01/16/11 - Robert Platshorn

Robert Platshorn, author Black Tuna Diaries - True Story of America's Most Notorious Marijuana Smuggler + Bradley Weitzel whose father was just sent to prison for 10 years for growing pot

Cultural Baggage Radio Show
Sunday, January 16, 2011
Robert Platshorn
Black Tuna Diaries



Cultural Baggage / January 16, 2011


(Music from Townes Van Zandt)

A few gray Federales say
They coulda had him any day
They only let him slip away
Out of kindness, I suppose

(Music continues)

Dean Becker: Last week fifteen headless bodies were found in Acapulco, Mexico. A placard on top of the bodies proclaimed a similar fate for any who try to enter the Federation Domain of billionaire cartel boss Shorty Guzmán.

Mexico’s army commanders consider Guzmán their primary target but he has easily evaded every attempt to kill or capture him in the marijuana producing Sierra Madre Mountains.

(Music continues)

Houston’s Townes Van Zandt:

Well the poets tell how Poncho fell
After living in a cheap hotel
The desert’s quiet and Cleveland’s cold
So the story ends we’re told

Pancho needs your prayers, it's true
But save a few for Lefty too
He just did what he had to do
Ah, now he's growing old

A few gray Federales say
They coulda had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness I suppose

A few gray Federales say
They coulda had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness I suppose


Welcome to this edition of Cultural Baggage. My name is Dean Becker. Here in just a moment, I’m going to bring in our guest, Mister Robert Platshorn. He’s the Author of Black Tuna Diaries, The True Story of America’s Most Notorious Marijuana Smuggler.

I wanted to point out, we opened with that piece from Mister Townes Van Zandt, talking about Poncho and Lefty and how the Federales just couldn’t quite get around to going after him, to capture him, for so long. I think the same does indeed hold true to our current situation in Mexico, where Shorty Guzmán, as has been indicated, a billionaire drug smuggler and running much of – industry in Mexico.

Now, things weren’t always this way, in particular, reaching back thirty, forty years ago to the situation in Columbia, which is where our guest Mister Robert Platshorn did his work, if you will and with that let’s go ahead and bring in Robert, are you there, sir?

Robert Platshorn: I’m here.

Dean Becker: Hey Robert, good to have you here with us here on Cultural Baggage.

Robert Platshorn: Great to be on.

Dean Becker: Now Robert, I don’t know if you got to hear that intro of Poncho and Lefty but—

Robert Platshorn: Yeah, I did, that’s a great song.

Dean Becker: Isn’t it though?

Robert Platshorn: Yeah.

Dean Becker: But the fact of the matter is that you know, I guess if they really wanted to go after Shorty Guzmán they would do it but they’d really have to “man up” considering the army that he has accumulated at this point, wouldn’t they?

Robert Platshorn: Yeah they would, plus they’d also have to be willing to give up an awful lot of income to their economy.

Dean Becker: Isn’t that the case, you and I were talking earlier today about the fact that thirty five years ago or so that in Columbia, you said it was more open, more accommodating, if you will, for Americans to come down and get involved in the drug trade but I had my time in Mexico forty years ago as well and they welcomed this they wanted our business but let’s –

Robert Platshorn: But you were a friend and partner and they considered you their connection and took really care of you.

Dean Becker: Indeed.

Robert Platshorn: And protected you the whole time you were in country.

Dean Becker: Now, let’s talk about Black Tuna, where that came from and why it bears its relevance.

Robert Platshorn: It’s really not – the first time that I saw the name was in the government press releases when we were indicted and then on door of the DEA evidence room and it actually said “Black Tuna War Room.” I didn’t even know that I was in a war.

Dean Becker: (Laughs)

Robert Platshorn: They made it up. They had found a picture somewhere of when I had caught a 650 pound blue fin tuna in the tuna tournament. We were all fisherman and we fished together. We were called the “Fishing Fools” and when I caught that fish and won a tournament a few days later, I had gold medallions made for the guys on the boat. It was only a handful of them and it just had a generic fish on it that looked like a salmon or something.

They took that and the picture they had with the tuna and they named us Black Tuna Gang because they have put a great name to something.

