Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami

Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami

by Roben Farzad


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Drugs, disco, and debauchery: This is the wild true story of the Mutiny, the decadent hotel that embodied Miami's cocaine-fueled heyday—and inspired the legendary film Scarface.

In the seventies, coke hit Miami like a hurricane, and no place attracted dealers and dopers like the Mutiny. Rock stars and models flocked to the hotel's club to order bottle after bottle of Dom and to snort lines alongside narcos, hit men, and gunrunners, while upstairs, marathon orgies raged in the elaborate fantasy suites. But as the kilos—and bodies—began to pile up, the Mutiny became target number one for law enforcement.

Based on exclusive interviews and never-before-seen documents, Hotel Scarface is an extraordinary work of investigative journalism, a portrait of a city high on excess and greed.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

A history of the infamous Mutiny at Sailboat Bay hotel and nightclub, the epicenter of Miami's cocaine boom years.Miami's reputation in the 1980s as the stronghold of the cocaine trade was popularized by the film Scarface and TV series Miami Vice, but the real story may eclipse even these portrayals. Through turf wars, assassinations, and arrests, the only certainty in Miami's drug trade was the hangout for the industry's key players to show off and flash their dirty money. In his investigation into the Mutiny, Farzad, who hosts Full Disclosure on NPR, captures the excess, decadence, and debauchery of the Mutiny in its heyday. This was where kingpins did business in the hotel suites, crooked lawyers and financiers held office hours at the club, and the entire staff were all in on it. With interviews from many of the people who lived it firsthand, the author showcases a cast of characters composed mostly of Cuban exiles and Colombian immigrants, including Ricardo "Monkey" Morales, Rodolfo "Rudy Redbeard" Rodriguez Gallo, and the legendary Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta. The story of the Mutiny and Miami's cocaine gold rush is primarily a tale of the American dream, its corruption, and the lengths an immigrant community will go to fulfill a capitalist fantasy of affluence. But for all the glitz and glamour of the Mutiny and the lifestyle of cocaine elite, there was a brutal and nasty flip side. Suspicion, paranoia, and murder were common practice in the trade, a fact epitomized by the symbolic Dadeland Massacre in 1979, which ushered in an unprecedented wave of violence that earned the city the title of murder capital of America. The luster of cocaine and the Mutiny eventually faded, as crack became the preferred form of the drug and federal investigators prosecuted many of the Mutiny's habitués. But the legend lives on in Farzad's narrative retelling of the Mutiny, which provides a crucial piece to Miami's history as the era's cocaine epicenter. A gripping account of how the Mutiny's role in Miami's cocaine business changed not only the city, but America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399583254
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 179,607
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

Copyright © 2017 Roben Farzad



It was autumn 1980 in Miami, and Willy Gomez, a tall, thickly bearded twentysomething who looked like a disco conquistador, was working security at the Mutiny at Sailboat Bay, a club and hotel in Coconut Grove, just south of downtown. Outside, a long line snaked by the poolside entrance to the Mutiny Club. If everyone in Miami claimed to know Willy—his gig won him side jobs from VIPs and action from a smorgasbord of chicks—it was because they wanted inside, where the action was.

Gomez, you could say, was living the dream.

Save for tonight.

As he came down the stairs from the club to the hotel’s lobby, he heard a commotion.

Coño tu madre! [Fuck your mother!]

Come mierda! [Eat shit!]

Hijo de puta! [Son of a whore!]

Come plomo, maricón! [Eat lead, faggot!]

“Fuck me,” thought Gomez, stifling the urge to piss himself. Ricardo “Monkey” Morales, a Mutiny regular, was pointing his gun at some other thug. So intense was the vitriol that spit was flying in the air.

“I knew Ricky was a CIA guy—an informant,” Gomez said of Morales. “I knew he was a problem. I knew he was a rat.”

He also knew his .38 Colt revolver was downright Gunsmoke compared with the Monkey’s semiautomatic: “No way I could let him turn on me with that.”

The domino tables of Little Havana echoed with cigar-smoked tales of el Mono (the Monkey) meting out and cheating death: about how once, in broad daylight, he emptied seventeen rounds from a machine gun into another exile; how there was still shrapnel embedded in the busy Miami street where nine years earlier he had walked away from a car bombing that should have at least severed his legs; how Morales, the lucky bastard, later survived a drive-by shooting that nearly blew out his brains by rolling out of his car and regrouping until he could kill his would-be assassin with gunshots to the face.

Morales’s menacing appearance—dead gaze, gorilla-sloped back, huge ears and hands—resembled that of some early hominid you might see re-created in the pages of National Geographic.

Which was seemingly the only publication that hadn’t profiled him. Morales had been featured in Esquire, and cover treatments by both Newsday’s magazine and Harper’s were in the pipeline. The Miami Herald and the Miami News had filing cabinets dedicated to this mythical exile: informant, bomber, drug dealer, assassin, quoter of military histories. Literary agents were calling.

The Mutiny was where Monkey Morales held court, his bloodstream coursing with cocaine, THC, Quaaludes, Valium, alcohol and caffeine.

And two decades of Cuban-American rage.

He always snuck in the back of the hotel and in through the kitchen, where he’d hand Chef Manny—“Manolito!”—choice little briquettes of cocaine. And maybe a lobster or hog snapper that he had personally speared.

So, Willy Gomez, security conquistador, hardly ever crossed paths with this guy—and he was fine with that. But tonight, for whatever reason, Monkey Morales felt the need to go apeshit a couple of yards from the hotel’s front desk.

“Police!” yelled Gomez, hand on his gun. “Call the police.”

But the lobby had completely emptied out, save for the three of them. Music from the club wafted downstairs:

I got to ride, ride like the wind

To be free again

“If I blink,” Gomez thought to himself, “this psychopath will kill me.”

He resolved to squeeze the trigger. “Monkey was already dead, as far as I was concerned. I was worried his brains would splatter on the artwork.”

