MIAMI — "Regards from Tuna Ville, where it’s always 420" was how Robert Platshorn, one of the largest marijuana smuggler from the 1970s, signed off on an e-mail to me.
Along with his other numerous entrepreneurial accomplishments, Robert Platshorn should be known best for being an accomplished fisherman. Instead, it’s his affiliation with being the leader of the infamous â€˜Black Tuna Gang,’ that gives him the most recognition. Back in the 1970s, he and a number of other individuals, were responsible for flooding the states with an abundance of high quality marijuana from Colombia. The â€˜Black Tuna Gang’ were the most notorious and sophisticated smugglers of their time.
It was May of 1979 when an indictment was issued by a Miami Federal Grand Jury charging Platshorn and his Black Tuna Gang with operating a marijuana smuggling ring that had allegedly brought into the States 500 tons of Colombian marijuana during a 16-month period. It was this indictment and subsequent conviction that led to Platshorn being placed in federal prison for 29 years. A bounty had been put on his head by President Jimmy Carter’s attorney general, Griffin Bell.
Platshorn’s recently released first novel, “The Black Tuna Diaries,” is a fascinating depiction of personal stories, along with accounts of the inner working of the well-oiled machine of smuggling, life in prison, what the government did and did not know, and more.
Platshorn and his exploits were also prominently featured in the 2006 documentary “Cocaine Cowboys.” The same film company, Rakontur, is now in the process of editing a documentary called “Square Grouper, a film based on Platshorn’s novel that also features DEA agents, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and the other surviving members of The Black Tuna gang. The film is scheduled to be released this fall.
I had the pleasure of meeting Platshorn recently when I attended a special exhibition at the Miami Historical Museum of Southern Florida that highlighted the city’s intimate and unique relationship with crime.
That night, as I walked around the exhibition, I spotted Platshorn, standing by his display, intently reading the captions under the photographs. After he identified himself, we chatted a bit, and he briefly told me about his life as a marijuana smuggler. We planned to meet on a later date for an interview. Intrigued, I bought his book before leaving the museum and immediately began reading it.
On the afternoon of our interview, a Friday, I arrived a little early and was informed that Mr. Platshorn was already inside. He stood right by his display in the exhibit, the only person separate from the small group of about 10 people around the corner listening intently to their museum guide. I approached Platshorn, who was dressed in slacks and a navy blue colored Hawaiian button down shirt, and quickly apologized for having kept him waiting. He waved off my apology, announcing, "I’m always at least an hour early wherever I go."
The Platshorn display was set up directly across a mock demonstration of a police line up. His portion of the wall was a small shrine to his involvement with crime: a couple of framed newspaper articles, a small gold necklace that the government accused Platshorn and his gang of using to identify themselves as members of the smuggling gang, and a beautifully-crafted hand-made wooden boat that Platshorn informed me that was done by his partner Randy, in jail.
The mention of Randy triggered Platshorn’s memory, and he quickly jumped into the story of how he had recently heard from his old partner after many years of silence. They reconnected for the first time a couple weeks ago and went fishing.
During our conversation, Platshorn seemed like the type of person who belonged on a fishing boat rather than behind bars. His outdoorsy, casual appeal evokes a Jimmy Buffet song. His demeanor isn’t one of a hardened criminal that spent 29 years in jail; but rather, the type of individual that you want to drink beers with and listen to, an eccentric individual you can picture taking a hit off a joint with. He’s charismatic with an inviting nature to the point where I almost wanted to relocate this interview to an outside bar, and ask him questions over a cold beer or two.
Platshorn is a talker. His stories are long, elaborate and specific, complete with first and last names, dates and locations. He is a natural storyteller, and a damn good one at that. I had initially planned to film Platshorn standing by his display, but it soon became evident we had to change locations. The museum tour guide’s voice not only dominated the calm quiet of a room that only museums and libraries possess, but the echo of her voice made it impossible for us to conduct our interview there.
Before we settle on a new location, two young men of college age stand in front of Platshorn’s display and ask for me to take a picture with their iPhone. They don’t realize they’re standing next to the captain of the Black Tuna Gang, himself. Platshorn points to a couple of the framed newspaper articles behind them and chuckles. "You would never believe that I use to be that skinny, would you?" The young men quickly look at Platshorn, and then back at the photo. "Yeah that’s me, part of The Black Tuna Gang." They do one more double take, and immediately ask Platshorn if he would mind being in the photo. He is more than happy to oblige.
Before we head out, the former smuggler takes one last look at his wall. He stands proud, in front of his well-documented contribution to Miami’s checkered past, and is quiet for a couple seconds. He looks at his life, all laid out on display for people to see and judge.
Outside the museum, we settle on an empty table in the vast courtyard area across from the main Miami Public Library, and resume our conversation.
Platshorn’s necklace, a simple gold chain with a dime sized replica of a fish, is nestled in a little chest hair, shines in the sunlight. It’s the same medallion that initially caught my attention when we first met. Apparently, the government also took particular notice of his necklace: it helped served as evidence in his case to put him and his gang behind bars. It was suspected to be a symbol of involvement and alliance with his pot smuggling gang. Platshorn vehemently denies this, and claims the only symbol this necklace represents is that it was solely made for his "fishing fools, to celebrate our â€˜Grand Slam.’" I believe him.
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