Dean Becker: Sure. Now, Robert, the fact of the matter is, you guys smuggled, I guess, well over a half a million pounds of marijuana from Columbia to the US, right?

Robert Platshorn: Well, the government alleged anywhere from a million to three million but it was substantially under a half a million.

Dean Becker: (Laughs) Okay, but still…

Robert Platshorn: But over a hundred thousand…

Dean Becker: A sizable amount of weed that would fill most houses a couple of times over I would think.

Robert Platshorn: I would think so, yes.

Dean Becker: Right.

Robert Platshorn: And it was almost all really great Santa Marta Gold and later became the mother strain for almost everything that’s grown for medical today and most of the good strains you’ll find in the legal growing states.

Dean Becker: Now, I saw the Santa Marta Gold just very infrequently here in Houston but we did see a lot of the Rust Red Columbian that compared quite handily to a Quaalude or a Mandrex, very downer.

Robert Platshorn: That was from Teroja, that came from the mountains in the interior and the funny thing is that in Columbia is the only people who wanted that was the truck drivers. They would actually smoke it and drive those huge double trailers through the mountains in Columbia. I guess, it nailed them to the seat and gave them total concentration because once you smoked it you sure as hell couldn’t move.

Dean Becker: (Laughs) No, so true and that brings me back to my time in Bolivia where, you know, they’ve got no rails on the side of that cliff. You’ve got a five hundred foot drop off the edge of that cliff. So, yeah, I’m sure they wanted good focus.

Robert Platshorn: I think that takes more guts driving that truck than it did to smuggle the Columbian Gold but Columbian Gold was an “up” pot it would take you out dancing.

Dean Becker: Right, right. And again I saw that a couple of times. That was when the price of marijuana in Houston went from about $150 to $400 and $500 a pound because that stuff was certainly – had the strength to merit the price increase.

Robert Platshorn: Yeah, it certainly was as strong as anything that’s around today and that’s a terrible myth that thirty, forty years ago it was only a tenth as strong, that’s utter nonsense.

Dean Becker: Again, we’re speaking with Robert Platshorn. He’s Author of Black Tuna Diaries, The True Story of America’s Most Notorious Marijuana Smuggler. Now, Robert, you wound up doing thirty years and a little bit, is that right?

Robert Platshorn: Yes, just under thirty years.

Dean Becker: Just under.

Robert Platshorn: More time than anyone had every done for marijuana and it was a non-violent, first offense but it was the first time they used the kingpin laws.

Dean Becker: Well – and right, to make an example out of you.

Robert Platshorn: Yeah.

Dean Becker: Robert, you toured the worst of America’s prisons facilities, started with Marion, right? I actually have some cousins who are now guards at Marion, it feels kind of creepy.

Robert Platshorn: That was the only super max in the United States at the time and that’s where John Gotti expired. When my attorneys and family asked them to justify why they sent me to the most dangerous prison in America, they said it was because of sophistication and broad publicity.

If you think about it for a second, the only one who was going for publicity was the government and under the government’s definition of sophistication, if you can dial a telephone back in those days that was a sophisticated crime.

Dean Becker: (Laughs) I guess it was. Might still hold true, I don’t know.

Robert Platshorn: Yes, but that was a scary place. I mean, it was just like in the movies when you – they took me in I had double hand cuffs, double black hawks, double belly chains, double ankle bracelets and they duck marched me into the warden’s office and it was like an old James Cagney movie.

There were two guards on either side and a lieutenant standing behind me with a nightstick in his hand. The warden looks up from his desk and he says, “We know how to handle tough guys here.” And I looked around to see who he was talking to, I didn’t even bring my gorilla suit, I forgot it.

Dean Becker: (Laughs.) Yeah. Robert, let’s talk about some of the folks you met, some the folks you left behind and some of the folks we know are still in these prisons and one that I have interviewed in the past, I am still trying to make arrangements with his warden to do it again and that’s George Marterano, he’s sentenced to life in prison for marijuana. Did you get a chance to meet George during your travels?

Robert Platshorn: We crossed paths a couple of times. We spoke. We sat down but it’s like twenty years ago already.

Dean Becker: Yeah. George is sitting on something like twenty six years right now.