The future flashed before Gomez. Burton Goldberg, the Mutiny’s hard-assed owner, would throw the mother of all shit fits when crime-scene photographers captured the mess in his lobby. He had paid tens of thousands of dollars for Hollywood-caliber set lighting to showcase his art and orchids, micromanaging the scene down to the last lumen. “I hired the guy that lit up the Statue of Liberty in ’seventy-six,” Goldberg would always boast to guests.

Gomez would then have to quit his job, assuming the Mutiny survived the shooting. You didn’t just plug Monkey Morales and go on with your life like nothing happened. Yes, many in Miami who hated Morales would send Gomez drinks and introduce the dapper caballero to their daughters and sisters.

But the Monkey had too many friends in dangerous places—spooks, arms dealers, mercenaries, soldiers of fortune—who would put a retaliatory hit out on his killer, justified circumstances or not.

(“Or,” Willy Gomez thought, “if you keep thinking about all this, the Monkey will fucking turn around and kill you himself. Focus!”)

Then the elevator door opened.

“Police!” yelled Gomez, with renewed desperation.

Out walked Rafael Villaverde, Morales’s tablemate. As the scene came into focus through his tinted glasses, the paunchy exile grimaced, bit a knuckle and took a hesitating step forward. Willy Gomez now had his gun at Morales’s head.

Villaverde held out his hand. “No police!” he pleaded, looking at Gomez. “Ricky. Ricky. Hey. Look. Mira. . . .”

Villaverde then carefully walked up to Morales and whispered something.

Gomez was still convinced the Monkey would blow him away with a flick of his wrist. He imagined his head in a puddle of blood.

But Morales rapidly tucked his semiautomatic back into his pants. His rival bolted, but Gomez didn’t put away his revolver.

“Get the fuck out of here, Ricky!” he yelled to Morales, panting, almost hyperventilating. “Try! If you even try to fucking come back . . .”

“You know who you talking to?” shot back Morales, snarling. “Do. You. Know?”

He pulled back his coat to reveal a giant grenade on his belt. It was practically the size of a Florida avocado.

The Monkey flashed a deranged grin and took his time walking out the front of the Mutiny.

Outside, an oblivious and unruly crowd would likely have formed. Giggling groupies checking the shrubs and walkways for the club’s gilded matchboxes, looking inside for Quaaludes and nose candy.

The air would have been pungent with cigarette smoke, preparty rum, various overpowering perfumes, colognes and hairsprays, high-tide salt water, sweaty rayon, joints.



Ferraris, Porsches, Rollses, Benzes, Maseratis and Lambos pulled up, windows wide-open, blasting Blondie, Donna Summer and “Funkytown.” The Mutiny’s valets were tipped to the cuffs to take their time, hog the curb along South Bayshore Drive and keep the beats pumping.

Opposite the hotel, a marina led out to a bay containing more than one hundred boats, sails flapping, the occasional manatee scraping up against the bows. Giant yachts ferried area regulars—who at times could include names like the Bee Gees and Richard Nixon—to land.

In the shallows, you were bound to find a recently arrived Cuban refugee swatting away mosquitoes with a cigarette, desperate to snag a small shark or ray on a handline. Anything bigger he’d hawk a mile north at the big intersection on US-1, where others from the Mariel boatlift emigration of Cubans that spring and summer were selling fruit and hog trotters.

Abutting this vista were Miami City Hall and the police station.

Back across South Bayshore Drive—“Rubberneck Avenue,” wags were now calling it—a scene of intense star watching was taking place outside the Mutiny. Recently spotted:

Mr. Universe, Arnold Schwarzenegger, his head appearing freakishly small atop the boulder that was his midsection. The tiny waitress from Michigan he’d hit on wondered to a girlfriend how she could possibly mount this beast.

Paul Newman, small as a jockey, and Sally Field were in town with star director Sydney Pollack to shoot the film Absence of Malice. Newman drank so much of the Mutiny’s Château Lafite that he passed out and literally had to be carried up to his suite by a hostess. A brooding Burt Reynolds kept a watchful eye on Sally.

Playboy hopefuls visited for casting calls in one of the hotel’s 130 fantasy-themed rooms and its Playboy Video set. Penthouse used the joint, too.

The Eagles had just recorded an album in the studio next door. Waitresses gossiped about which member tipped—and bedded—the best.

You’d see Frankie Valli, in boosting disco heels—not to be confused with Dance Fever host Deney Terrio, who reminded everyone at the Mutiny that, hey, you know, he coached Travolta for Saturday Night Fever.

And “Super Freak”–destined Rick James, traveling with a delegation of coke whores and a croc-skin man purse full of dainty gold utensils for cutting and sniffing lines. It’s true: every other word out of his mouth was “bitch.” “Slick Rick” laid into a waitress who accidentally called him “miss.”

Ted Kennedy, fresh off conceding the Democratic presidential nomination, had often been deep in his cups at the Mutiny, where he hated bumping into Jimmy Carter wingman Hamilton Jordan, who was constantly in Miami to negotiate asylum in Panama for the deposed shah of Iran. Kennedy picked a fight with the club’s DJ, who was helping Julio Iglesias, a Mutiny resident, hype his latest record. You catch all that?

The Doobie Brothers partied hard at the Mutiny, where the joke was they were into way more than just doobies—no: the powdery stuff was what inspired band members and their roadies to mindlessly throw cash down from their windows.

And always wandering the grounds like a lost dog was David Crosby of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—his mustache and teeth nasty from constantly smoking freebase cocaine with a small blowtorch.

For all the intense people watching at 2951 South Bayshore Drive, however, the true players at the Mutiny had nothing to do with Hollywood or Motown or the Beltway.

They were Miami’s ruling drug lords. With bullets flying everywhere there at all hours of the day, the town was increasingly being called Dodge City. And so these guys were its “cocaine cowboys,” the Latin masterminds of the era’s go-go wonder drug: yeyo, perico, toot, snow, white pony. Cocaine. And the Mutiny was their favorite saloon.

