, a luxury auto broker in Chicago, experienced 1980s Miami drug culture zipping around the intercoastal in his 35-foot cigarette boat. He tells Celeb of the city’s most decadent days and theorizes that times have not changed too much.
“I don’t see it diminished one bit due to clubs closing. It’s fueling it with people sitting at home,” Meegan says. “If you were a weekend warrior, now you’re a seven-day warrior. I actually see the drug problem worse because of the pandemic, people have too much time on their hands.”
Plus, drugs are addictive. “What was a gram a week could lead to ten a week to twenty a week. Then they start dealing.”
“Cocaine was a form of currency at the time. I could say ‘I’ll give you $1000 or half an ounce’ and nine times out of ten they picked the coke. If I recall in 1980, one kilo was about $30,000.”
As far as thoughts on whether or not they’re having more trouble getting the product into the country, “I don’t see it not coming in. It’s always getting here. Along the way everyone has their price, including officers. Nothing has changed it’s just how it’s coming into the country that has changed. They just get more creative.”
One week after the coronavirus lockdown started, Feds seized golf clubs packed with cocaine at a mail facility in Miami. Drugs have been smuggled in pineapples, art sculptures, butt implants, Care Bear stuffed animals, even transported by “fake” nuns.
“Back in the day, the planes would come in low, off radar, and drop their load in the ocean, bags of cocaine and marijuana,” Meegan recalls. “The rule of thumb was never touch anything in the ocean that’s not yours, you’ll wind up in the Everglades. The cartel would throw bodies in the Everglades because bodies would never be found, the gators would get them.”
Tales Of Pablo Escobar
Meegan even once did a car deal with Pablo Escobar while working in Miami.
“I was working at a Toyota dealership in Miami, he wanted 60 Land Cruisers. All of a sudden, his guys are walking in with duffel bags, it was a cash deal. Around 3.5 million.”
Escobar had said don’t worry about the paperwork, that the vehicles were going down to Colombia, “We’ll get the cars out the same way we get our cars in,” he told Meegan.
Meegan then passed the drug lord’s loyalty test. “We had the money counted and I told him it came up $40,000 extra and he just smiled. I handed him back the rest of the money.”
Meegan also ran into Escobar at the legendary Mutiny hotel back in the day, aka Hotel Scarface, “He would come off mild-mannered, but they all have their dark sides, he was very cordial, very friendly but just don’t cross the line.”
Dealer Z, actually one of Escobar’s former drug runners tells Celeb of that time and what he knew of his notorious boss and his counterparts.
“These guys could be animals, psychopaths sometimes, but also really kind people, it was weird. There are only a couple of guys left from back in the day. I could write you a list of 150 players. There are two common denominators: Everybody is either dead or dead in jail.”
“I was told when I was young, don’t deal with anybody if you don’t know their family. If you don’t know where the motherf**ker lives, if he doesn’t take you to his house and introduce you to his daughter or his wife or his brother or his dad, you don’t sell him a kilo of cocaine. Because an undercover would never let you meet his family. They’re not going to set up a sting operation with a fake house, a fake wife, fake kids and a fake f**king dog.
Dealer Z used to smuggle drugs into the states via speedboat, muses that the cartel may be bringing boats into the United States more easily because everyone is distracted with COVID.
Cruise ships have always been a popular smuggling method, but on April 9, 2020, the CDC announced the extension of a No Sail Order for all ships.
Dealer Z explains the old operation: “Carlos, Pablo’s right hand, had a place in the Cayman Islands, that’s where the big ships would drop, and the speed boats would come from Miami and pick up the stock.”
The only time he ever saw Pablo Escobar, he was in one of the big boats during a drop-off:
“He waved at us, and said in Spanish, ‘Thank you for everything you guys are doing for us, you’re doing great.’ That was when we were waiting for the Mother Ship as we called it, then we put the product in the speed boats and took it back to Miami. At the beginning it was easy, you would rent a house in Miami, in Coral Gables, where you could go from the ocean to these big mansions through the canals at three in the morning to drop off.”
“Everyone would say, ‘That’s the guy, Pablo Escobar’s guy.’ I would go to nightclubs; they would get me the table in front of the band and treat me like a rock star. I could get three women at a time. I was making half a million dollars cash at 18. It was very addictive.”
Addictive seems to be the running theme here. Drugs, money, women. The glamourous side of the drug world may have expired for the time being, and the coronavirus may have shaken the business a bit, but one thing is certain, it looks like COVID-19 is here to stay, just like the cyclical Miami drug world and its menacing history.
Meegan concludes, “Nothing has really changed since the Wild Wild West, the prohibition days and now coronavirus.”