#3. Don't Sample the Damn Product
There were 110 people around the world working on this pot exchange, and our one single fucking requirement was that nobody involved do any cocaine. Our captain had a problem with this. Eventually I confronted him. He refused to stop doing coke, so we said, "You go down to your brother's place in Florida, get out of here, and when this is done we'll pay you."
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Interventions were much more low pressure at the time.
My co-smugglers figured $50,000 would be enough to bribe the guy. I didn't think it was enough and worried he'd make noise, but I got outvoted. He took that bag with $50,000 and went directly to the DEA's Seattle office. He put that money on the table and said, "I can tell you where there's more of that," and for the next 11 months, the DEA watched us. That's how they got wise to our smuggling operation in the first place. Dang: Only a cokehead would think 50 grand for "chilling out" is a bad deal.
The feds didn't stop chasing us just because we outsmarted them that one time. That tends to make them mad, actually. But I wound up rich, and since I had a bunch of money and not enough brains, I pulled myself out of the business and decided to celebrate with ... cocaine. I bought an entire kilogram for myself. Three days later, I had a heart attack on the floor of my friend's house. When you start buying personal-use coke by the kilogram, there's really no other way it's going to end.
#2. The Hammer Comes Down (but Helps Birth the Legal Weed Industry)
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I started to volunteer at the hospital where I got sober and wound up leading the volunteer efforts. I had found a place in Santa Barbara's recovering addict community. So I was lying in bed one morning, feeling good about my clean and sober life, just thinking about this methadone addict who came in the night before ... and there came a knock on my door.
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It was the only time anyone has ever prayed for it to be Jehovah's Witnesses.
I knew they were cops. I just knew it. You always know: Cops must knock differently. Sure enough, I rolled over, looked through my mini-blinds, and saw a man's hand ... holding a gun. So I got up, put on my bathrobe, and opened the door. I saw two men with badges and guns. One said: "Are you Brian O'Dea?"
I said: "Fuck, I wish I wasn't, but I am."
"May we come in?"
"You've got the gun."
And in they came.
"So, you know why we're here?"
I said, "No, I don't."
That's the only decent answer to that question, by the way. What if they were just really aggressively selling tickets to the policeman's ball, and you suddenly started blubbering about all of your many felonies?
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"Did I say $45? I meant $4,500. How many can I put you down for?"
"Listen, wise guy, we know what you do. This isn't about change or rehabilitation. We're here to crush your life. Do the right thing."
"The right thing is calling my lawyer."
"We're coming after him next."
The DEA busted most of us smugglers at the same time, effectively cutting off the supply of weed from Southeast Asia. That's one of the reasons the American pot-growing industry is so big now. I still have friends in prison, who will die there, for transporting a drug that's now almost legal. Imagine sitting in Terminal Island doing 75 years for conspiracy to bring in marijuana, then you open up the paper and read the news about Colorado and Washington.
#1. Sometimes the Law Is More Dangerous Than the Crime
The DEA wanted my cooperation. Since I was working in rehab, they figured I'd go for it. There were 55 guys indicted. Fifty-three of them talked; my chief engineer and I were the other two. He asked me, "Are you telling them anything?" I said, "Nope." He said, "I'm not either." I asked, "What can you tell them they don't know?" He replied, "I didn't get into this business to talk."
"Bullshit? Yeah. Gossip? A little. Talk? Nope."
Eventually they even arrested Steve Swanson, the former DEA detective that tipped us off. They got him for aiding and abetting a criminal enterprise. A lot of the guys testified against him in Florida. When Steve was charged, he asked for a 15-minute recess. He went outside and stood in front of a truck and killed himself. The people who testified probably didn't feel great about that. I don't believe in giving stitches to snitches, but sometimes a life of guilt is fair.
I do feel for all of them. Why didn't I talk? Because not talking was the easiest thing for me to do. The guys who cooperated did it because it was the easiest thing for them to do. Human nature is lazy: Everyone generally does the easiest thing. Besides, I knew I'd be OK eventually. I had a huge group of friends who were members of the sober community in Santa Barbara. They started a letter-writing campaign on my behalf, targeting everybody from the president and vice president down to the attorney general and my congressman. Eventually the DA realized I probably couldn't have garnered this sort of support if I was a hardened criminal possessed by the Reefer Devil.
Although, it being the '70s, we did have pretty similar wardrobes.
Since I didn't cooperate, I got 10 to 12 years and a $1 million fine, but the DA wrote to the parole board and helped me get transferred to a prison in Canada, where I could get paroled a little earlier. I have regrets, of course. Nobody's saying we were saints. But in the whole time I was smuggling pot, I never saw a gun until those DEA agents knocked on my door. And no one died bringing that weed to America until the law came down on Steve.
Related Reading: Cracked's spoke to a bunch of people with unique lives, including a rehabilitated terrorist. We spoke with an undercover agent who used his wiles to fight drug cartels and this whole bunch of drug dealers for balance. Have a story to share with Cracked? Email us here.
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