Robert Platshorn: Yeah and George isn’t the only one. There’s Billy Owen and there’s, who did they just sentence – did Eddie Lepp get life?

Dean Becker: I don’t think Eddie got life but there’s another brave soul, isn’t it?

Robert Platshorn: Yeah but there’s probably a dozen people in prison for marijuana, non-violent offenses, who will never ever get to chance to walk out unless we can change the laws or at least pressure the DEA, through the political process, to take marijuana from Schedule-I to a lower Schedule. Then they’ll lower the penalties, they’ll have to and they’ll find a way to split almost all the old timer out of prison because that’s normally what happens.

Dean Becker: Yeah, well Robert, I wanted to being up something about smuggling, you know in my – endeavors, you know, a percent of a percent of what you did , I guess. We went into Mexico, the first time, to get some marijuana because we didn’t know where any was here in the US. We knew they had some so we went down there and ran out of money and wound up trading a carton of cigarettes and a lighter for a little packet of marijuana and managed to make it back across the border.

Another time we – again ran out of money in a broke down car, it’s seems that whether you’re trying to score in the city or whatever back in those days there were always complications, delays and heartache along the way and you suffered your share, did you not?

Robert Platshorn: You needed two of everything.

Dean Becker: (Laughs)

Robert Platshorn: Because the first one was sure to break and you needed a backup plan for everything because there was always something that could go wrong. On our first Columbian endeavor, someone came to me and said, “Oh, I’ve got a friend with a great connection in Columbia. He gets nothing but Primo. He’s been out of the business for a year or two. If you could arrange a plane and put up some money, we’ll go down there and get you a load of Primo.”

Well, he went down there and a week goes by and two weeks go by and three weeks go by and it’s “check is in the mail, it will be here soon” and finally – and we had borrowed the money for the plane, the pilot and front him down to Columbia. We’d gotten that from our customers.

So, we were right up against the wall and I flew down in a Learjet. Someone arranged that for me and made a little bit of a splash, took the presidential sweet in the best hotel and it didn’t take twenty four hours before somebody found me and I was in the business and had arranged a load.

Dean Becker: Well, and that’s what I guess I was talking about earlier that back then, it was almost like, “Welcome brother. Let’s work together,” right?

Robert Platshorn: It very much was, in fact I’ll tell you a little story. In the first chapter of my book is about when I flew a plane, a DC3, into Columbian jungle and got captured by the Columbian army.

There was a big crew of Wajelans, who were going to load the plane. We all got thrown in a van they were going to take us down and shoot us and you’ve got to read the chapter to find out what happened.

Anyway, a year later, in Miami, a fellow comes to me, a Cuban and said he had a huge load being landed in the Keys and would I be interested and basically I said, “No.” In fact, I immediately said “No.”

I was already bring in my own and this guy didn’t have a great reputation to begin with. A long story short, the next day it disappears, the loads landed and it had got bused and of course, no one had gone to pick it up from a fish house where it was landed.

It was maybe 30,000-40,000 pounds.

Dean Becker: Wow.

Robert Platshorn: A day of two later, I’m coming out of the Fontainebleau hotel where I had the yacht club there and the barber shop there and I was headquartered there. I get kidnapped off the steps of the Fontainebleau by the brother of the man who brought in the load and he takes me to his brother’s house, which is this big compound in South Miami and his family owns all four or five houses in this cul-de-sac.

I walk in and at the far end there was a swimming pool and then a bar and I’m at the bar and it turns out half the Wajelans that I was captured with in the Columbian jungle are sitting in this guy’s bar and when they see me it was like they had found a long lost brother.

The man who owned the load, of course, was accusing me of stealing it and that is why they kidnapped me and they said I was the only one who knew the load was coming in and I had my guys pick it up.

Well, I picked up a phone at the end of the bar and put it on speakerphone. I called customs in Miami and asked for their information agent, their PR guy, Jim Deanfelder and as soon as he gets on the phone. I said, “My name’s Elliot I am from the Atlanta Journal,” I said, “I heard there was a bust in the Keys two days ago can you tell me anything about it?”