It was in this parallel universe that the Mutiny’s free-spending cocaine lords swapped their old-world names (say, Wilfredo Perez del Cayo) for Cubano goodfella handles like Carlene, Redbeard, Coca-Cola, el Loco, the Boys, Recotado (“Stocky”), Veneno (“Venom”). Weetchie, Chunky, Peloo, Perro (“Dog”), Mungy. Venao (“Deer”), Raspao (“Snow Cone”), the Big Blonde, Super Papi. Chino, Albertico, Kiki.

Even their pets lived extra large.

Kingpin Mario Tabraue had a chimp named Caesar, whom he adorned with a gold-rope necklace holding a fifty-peso gold coin, an eighteen-karat ID bracelet with his name in diamonds and a ladies’ Rolex Presidential. The primate was partial to turtlenecks and a New York baseball cap, and proudly rode shotgun in his owner’s Benz while waving a Cuban cigar.

They’d shuttle to and from Tabraue’s mansion around the corner, where panthers, pythons, raptors and even a toucan roamed the grounds. Tabraue fed live rats to a two-headed snake and an owl he kept in a Plexiglas cage. He would sometimes answer the door with a tarantula peeking out from under his cap.

“Every known narcotic trafficker in Miami would be at the Mutiny,” recalled Diosdado “D. C.” Diaz, a Miami police detective. “You’d see their wives and mistresses there. Their hit men. They’d throw a big celebration every time they brought in a load; they’d send Cristal and Dom to dealers at other tables. I’d follow the bottles and jot down their license plate numbers.”

So vital was the Mutiny for watching the interplay of dealers, informants, celebs and public figures, he says, that authorities were understandably loath to disturb the ecosystem. “Why stir up the pot and scare them all away?” Diaz said.

Indeed, just as Monkey Morales was about to get his brains blown out by the bouncer in the lobby, his tablemate, one of Miami’s biggest cocaine dealers, attempted to bribe D. C. Diaz with a Rolex and an antique, World War II–issue gun. However, the kingpin refused to part ways with a silencer-equipped MAC-10 submachine gun that Monkey had lent him and wanted back.

On the very week Morales stared down Gomez, owner Burton Goldberg threw a raucous Halloween bash at the club.

Yes, you could argue Miami was now devolving into a third-world republic that was bound to break off and sink into the Atlantic. But the Mutiny at Sailboat Bay, adorned with lush, carefully lit foliage and stunning women, was raking it in.

And so the woolly-chested Goldberg donned two-inch eyelashes, a flowing blond wig and a long white gown, and skipped around tapping guests with his wand—a fairy godmother pretending to sprinkle magic pixie dust.





Heaven in Hell

Burton Goldberg’s Mutiny at Sailboat Bay was one of the country’s most lucrative hotels, perennially overbooked and sending off armored trucks with sacks of its cash profits, albeit in the new murder and drug capital of America, a city that had been ravaged by race riots, gun killings and the sudden arrival of 125 thousand Cuban refugees, many of them sprung right from Fidel Castro’s jails.

By the turn of the decade, the 130-room hotel and club was a criminal free-trade zone of sorts where gangsters could both revel in Miami’s danger and escape from it.

“All roads led back to the Mutiny,” said Wayne Black, an undercover cop who listened in to dope deals from a tinted van across the street, often wearing nothing but BVDs to cope with the stifling heat and humidity. “The druggies,” he said, “the celebs, the crooked pols, spies, the informants, cops—good and bad—were all there.”

America in the late 1970s and early ’eighties was in a pronounced funk: inflation and unemployment were high; consumer sentiment was in the dumps. But so exceptional was Miami’s cocaine economy that dopers were paying banks to accept suitcases full of cash (while certificates of deposit were yielding 20 percent, on top of your choice of toaster or alarm clock). According to one study from Florida International University in Miami, at least one-third of the city’s economic output was derived from narcotics at the time.

So much hot money was sloshing around Miami that the Mutiny was selling more bottles of Dom Perignon than any other establishment on the planet, according to the bubbly’s distributor, whose executives visited in disbelief at the turn of the decade. They heard right: a suite at the hotel was converted into a giant walk-in cooler; beautiful women would ooh and ahh at tabletop cascades of bubbly in stacks of flutes; dopers bought bottles for the house when their loads came in and management often flew out the Mutiny’s private plane at the last minute to procure even more from other cities.

Internationally wanted hit men and mercenaries chilled at the Mutiny. Frequent visitors kept their guns tucked in the cushions, and cases of cash and cocaine in their suites. Bullets flew. Thugs were nabbed. Refugees snuck in. Cops were bribed. Dopers were recorded. Pilots were hired. Contracts were placed. Plots were hatched.

You might recognize this backdrop as the Babylon Club in the movie Scarface, whose creators, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma, stayed at the Mutiny and sought permission to film there. In Stone’s screenplay, he accidentally referenced the Mutiny Club; stars Al Pacino, Steven Bauer and other supporting cast checked in at the hotel.

Miami Vice stars were also gravitationally pulled to the Mutiny. Don Johnson partied there, and Philip Michael Thomas moved in with his family and insisted on parking his purple imitation Ferrari out front on the curb. The hit show’s creators studied agents and kingpins at the Mutiny; one cooperating drug lord even finagled his way onto two episodes.

The Miami of the Mutiny’s heyday abounded with the surreal.

So much marijuana was getting confiscated in the waters around South Florida that the Florida Power & Light Company was opportunistically burning tons of it to run its generators: 732 pounds of pot could replace a barrel of crude. Take that, energy crisis!

Area McDonald’s restaurants were running out of their tiny spoon-tipped coffee stirrers—they were perfect, it turned out, for portioning and sniffing cocaine. Mutiny dopers wore bronzed ones around their necks to advertise how far they’d come.

Burger King, meanwhile, loaned the overwhelmed county morgue a refrigerated truck. Bodies were turning up in gator-infested canals; in duffel bags alongside the turnpike; bobbing out of drums, bins and shopping carts in marinas along Biscayne Bay.

