Véhicule Magazine: Modern Day Smuggling

Excerpt from Border Security 2019. Full story in Véhicule 2020.

While the current administration is focused on drugs and human traffick coming in, this band of modern-day pirates has been focused on what’s going out. And they’re willing to risk it all for a one-shot retirement deal.

They’re descendants of wreckers, rum runners, pirates and castaways. The generational conches of the lower Florida Keys are a unique breed that is seen less and less around our nation as small-town America fades. Their functioning Bubba system is the sole root of the longevity of this massive extended family that has held influence in nearly all political offices since the founding of our nation.

With that said, these conches, as simple as they may seem, are actually highly capable key players that have been instrumental in executing some of the craziest, most intricately planned heists and even military invasions of our times. None of these are ever reported or otherwise spoken of, other than as drunken rumor or fictional coconut telegraph whispered over smoked cigars and sipped rum.

We all hear about how much comes in, but how much do we hear about what goes out? How do the thousands of Cartel branches in our many neighboring Central and South American countries get all that cash back in their own hands? Answer: Yachts. Lots and lots of yachts.

It’s a cold rainy December day in the Fort Lauderdale/Miami area at the height of yacht purchase and delivery season. A tip is passed along from a yacht broker and a trusted insider. He has possible target vessel: a 72-foot Azimut Flybridge that would be bought against a trade-in—a very similar boat with extremely low hours that was originally purchased just two years prior.

The buyer’s documentation and their financing ran through an offshore LLC shell company that traced back to a certain Mexican state—suspicion solidified. A call is made and the hypothesis is confirmed by a third party.

A GPS tracker is secretly installed.

The vessel is sold and the owner’s representative has a captain run the boat up the river to a marine industrial area where she is hauled out and placed in paint booth for trim and lettering. “On the dry,” she gets wrapped in a plastic cocoon and work begins on her custom paint. Late one evening, a hidden Satlink camera triggers as a white van labeled with a marine safety company’s logo approaches. Four men exit the van and two large white barrels are lifted aboard the yacht with a forklift. Mounted to the outer deck wings are twelve-person life rafts. These are special life rafts…

Read the full story in Véhicule 2020.

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