He says, “We don’t know anything about it and nobody came to pick it up and it the stuff is down in the confiscation locker in Key West.” When the Wajelans heard that and when the Cuban was accusing me of taking it instead of him just leaving it there, everything changed but it was the Wajelans that turned around and said, “Look, it can’t be this guy. We give him all he wants. He doesn’t need any money and he doesn’t need your marijuana.”

They were great people. They protected me end to end. They did pretty much everybody in those days.

Dean Becker: Now, Robert, your still a working man but you’re retirement age like me but you’re still involved in the community doing sales work but one of the things you do is work with NORML and I guess other groups to educate senior as to the benefits of marijuana, right?

Robert Platshorn: I am the Director of NORML in South Florida an I’ve been collecting signatures for PUFMM, which is People United for Medical Marijuana. We’re trying to pass a bill in South Florida and I have worked on a campaign to decriminalize Miami Beach.

We are just a few hundred signatures short. We will get Miami Beach decriminalized. We should have it done by the time our movie comes back to Florida. You know, I’m coming down to Texas for the big world premiere of the movie called, Square Grouper, based on my book.

Dean Becker: Well, let me know when that happens. We’ll help you.

Robert Platshorn: Oh, It’s going to be happening at South by Southwest (SXSW).

Dean Becker: Well okay, we’ll help publicize that with you then.

Robert Platshorn: We are one of five feature films and it’s a full length documentary about the wild old smuggling days in South Florida, most of it’s based on my book. We’re having world premiere at SXSW. I’m really excited about it.

Dean Becker: Well, me too.

Robert Platshorn: It’s in Austin, in March. I work full time almost, as an activist down here. I spoke to the legislature – legislatures two weeks ago and found someone willing to sponsor a bill. I go around the country. I speak. I motivate. I sell my book and it almost all goes toward trying to legalize here in Florida and in other states.

Dean Becker: Now Robert, I want to go back to that time. I don’t know when you got started, but for me it was about ’66 when I became a pot aficionado and about ’68, when I did my only, I would call, well, from my perspective major smuggling job, but—

Robert Platshorn: We were in the mid-seventies – mid to late seventies.

Dean Becker: Okay and from my perspective, it’s really such a shame that everywhere you go, at least back then and I think now as well, there’s always going to be somebody who gets themselves in a bind and in trouble with the law and they are going to snitch on you.

As I learned in your book here that one of the people that who worked in such a fashion in your life wound up committing suicide, as did the one who busted many of my friends back in the day.

Robert Platshorn: That doesn’t surprise me. In all my years in prison the people who had been rejected by their families, the people who had been divorced right away, the people who didn’t have a friend that would send them a dollar for commissary were almost always the Snitches.

Dean Becker: Yeah.

Robert Platshorn: But you know what? And as bad as it hurt to be away from my son for all of those years, I stayed close with him. I stayed close with my wife. I came out of jail after thirty years and my wife was there with a home for me.

We remarried, we had – we divorced when I went in because I didn’t think I could outlive that sentence – it was a sixty four year sentence and she was only thirty five at the time. I wanted her to have a life but when I got out, she was there for me. I don’t think it was a week I was in jail, when we didn’t talk once.

Dean Becker: Well, that’s the only thing that keeps you sane and keeps you from just chucking it all away.

Robert Platshorn: And only snitches don’t have that because they don’t have friends.

Dean Becker: Right.

Robert Platshorn: People know that if you’ve turned on the people you associate with and generally those people are friends, then you’re someone who is really a slime ball and can’t be trusted.

Dean Becker: Exactly. Yeah, I shed no tears when Robert, the informant that busted all of my friends and set me up an time or two that I was not able to prove. When I heard he killed himself, I didn’t shed one tear, that’s for sure.

Robert Platshorn: When I heard George Pervis Junior killed himself, it seemed like he committed justice.

Dean Becker: (Small Laugh)

Robert Platshorn: By the way, my niche in my activism is talking to seniors. They are a group that has been ignored for so long and the group that needs it the most and also has the most political clout.

I devised something I call the Senior Tour, which is a two hour show and we’ve got people like Irv Rosenfeld and last night what’s-her-name – Elvy?

Dean Becker: Musica.