Machine-gun fire rained over the parking lot of the city’s busiest mall.

All of which would soon land Miami on the cover of Time magazine as “Paradise Lost.”

The Mutiny stood out as a lush oasis within this apocalypse. The Magic City was now the planet’s cocaine entrepôt—its Federal Reserve branch was showing a five-billion-dollar cash surplus—and so this hotel and club became the place south of Studio 54 to blow illegal tender.

The club’s seventy-five-dollar metal membership card, embossed with the Mutiny’s winking pirate logo, got you in the door and certainly came in handy for cutting and snorting lines.

But it was cash—lots and lots of it—that got you everything else:

Cases of 150-dollar-a-bottle Dom Perignon emptied into your hot tub? Right away!

A private jet for jaunts to the islands, stocked with Mutiny girls, a five-man crew and stone crab claws on dry ice? No sweat.

Your machine guns, bullets and silencers discreetly locked in a chest in the champagne cave? Sin problema. Plus, a hostess would hide your piece in her skirt if the cops showed up, while another Mutiny girl was adept at clicking her stilettos against guys on the dance floor to check for ankle holsters.

“We couldn’t just walk into the Mutiny with a cheap rubber watch,” said Wayne Black, the undercover cop, who would borrow a Rolex from the police evidence locker before going there. “You’d be buying Dom with the bad guys. You owned a Pinto but drove home a Jag. ‘Daddy,’ your kid would say, ‘the neighbors say you sell drugs.’”

None of which would ever make the press release that the otherwise media-shy Mutiny felt the need to put out to start 1981, the year when Miami became America’s murder capital.



A hotel room is a hotel room is a hotel room.

This variation of the noted Gertrude Stein quotation is a frequent complaint of jaded travelers who are convinced that all hotel rooms look alike.

One hotel, located just 15 minutes south of Miami—the Hotel Mutiny at Sailboat Bay in Coconut Grove—is proof, in the words of Ira Gershwin, that “it ain’t necessarily so.”

At the Mutiny, no two rooms look alike. Every room and suite is decorated with its own unduplicated, luxurious and, frequently, exotic motif.

Decorative themes are based on various ideas. Some are inspired by faraway locales, some sound like titles to novels, some to states of mind and others to flights of fancy.

“Marakesh,” “Coconut Grove,” “Singapore,” “Zapata’s Retreat,” “House of the Setting Sun,” “Midnight Express,” “Cloud 9,” “Lunar Dreams” and “Fourth Dimension” are among them.

Themes are not developed with a single picture or ornament. Rather, the furniture, draperies, art, artifacts, and the basic layout of the rooms all conform to the individual motifs.

A full-time staff of six works at decorating the Mutiny. Two members of the decorating staff work full-time on flower arrangements. As guests walk down the halls, often covered in Oriental rugs, it is not uncommon for them to see elaborate arrangements of rare flowers—Peruvian lilies, birds-of-paradise and the like.

Roman baths and mirrored ceilings are found in some rooms, and many have panoramic views of Sailboat Bay.

Recently opened rooms include “Shoko,” done on the theme of a Japanese inn or ryokan, “Balinese Isle,” a two-bedroom suite with a setting of a rain forest in Bali, and the Moroccan wing with “Zirka,” “Tlata Ketama,” “Marakesh” and “Bourabech,” all named for Moroccan cities.

“Shoko” is designed like a room in a Japanese ryokan. Behind the bed is a wall of shoji screens, a framed kimono is mounted on a wall, a blue-and-white country fabric is used to upholster the furniture and walls and there are carved stone statues from Japan. A low custom-made table is surrounded by cushions on the floor.

“Balinese Isle” is a two-bedroom suite designed around a large screen painted by hand with a scene from a rain forest, highlighted by bamboo lights. The suite includes original Balinese oil paintings, and a tiki bar and furniture custom-made in the hotel from natural rattan.

Throughout the Moroccan wing, a guest will see a combination of terra-cotta floors and carpeting and plasterwork deliberately designed to give the impression of old Moorish architecture, with walls that have lost part of their plaster. A specially designed emblem was pressed repeatedly in cement to create the effect, then four layers of plaster were laid over that, with occasional areas left uncovered. On each layer, several coats of oil were applied, seasoned, waxed and buffed.

“Zirka,” named for a city famous for its fountains, has in the room a large round tub designed to look like a fountain with light streaming down on it. Moroccan arches surround the tub as well as the bed, and backlighted stained glass is embedded in the plaster of the arches. Wrought iron doors and accessories complete the effect.

“Tlata Ketama” is a large city in Morocco. The room concentrates on the use of copper, including custom-made copper light fixtures, copper-treated furniture and copper-glazed Moroccan tiles around the tub. The room also has large plaster columns with capitals created by a Spanish artist living in Florida.

Dining at the Mutiny is as unusual as its rooms. There are no “walk-in” dinner guests. Each diner must be a member of the Mutiny Club or a hotel guest. The club’s large international membership is sustained by the quality of the food and the service.

Hostesses and waitresses at the club, who do not wear uniforms, wear fashionable gowns, and at lunch, often wear broad-brimmed, tropical hats.

Following dinner, the music starts for disco dancing. During the course of the late evening, the club has sophisticated shows.

Service at the Mutiny is on a par with the setting and the cuisine. In the morning, guests are brought a festive, complimentary continental breakfast that includes five or six fresh fruits, freshly squeezed orange juice and butter croissants, along with the morning newspaper.

Coconut Grove is one of the most interesting communities in southern Florida with a widely diverse population that includes many working artists. Magnificent flowers and trees in the area surround the Mutiny in subtropical abundance. Guests can relax in a large wooden hot tub in the middle of a hanging garden, beneath a waterfall or around the swimming pool where an alfresco lunch is served.




