From the Archives: 9 Tons of Pot (1974)

By Rod De Remer

Common newspaper readers in all probability do not forget that spectacular bust final 12 months of a barge with 9 tons of pot aboard. It was the primary in a sequence of setbacks for main sellers.

So what occurred to the poor bastards whose boats had been loaded to the gunwhales with Jamaican and whose heads had been loaded with lush inexperienced visions of revenue?

A fews weeks in the past, they had been tried in the identical courtroom the place, a number of weeks earlier, the Gainesville Eight had been acquited.

The Gainesville Eight had been Vietnam Veterans Towards The Struggle who had been charged by the federal authorities with conspiracy to commit violence on the Republican Conference in Miami.

However there was a transparent distinction at this trial to that of the Gainesville Eight. There was little publicity and even much less sympathy for the defendants.

The “Steinhatchee Seven” had been simply pot smugglers.

Possibly 4 or 5 years in the past folks might rally round pot as a politically unifying pressure. Actually the 9 tons the Steinatchee Seven had been accused of attempting to import would make a formidable rallying level. “Alright, everyone,” shouts the motion chief, “we’re gonna dance round this pile of pot and no person, not the pigs, not our dad and mom, no person is gonna take it!” Nevertheless, it has all the time been the best, the liberty to smoke pot (sadly not included by our shortsighted forefather within the Invoice of Rights) and never the precise bodily substance itself that has been defended. When a gaggle of dudes are taking part in round with greater than 9 tons of the stuff they’re after the large cabbage — man, they’re in enterprise. A high-risk, profitable enterprise to make sure. No, there weren’t many who rallied to the trigger and shouted, “Free the Steinhatchee Seven.”

The Steinhatchee Seven are: Barry Korn, 23, David Strongosky, 23, Michael J. Knight, 23, Richard Ericus, 22, and Steven Lab, 20, all from the St. Petersburg space; Floyd Capo, 40, from Cross Metropolis, and James Maslanka, 24, from Gainesville.

What they’ve been convicted of doing is trying to carry nine-and-a-half tons of Jamaican bush up the small West Florida waterway referred to as Rocky Creek on a barge owned by Capo after which to disburse it at Florida wholesale costs in impact in the course of the spring of the 12 months. After all, nobody is ever convicted of promoting nefarious medication at wholesale costs. No siree, the generally quoted determine within the press, so typically provided by the prosecution, was that four-and-one-half million hard-earned American {dollars} would fetch that barge-load to the backdoor of your storage or warehouse or the place ever else you could possibly cram that a lot bush. Roughly, the breakdown is someplace round $245 a pound. Have to be some form of authorities backed farm program. (Not content material with that overblown determine, the Unbiased Florida Alligator, the College of Florida scholar newspaper, used a $9-million determine reportedly obtained from a Steinhatchee narcotics official.)

However the lack of a defendable trigger was not the one distinction to be drawn between the Gainesville Eight and the Steinhatchee Seven. Within the authorities’s political hatchet job tried on its warfare veterans, it was the defendants, a minimum of a few of them, who had been well-known personalities and even heroes to many Individuals. The perfect the Seven might muster was a well-known legal professional, Percy Foreman, who has defended the likes of Sweet Mossier and James Earl Ray.

Foreman did current a commanding determine to the courtroom observers and, to some extent, the members. Nevertheless, one vital participant didn’t appear overly impressed. US District Decide David L. Middlebrooks, whereas by no means tagged as a dangling choose, will not be a person anybody would choose to go judgement upon everlasting soul had been there a prohibition towards drug utilization in an effort to rise heavenward, with a key to the golden gates. No, Decide Middlebrooks doesn’t look favorably upon those that promote, use and even take into consideration medication.

The Foreman-Middlebrooks conflict got here early within the trial when Foreman tried to inform the choose how issues are carried out in a lot of the federal courts he has practiced in. Middlebrooks leveled his eye at Foreman and shot again, “You’re going to observe the principles in impact on this court docket Mr. Foreman, and in case you don’t prefer it you possibly can go to New Orleans on enchantment!” (New Orleans is the seat of the fifth Judicial Courtroom of Enchantment.)

Percy Foreman was not sufficient. He was not sufficient despite the fact that not one of the defendants had been caught with that mound of weed on Capo’s barge runaground on a sand bar that popped up in the course of the creek. Not solely that, however mild-mannered youthful Robert Crongeyer, assistant US legal professional from Pensacola, admitted from the start of the federal government’s case that the proof was circumstantial.

That circumstantial proof, he promised the jury in his opening remarks, would “weave an online of circumstances that should fall over all of those defendants.”

That “net,” consisting of the testimony of greater than 40 witnesses, would flash on such sturdy factors because the assertion that defendants “seemed like that they had been rolling in hay.” There isn’t that a lot hay within the Steinhatchee-Cross Metropolis area, about 135 miles north of St. Petersburg and round 70 from right here. No, these folks up there principally fish and promote cellular houses. Six younger dudes with lengthy hair, head bands and different assorted oddities simply caught out like a sore thumb after they had been driving round with Floyd Capo on March 4. Looks as if everybody they handed took particular discover of them.

Floyd Capo sat within the courtroom, in a line behind the protection desk going through the jury. He sat there with the others, however didn’t actually slot in. Capo is 40 years previous, a little bit portly and graying on high. Not like his fellow defendants he wore no tie to the proceedings and, as soon as, yielding to an intuition most individuals chorus from in such formal environment, he eliminated his shoe and gave his large toe scratch.

Different elements of that “net” that finally closed in upon the heads of the Seven had been the Jamaican airplane ticket in Maslanka’s pocket when the blue Eldorado he was driving close to Cross Metropolis was pulled over. There was extra testimony concerning the distinctive sound of Capo’s boat, which evidently everybody in these elements might establish. Two fishermen out on the Gulf the evening of March 4 heard the boat making runs from offshore up into the Creek from 1 a.m. till daybreak. However the topper was discovering that barge. And close by that, on the south shore of Rocky Creek Touchdown, was a campsite with much more croker-sacks with that grassy substance in them scales, like Southern moss, hung from the timber.

What a time these small county sheriff’s had posing in entrance of all that marijuana. The next week each little weekly newspaper within the surrounding space carried unhealthy Polaroids of the native heroes below very giant headlines. About all of the protection might throw again on the jury was that the seven had been illegally arrested, nonetheless what they hold their hopes of an enchantment upon, and the testimony of character witness John Carroll. Carroll, nevertheless, proved much less efficient in court docket right here than he used to again within the previous days within the Southwest when he would shock unhealthy women and men sporting a masks and carving Z’s together with his sword.

Carroll is the actor who portrayed Zorro on tv and stated he was ready to make film stars of two of the defendants.

He might have to attend. As a result of the strongest distinction that might be drawn between the Gainesville Eight case and the Steinhatchee Seven trial was carried out so by the jury who discovered all seven responsible of the 4 counts towards them.

Most penalty is 5 years on every depend however Middlebrooks, in a magnanimous present of leniency, introduced he wouldn’t sentence any of the seven to greater than 15 years. They acquired 20 years every.

So if issues appeared to get a little bit tight this previous summer season, a little bit dry, possibly you watched your personal vegetation and puzzled why it took so lengthy to develop the stuff. If that’s the case give a little bit thought to the Steinhatchee Seven who face a really lengthy, dry stretch.

Excessive Instances Journal, Summer time 1974

Learn the total problem right here.

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