Robert Platshorn: I said she definitely want to come out with us. We’ve got the head nurse, Mary Ellen from Patients Out of Time to answer questions and a lot of really good medical material. We’re going to give them a free meal, a lunch or a buffet dinner.

Dean Becker: Well, I tell you what, Robert, we’re going to have to invite you back because there is so much more talk about. Please share your website with the listeners we have to cut it off.

Robert Platshorn: Yes, please. www.blacktunadiaries.com

Dean Becker: Alright.

Robert Platshorn: Order a book or preview all of the chapters.

Dean Becker: Alright, thank you, sir.

Robert Platshorn: Thank you, Dean.


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(Percussive medieval music)

Kneel down and pray for the new inquisition
Pray for success of the new Dark Age
All this in the name of God


(Music from Sloshtown)

They all know it’s just about the money
Because the fat cat politicians think we’re dummies
We all know it’s just about the money
Because the fat cat politicians think we’re dummies
And you know they cannot stop


Bradley Weitzel: My name is Bradley. I’m from Butler, Pennsylvania.

Dean Becker: Now Bradley, this week here on the Drug Truth Network, we’re doing a look on children of the incarcerated and your father has “taken the blame” for some marijuana that was found at your house. Correct?

Bradley Weitzel: Yes. Yes.

Dean Becker: Tell us the beginning of the case. How long ago did this start and what was it it’s first contentions?

Bradley Weitzel: In June of 2006, me, my mother and my father were all with charged manufacturing marijuana and possession with the intent to deliver marijuana. It took over four and half years to finally resolve. We went to trail over the matter. I was found not guilty on all counts. My mother was found guilty on just a couple and then my father, he got found guilty on manufacturing.

Dean Becker: Where is your father now?

Bradley Weitzel: He’s in the Department of Corrections. He is an inmate up in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. He got a five to ten year sentence.

Dean Becker: As I understand it, because he chose to go to trial, he declined a probation instead, did he not?

Bradley Weitzel: Yes. It was a very long and intensive probation. Seventy two months, I believe and then it also consisted of electronic monitoring. Not only is my father not here, obviously that’s the worst part, but financially it becomes very difficult and on top of that my mother actually got fired from her job the day after her conviction. Her boss came in and testified in court that she was a good worker but the very next day she was forced to fire her.

Dean Becker: Have you had a chance to visit your father in prison, as yet?

Bradley Weitzel: No, actually, they took him. They incarcerated him in Butler County jail, November 2nd and then one week prior to Christmas, give or take a couple of days, they shipped him out to, I believe, Western Penitentiary.

Ever since then he has been in transit and I have been unable to speak with him on the phone and I have been unable to obviously visit him. We’ve been keeping in touch through letters. He uses them and I haven’t been able to see or speak to him since before Christmas.

Dean Becker: Bradley, this is a story that sadly is repeated hundreds of thousands of times a year in America. People caught up in the criminal justice system for choosing an intoxicant less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco. Any closing thoughts that you would like to relay?

Bradley Weitzel: You know, my parents did excellent job raising me, my sister and my little brother. We all did very well in school. I did exceptionally well in school and was able to go and get an academic scholarship to the University of Miami and – but what they did in their spare time isn’t anybody else’s business.

My mom has glaucoma. She even has a medical reason for it and a five to ten year sentence for a couple of pounds of marijuana, just because it was next to some guns. It completely tore my family apart.

I mean, we are still very close but it is obviously very, very hard. My dad is about to be a grandfather for the first time, here in April and now because of the prosecutor being so vindictive it’s led me to almost drop out of school.


Dean Becker: Alright, you’re listening to the Cultural Baggage on the Drug Truth Network. As always, I remind you that there is always (laughs) – because of prohibition, you don’t know what’s in that bag. Please be careful.


To the Drug Truth Network listeners around the world, this is Dean Becker for Cultural Baggage and the Unvarnished Truth.

This show produced at the Pacifica studios of KPFT, Houston.

Drug Truth Network programs are stored at the James A. Baker III Institute for Policy Studies.

Transcript provided by: Ayn Morgan of www.eigengraupress.com

Tap dancing… on the edge… of an abyss.