Monkey in the Middle

Owning a fantasyland for outlaws in the hellscape that was Cocaine Miami had hardly been in the cards for New Jersey–born Burton Goldberg when the forty-year-old developer set his sights on Coconut Grove in the mid-1960s. True, his father, Sol, part-owned midtown Manhattan’s Navarro Hotel, where mafiosi like Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano held court in the 1950s. But Goldberg is adamant that he had “absolutely nothing” to do with the Navarro, and bristles at any suggestions of mob ties.

Coconut Grove, founded in the mid-nineteenth century as Cocoanut Grove and annexed by the city of Miami in 1925, was an offbeat bohemian village whose residents left their doors open and allowed strangers to pluck mangoes off their trees. In 1882, its Bay View House (later renamed the Peacock Inn) became the first hotel on the South Florida mainland below Palm Beach. Up until its turn-of-the-century conversion into a school, the inn was a hub for Miami’s first community organizers.

The great hurricane of 1926 obliterated Coconut Grove and hit the reset button on the rest of Miami.

A parcel of land overlooking the water at the corner of South Bayshore Drive and McFarlane Road used to house the Peacock Inn’s general store. In 1966, Burton Goldberg bought the plot from its eventual inheritor, a New England Christian Scientist.

By then, Coconut Grove was Miami’s hippie central. Women with hairy armpits sunned topless in the park by the marina. Its Dinner Key Auditorium is where Doors frontman Jim Morrison infamously exposed himself to a sellout crowd. The joke in the Grove’s head shops and incense bodegas was that the most violent thing in those parts were the wild roosters that chased the mailmen.

The neighborhood was a sleepy escape from the mayhem a few miles away: downtown Miami and Little Havana were getting shot up and bombed by characters like Ricardo Morales.

Nineteen sixties South Florida played host to the mob’s internecine “bookie wars,” while thousands of Cuban exiles in and around Miami channeled their testosterone into what they assumed would be a chance to take out Fidel Castro and reclaim Cuba. Miami hosted dozens of CIA-run paramilitary camps and dummy companies that could procure and ship any materiel at a moment’s notice. Swift boats. Demolition. Underwater sabotage. Machine guns, plastic explosives and recoilless rifles. Cuban men and adolescents alike were steeped in the agency’s dark arts of regime change.

Cuban exiles and the American Mafia had a shared history. During the prerevolutionary dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, Cuba was the playground of the mob, a sort of Vegas in the Caribbean. Overlords like Luciano, Lansky and Florida-based Santo Trafficante owned many of Havana’s casino resorts. They flew and cruised in to the island to dine on manatee and flamingo steaks; whore with every shape, size and color of chica; buy cops and judges and watch live sex shows that would have gotten them arrested in the States. It was hedonism with no consequences, as long as you paid off the right people.

In 1959, when Fidel Castro wrested control of Cuba, he nationalized the resorts and had their slot machines smashed in the streets. During the ensuing purge, Ricardo Morales, a twenty-year-old law school student, signed up for Castro’s secret police.

Al pared! Al pared! (“To the wall!”). The Cuban street bayed for more bodies to be brought before the firing squads. The old regime’s cronies, enforcers and accused traitors were dragged out and stood up against pockmarked walls. Some of the condemned were drained of their blood—syringe after syringe—until they were about to pass out, the better to use fewer precious bullets in finishing them off.

Morales quickly grew disenchanted with the secret police and wanted out of Castro’s Cuba. He may also have been flipped by the CIA, which had assets on the ground in Havana, just as Fidel Castro had moles up in Miami.

Either way, South Florida echo-chambered with rumors that the White House would soon take out Castro, much as it had snuffed out other third-world regimes that it didn’t like. Fathers, sons and brothers in Miami’s exile community disappeared for days on end into training camps in the Everglades and to run drills miles off the coast. Something was coming down the pike. “I had to choose between Moscow and Washington,” Morales later quipped. In 1960, he finally defected through the Brazilian embassy and escaped to South Florida.

In Miami, Morales signed up for Operation 40, an assassination group that targeted Castro loyalists and assets in Cuba and abroad. In the early 1960s, Miami’s CIA branch—stocked with exiles, case agents, front companies, munitions and real estate—grew into the world’s biggest.

Morales’s aunt and seven-year-old niece lived in a small apartment in Little Havana, just west of downtown Miami. An overgrown mango tree touched the bedroom window. Inside, under the bed, Morales left a bomb and a couple of guns with instructions that if he ever came running through the apartment, whoever was at home had to race to the bedroom, throw him the guns and escape down the mango tree. The last one out had to pull the pin on the bomb. His aunt constantly rehearsed the drill with his niece, Lynette. “I still see that thing under the bed,” she said. “Let me tell you: it was not a small bomb. It is hilarious to think back on it, and then you just shake your head.”

But Miami exiles’ belief that taking back Cuba was a fait accompli was smashed in April of 1961, when Castro’s forces thwarted Brigade 2506—the 1,400 CIA-trained paramilitaries (most of them South Florida exiles) who attempted to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs.

It wasn’t even close. The Kennedy administration, which inherited the top secret invasion from Dwight Eisenhower’s CIA, opted not to provide air reinforcements. The anti-Castro “Brigadesmen”—Cuba’s would-be libertadores—who weren’t killed or repelled out to sea were taken prisoner.

News of which put Miami in a state of shock and mourning. The mayor went on television to plead in Spanish: “We urge the Cuban colony exiles that are here to remain calm and composed, and we pray to God that Cuba’s freedom will flourish from the blood that is being shed.”

It was an all-around catastrophe for Washington: Fidel Castro thumped his chest and inspired leftists the world over, Cuban-Americans seethed at President Kennedy for abandoning their men, and Havana was now blowing kisses to Soviet Russia.

To pile on the insult, Castro leveraged more than 1,100 Bay of Pigs captives to shake down the US for 53 million dollars in cash, food and medical supplies—all of which were critical to the young regime’s survival. The Bay of Pigs was a coup . . . for Fidel Castro.

