Véhicule Magazine: The Rise & Fall of Ben Kramer

Ben Kramer Offshore Powerboat Racing

Excerpt from Paradise Lost: The Rise and Fall of Ben Kramer. Full story in Véhicule 2020.

“Anglos tend to work the marijuana trade, while the cocaine market is controlled by Colombians and Cubans. No matter what their specialty, the illegal entrepreneurs can be easily spotted. Young Anglos wearing scruffy Levi’s and T-Shirts, gold Rolex watches and ropes of gold chain sit around the marinas waiting for the next call from a mother ship. Current pay for one night’s work piloting a ‘Cigarette’ averages $50,000, while the wages for unloading the bales are $5,000 to $10,000 a night.”

—Time Magazine, November 23, 1981, “Paradise Lost” 

Ben Kramer was not only one of those “Young Anglos” but used his money made in the drug business to build up his own power boat company “Apache Powerboats” which he also regularly participated in offshore races with.

Ford Apache

In the summer of 1977, two years after bailing out of prison and fleeing law enforcement for marijuana smuggling, Kramer was nabbed again. In something that could only be characterized as a lucky coincidence, a Hollywood police officer went to pull over a Cigarette that happened to be driven by Kramer. Kramer gave the officer the finger, pinned the throttle through a no-wake zone, and left the cop in a cloud of spray. Backup was called, eventually leading to the service of a plane being enlisted. Kramer felt the heat and made the split-second decision to beach his boat and flee on foot. He was captured shortly thereafter. He pled guilty to importation of cannabis and violating state probation, and was sentenced to four years in prison.

Kramer’s sentence ended up being one marked by anything but rehabilitation, and he went right back to his old ways upon release. Federal authorities said he ran a criminal enterprise that distributed more than 500,000 pounds of marijuana nationwide between 1983 and 1986. 

Powerboat mogul Don Aronow, shot dead in his car February 3, 1987, was Ben Kramer’s idol. To Ben, he was a father, an uncle, an older brother and a friend all rolled into one. Ben had made a habit of popping in to see Don at his office as a teenager, and he was always welcomed. The young Kramer was always curious and always complimentary—and Don wasn’t one to say no to a compliment. Don was the reason that Ben was so infatuated by boats and going fast.

 

Ben Kramer Apache

Kramer, at the time reigning U.S. open class offshore powerboat champion, was arrested four months after the Don Aronow killing and sentenced to life in prison as a “drug super kingpin”. He was later charged with the murder of Don Aronow…

Ben Kramer and son

We deal with the real-world events that accompanied some of powerboating's most pivotal moments. History, up until now, has been written by the so-called victors. We document all sides of the story, bringing them to light and presenting the facts for consideration.

 

Read more about the rise and fall of Kramer and Aronow in Véhicule 2020. #freebenkramer 

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