Thursday, June 11, 2009

From the Miami Herald crime files

Everglades City, FL

Got a call today from a filmmaker who was looking for some photos I shot....26 years ago!

He had found a few photographs I'd shot for the Associated Press at federal court in Miami of drug suspects arriving for their arraignments.

But this wasn't just any drug bust. This was "Operation Everglades."
Seems like a sizable number of the inhabitants of the sleepy town of Everglades City, FL (population 524) were supplementing their incomes by importing marijuana.

One resident told the Herald's Jeff Leen. "Everybody acts like Everglades City is the only town that has smuggling. I guess I'm prejudiced right now because I have three brothers in jail."

Everglades City resident is taken into custody, July 1983 
(Miami Herald photo by TIM CHAPMAN)

And while there was a lot written about the Everglades City smugglers belonging to an era in Florida when things were more relaxed, a federal judge wasn't in a nostalgic mood when in 1984 she sentenced three members of one family to prison terms of 3 to 12 years

Anyway, the pictures I shot that day are long gone, but I was intrigued enough to look up one of the stories that ran in the Herald more than a quarter century ago:
Miami Herald, The (FL) - Saturday, July 9, 1983
by JEFF LEEN / Herald Staff Writer

In Jane's Restaurant Friday afternoon, four woman were
discussing "Operation Everglades."

"They've arrested all the men," said a bartender in her 20s who was wearing a T-shirt with "Florida's Finest Seafood" emblazoned over a bale of pot. "It's going to be a town of women."

Each woman knew someone arrested Thursday, when 200 federal drug agents and police swooped in and rounded up 11 men and one woman in Everglades City and the surrounding area. Twenty more were arrested in Naples, other parts of Florida, Alabama and Kentucky. Ten others were being sought Friday.

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) spokesmen credited the two- year undercover operation with supplying information that led to 149 previous arrests and the seizure of nearly half a million pounds of marijuana .

On Thursday night, the bartender saw three customers instead of the usual 30. Another woman's 19-year-old son lost his job when the fishing boat he worked on was seized.

"Everybody acts like Everglades City is the only town that has smuggling," said one woman who thought the raid was blown out of proportion. "I guess I'm prejudiced right now because I have three brothers in jail."

Everglades City 's was quiet Friday, but many residents were angry at the law enforcement invasion of what has been called "the private domain of smugglers."

"It was like the Mod Squad came in, like they were making a movie," said Mayor Herm Askren, an outspoken opponent of the smuggling who nonetheless was upset by the military style of the raid.

Askren and others worried that the confiscations of several fishing vessels Thursday would wreck the upcoming stone- crabbing season.

"There won't be enough boats for the town to fish out of here," Askren said. "I think they got about three-fourths of the stone crab fleet."

But National Park Ranger Robert Gibbs said many of the most industrious stone crab fishermen still have their boats.

"There are some godly people here, some really honest people," said Gibbs. "Maybe this will restore their faith in the system."

Rev. Clyde Martin of the First Baptist Church in Copeland also welcomed the roundup.

"This is going to help them have more respect for the law," said Martin, who has been a preacher in the area for 24 years. "This is going to help the young people know you can't get away with wrong."

Rusty Rupsis, publisher of the Everglades Echo, the town's newspaper, said the arrests shocked the townsfolk even though allegations of marijuana smuggling have long hung over the area.

"The signs may have been there but we may have been too close to see them," Rupsis said. "The smugglers aren't stealing from you, they're nice people. They don't give you any trouble. You can live next door to most of them and never know the difference."

Everglades City Councilman Don Barton said the typical local smuggler is not a common criminal. He described them as fishermen seduced by greed in the face of a dwindling industry.


  1. too bad about the pics.

    I'm always looking for old pics of the Glades for comparison. Everglades City and Chokoloskee is one of my favorite places to fish and to buy stone crabs.

    Here's one of good ole Ted Smallwood

  2. My name is Tim,
    I'm a former resident/smuggler from Chokoloskee/Everglades City. I was fortunate not to be caught in Operation Everglades I or II. I was however caught in Operation Peacemaker in 1987 with 150 tons and received a ten year prison sentence. With all the talk about legalization and decriminalization will I receive a credit? Look me up at for my story.


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