Even so, most everyone in Miami operated under the assumption that there would be a rematch. Kennedy himself came to Miami’s Orange Bowl in late 1962 to assure returning prisoners that Brigade 2506’s flag would be returned to Havana. The CIA maintained a campaign of secret exile-led raids.

In 1963, Morales regaled the Miami Herald with the story of how he and nine fellow exiles in two fast boats nearly destroyed a refinery on the coast of Cuba. He was desperate to see more action—and crushed when the CIA under President Lyndon B. Johnson wound down its clandestine campaign against Castro.

A year later, a restless Morales reluctantly agreed to be shipped to the Belgian Congo, where he and a top secret brigade of Cuban exiles battled leftist rebels allied with Soviet-trained Cuban troops. Many of the Congolese soldiers were armed with nothing more than spears, having been brainwashed by witch doctors. The Cuban-American mercenaries had such an easy time mowing them down that Morales’s comrades compared their weapons to fire hoses.

Morales took a bullet to the spine, but kept shooting. For much of this commando tour, a terrified little Congolese girl latched onto his shoulders and slept in his arms at night. The memory would forever haunt the father of four.

In 1965, Morales returned to Miami, disillusioned and traumatized. So much for the rematch against Fidel Castro—Kennedy was dead and the Vietnam War was now front and center in the Cold War.

South Florida, meanwhile, still teemed with spies, double agents, arms smugglers, Mafia men and retired dictators, providing no shortage of gigs for orphaned mercenaries.

Morales took a job parking cars at a mob-owned steak house in Miami Beach and let it be known that this was where he kept office hours and solicited contract work.

Fifteen miles down the coastline in Coconut Grove: in 1967, Burton Goldberg hired a crane to park a houseboat on the bend of South Bayshore Drive. The vessel would serve as a quirky preconstruction sales office for his forthcoming building, Sailboat Bay.

This was while Ricardo Morales, acting as a freelance bomber, scuba dived up to the back of a mobster’s house in Miami Beach. A rival wanted the homeowner offed so he could move in on his wife, a Playboy bunny. It turned out that the gangster, his wife and four children were sleeping inside when a pair of bombs ripped apart the carport. All survived. Maybe Morales wanted it this way. Who knows?

The Miami Herald ran a “Bombing Box Score” of recent explosions, perpetrators still at large. (Morales, it turned out, was responsible for at least half of the incidents, including the dynamiting of a Miami cop’s front lawn and the double bombing of a numbers racket in South Beach.)

In another contract hit, Morales shot a convicted jewel hustler in the face. The victim survived, and Monkey was never charged.

Later in 1967, for reasons unknown, Morales pulled up to a Cuban exile in broad Little Havana daylight and sprayed him with seventeen rounds from a silencer-equipped .45-caliber M3 submachine gun. Again, the victim somehow managed to live. He never pressed charges. Morales bragged about the episode as “just another day at the office.”

In 1968, Morales bombed a firm that forwarded food and medicine to Cuba. This time, however, police found his fingerprints on C-4 explosive. In his house, they seized a bomb and detonator. Finally arrested, the Monkey was facing serious time.

But the wily Morales promised the FBI an even bigger catch: the terrorists who had just attempted to attack a Polish freighter at the Port of Miami with a shoulder-held bazooka. The shell dented the ship’s hull, and the State Department had to issue an official apology to (Communist) Poland.

Morales infiltrated the gang, supplying the men and women with phony dynamite as the FBI recorded his conversations with the ringleaders. Morales testified against the culprits and won his freedom. “Chubby-cheeked Morales,” as a front-page story in the Miami Herald described him, “testified that he didn’t ask to get paid for his services to the FBI, nor did he get any promises for his undercover work.”

He did, however, now have an FBI bodyguard shadowing him. Morales, twenty-nine, was a marked man in Miami, having betrayed nearly a dozen fellow exiles who were widely regarded as freedom fighters for targeting that freighter. Whispers echoed that he was still in the employ of Fidel Castro.

Down in Coconut Grove, Burton Goldberg cut the ribbon on his twelve-story Sailboat Bay, billed as the Grove’s first high-rise apartment. He touted how residents would be privy to a panorama of security cameras that transmitted various live angles to an in-house TV channel.

Sailboat Bay’s aesthetic was decidedly white and white-collar. The attorney who represented Linda Lovelace, star of the porn film Deep Throat—much of which was shot in a house around the corner—kept an office upstairs.

Earl Smalley Jr., the majority owner of the league-dominating Miami Dolphins, scored a suite overlooking the pool. By his bed was a pink pneumatic fuck bench that beach babes could saddle up on after long days on his speedboat, which was docked in adjacent Dinner Key Marina.

In late 1971, Goldberg opened a small club and restaurant atop the lobby. He called it the Mutiny. He also wanted to convert Sailboat Bay’s mixed-apartment-and-office concept into a boutique hotel called the Mutiny at Sailboat Bay. “I’d call it the Sex Hotel if I could,” he said. “This was all about the sexual revolution. The pill. Boy meets girl. I wanted swingers.” But it had to be upscale and classy.

Goldberg’s timing could not have been better: the Republican nominating convention was coming back to Miami Beach. Richard Nixon’s best friend, banker Bebe Rebozo, often wined and dined guests at the Mutiny while his yacht was out front. E. Howard Hunt, the GOP operative who was chief political officer for the CIA when Castro rose to power, lived in Coconut Grove and drank at the Mutiny’s bar. Baron Joseph “Sepy” De Bicske Dobronyi—the internationally renowned aristocrat, nude sculptor and ladies’ man—was bringing beauts and European royalty to Coconut Grove. The Super Bowl and perfect season–bound Miami Dolphins were drawing national press; all sorts of media and sports VIPs flocked to the Mutiny.

Best of all for Burton Goldberg: two massive commodity booms were about to pack Miami with free-spending horndogs.

For starters, the global oil shock of 1973 gave rise to the era of the “Dame Dos” (Spanish for “Give Me Twos”)—oil-rich Venezuelans who’d flock to Miami to strip shelves bare, spend big on fine food and wines and luxuriate at resorts. Also known as the Fat Cows of Caracas, these men would often fly in with their families in the morning, leave their planes at Miami International and send their wives and daughters to shop at Dadeland Mall—all while they relaxed, wined, dined and fornicated at the Mutiny. They’d all reunite in the evening at Miami International Airport to fly back to South America.

At the same time, thousands of Miami’s Cuban exiles dived headlong into smuggling marijuana. After all, this was the 1970s. Everyone in America wanted good weed, and no one knew how to smuggle it into the country better than South Florida Cubans who spent a decade and a half memorizing every nook and cranny of the state coastline, with help from the CIA.

Adding urgency to their career pivot: in 1975, the government of the Bahamas (free of British colonial rule for two years) banned US fishermen from its waters, on the justification that it needed to defend lobster from overexploitation by Florida trappers. This gave the nation’s corrupt government more nationalistic cred—i.e., “Our seafood is our natural endowment, not to be plundered by the richest country on the planet.”

Miami’s seafood industry was overwhelmingly Cuban. Boat captains and laborers were at most a degree of separation from someone who had served at the Bay of Pigs, men who had by now sublimated their CIA training to storm Cuba into smuggling marijuana up and down the coast of Florida.

“Some of [these exiles] made over one hundred, two hundred, three hundred missions to Cuba . . . going in against the most heavily patrolled coast that I’ve ever heard of,” explained a commando who had trained many of them. “These people came out knowing how you do it. . . . And they found it absolutely child’s play when they started in [with drug smuggling] over here, because US law enforcement didn’t have that kind of defense. They didn’t even need most of their expertise.”

Accordingly, one Jose Medardo Alvero-Cruz, a charismatic Brigade veteran, became known as “King of the River,” for being connected to just about every Cuban fisherman and vessel docked along the Miami River. His value proposition to the men and their crews was straightforward: they no longer had to sully their hands on lobster traps, bycatch and fish guts; they could now become rich smuggling in neatly packed bales of marijuana—dubbed “square groupers”—off giant ships Alvero was anchoring miles off the coast.

The new thinking: Why just sit around and go poor when there was easy marijuana millions to be made? Look, hermano: Fidel Castro took your wealth, and Washington let him keep it. Bay of Pigs II wasn’t happening anytime soon—surely not under a post-Watergate Democratic president, who would be in no mood to prioritize Havana. No, fuck that: it was time to get paid.

Not that Miami’s reefer madness was solely supplied by Cuban smugglers. Mutiny waitress Deb Kendrick moonlighted as an unlikely smuggler for the Black Tunas, a marijuana gang run by two Jewish peddlers from Philadelphia.

Loaded, padlocked sedans would get delivered to her at the Mutiny, fresh off a barge on the Miami River, ready to be driven up the East Coast for delivery to various doormen on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “I was scared to death,” said the Michigan native. “The cars stunk. I stunk. I was too terrified to stop.”

But blond, 105 pounds, and five feet one, she didn’t exactly fit the profile of a drug runner.



Snow in Miami

Sometime in 1976, a Venezuelan oil trader nicknamed the Sultan of Caracas summoned his Mutiny server to bring him a 1.5-liter magnum of Château Lafite Rothschild 1827. When his waitress tried to gently remind him that the Mutiny only took cash, “el Sultan” asked for a phone, plugged it into his table, made one call and had thirty thousand dollars delivered right to the hotel.

“Everyone who’d come from Caracas, I’d put them up at the Mutiny,” said Norman Canter, a Miami businessman who was dating a cocktail waitress who worked there. “You started seeing a lot of deals going down. Guy in a long ponytail and black suit walks in. Takes a drink at the bar. Looks around and takes a table for stone crabs. Always a lot of women around. It was like Casablanca. It had that aura. The mystery. The Venezuelans wanted women, and the women were at the Mutiny.”

It was getting ever harder to score a table at the Mutiny Club. By 1976, its newsletter was showcasing three dozen “Mutiny Girls,” including a recently hired Playboy Club bunny, a Doublemint twin and stunners from Hungary, Australia, Canada, Texas, Poland and Cuba:

Fresh, vibrant, aware. An international sampling of beauty. They come from all over the world with a variety of backgrounds. Actresses, top fashion models, singers and dancers. They’re carefully screened and selected from a multitude of applicants.

Silka, a Dominican brunette who spoke four languages, helped guests shop, land babysitters, replace lost passports and ship their loot back home. “Silka, soft as her name,” read a brochure, “has become an invaluable friend to our international members.”

Bo Crane, the Mutiny’s first DJ, remembered Tom Jones, the international sex icon of “What’s New Pussycat?” fame, walking in one night. “The dance floor was the size of a postage stamp,” he said, “but the women went nuts. Barry White was fucking huge then. Seduction music. You’d get up and grind. It felt like the hottest place on the planet.”

So big had the destination become that it was canonized by recording artists Crosby & Nash in the song “Mutiny” and in the Stills-Young Band’s “Midnight on the Bay”—the latter penned by Neil Young on a Mutiny cocktail napkin in the bay-windowed booth atop the valet.

Both Crosby and Young had been mistaken for hobos by the hotel staff, which Burton Goldberg drilled to enforce a strict dress code (even if the owner himself sometimes sat naked at his penthouse desk overlooking the bay).

By 1977, the likes of Led Zeppelin, Cat Stevens, Prince Faisal of Jordan, the ex-president of Colombia, Joe DiMaggio, Rod Serling and Jackie Mason were turning up at the Mutiny. The place was so consistently mobbed by big spenders that Goldberg added a more exclusive level he called the Upper Deck.

The Mutiny Club’s seafaring theme, which Goldberg had signed off on just six years earlier, now expanded to levels known as the Poop Deck and the Lower Deck. Also in the offing: a tiki bar above the pool that would be called the Gangplank.

Members could now rent the Tonga—a seventy-two-foot ketch once owned by Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn—a six-seater, twin-engine Aerostar plane or a turbocharged Beechcraft B60.

“We can supply a Mutiny girl and ample provisions,” touted an ad.

In 1978, Goldberg brought in San Francisco set designer Carolyn Robbins to complete the Mutiny’s multiyear transformation into a hotel with 130 individually designed fantasy rooms. “You walked into the club and realized it was all about the seduction of the Latin male,” she said. “Burton would always yell: ‘We are a sexy place! Don’t you know what a sexy place looks like? What do sexy people want?’”

The owner shuttled telenovela-grade beauties to Caracas, Bogotá and Panama City to sell memberships, wine and dine executives and extend reciprocity to exclusive South American clubs, such as Colombia’s Unicorn Disco.

As the Mutiny’s caliber of VIPs shot ever higher (Hollywood starlets, wealthy Latin families in the crosshairs of kidnappers), Goldberg hired Fernando Puig, a hulking Bay of Pigs veteran, to run security. During the botched 1961 invasion of Cuba, Puig was stationed by the CIA in Nicaragua, where he became best friends with Anastasio Somoza, next in line in a dynastic family to run the Central American country.

By the time Puig was hired at the Mutiny, Somoza was preparing to flee Nicaragua with billions and cronies in tow. Though the dictator was unwelcome in the US (he would later get assassinated in Paraguay), Somoza’s cabinet and colonels flocked to Miami—to work for Fernando Puig’s security firm. They all became active members of the Mutiny.

Norman Canter remembers all sorts of military types crowding into the Mutiny in the mid- to late 1970s. A pair of Venezuelan air force guys approached him to see what he thought about their smuggling in cocaine several times a week in their military planes. Could he help them cut and place the kilos in Miami? Did he know people?

Canter said using marijuana was as illicit as he would get. “I didn’t know cocaine, and I didn’t do cocaine,” he said.

Perhaps he hadn’t read the January 1975 issue of Playboy that was making the rounds up and down the Mutiny. In a lengthy feature titled “A Very Expensive High: The Truth About Cocaine,” the magazine observed:

A blizzard of cocaine is blowing over us, little spoons hanging from our necks like crucifixes, snorting noises in the next room coming from people who don’t have colds, people working twenty-hour days who used to work four. . . . Who, even as recently as five years ago, would have guessed that otherwise straight people, doctors, lawyers and merchant chiefs, would be snorting what many were calling “flake,” “blow” and “lady”?

Cocaine was being promoted as the Dom Perignon of illegal narcotics: non–habit forming, mind opening, invigorating, high-class. No less than Thomas Edison thought best under its influence, and Sigmund Freud wrote poems about it. “That issue was everywhere,” says Mutiny girl Joanna Christopher. “It was the topic of conversation not just at the club but at your dentist’s office and at your exercise classes. Everyone wanted to try cocaine.”

Mutiny member Nelson Aguilar recalled his first bump. In 1971, at age thirteen, he was the class president at Ada Merritt Junior High, where he won a trophy for his speech on the life of Martin Luther King Jr. He was doing so well that his aunt (his guardian) moved him to a school in a more well-to-do neigborhood. To earn money on the side, Aguilar signed on as a door-to-door sales boy for the Miami Herald. “It was,” he said, “the best thing. I was so awesome at selling subscriptions; I shattered fucking records. You would knock on the door and Cuban-Americans would shout back: ‘What? The Miami Herald? It’s Communist! Here’s the money. But it’s for you, okay? Just don’t ever send the fucking paper!’”

Within a year, Aguilar was clearing one hundred dollars a week and eyeing a fat promotion that promised him five times as much in salary and commissions—a fortune for a teenager in the early 1970s. But his big cousin Jesús, a high school dropout, intervened with other plans. One night, while the boys were being chauffered in Jesús’s new Cutlass Supreme (he was sixteen and had his own driver), the older cousin stuck a knife under Nelson’s nose. “Sniff!” he ordered from the front seat. “Come on, bro. Sniff!”

“When I did that hit,” said Aguilar, “the whole world—anything, anything became possible. No doubt that you ever had meant anything anymore. It was euphoria—like heaven.” Aguilar said his eyes felt like they had 360-degree vision. His heart raced, and he felt like running a marathon. And saving starving kids. And fucking for hours on end. And then doing more coke.

“You suddenly had all the answers to every problem the world ever had,” he said. “Bam! Solved. The only problem is, no one woke up the next day to do all that solving. Reality sets in. And then you just feel dirty.”

It took Aguilar little time to drop out of school. Aguilar remembered shooting up signs on the downtown expressway with his big cousin’s .44 Magnum. He recalled Jesús somehow managing to shoot himself in the hand; he was so coked out that, bloodied left fist be damned, he just shot at everything else on the expressway while ordering his driver to go faster. Faster.


In 1975, a gregarious Peruvian named Pepe Negaro barnstormed the Mutiny with samples of his high-purity cocaine, which he had dyed light pink and spritzed to smell like bubble gum, ostensibly to razzle-dazzle the ladies. He was an absolute hit at the club, recalls then-manager Chuck Volpe. Liza Minnelli latched onto him, and he had little trouble bedding women who were mesmerized by his charm and nose candy.

Pepe the Peruvian had his cocaine smuggled into Miami International Airport from Lima in giant cored-out wood hangers, the kind that might hold a heavy fur or knee-length leather coat. They’d then get driven over to the Mutiny in the trunk of limos he owned with a Miami heroin dealer.

When he wasn’t boinking various women in his suite at the Mutiny, Negaro would carefully pry apart the hangers and portion out sample sizes in reclaimed Vicks inhalers.

There was a radio station on the fifth floor of the Mutiny. Its Sunday night DJ was so fond of Negaro’s import that he would cue up especially long jazz LPs while he was downstairs mooching stuff to nose-binge. He sniffled so much that listeners across Miami assumed he had a permanent cold.

Cop Wayne Black wired an informant inside the Mutiny and attempted to listen in to Negaro from his surveillance van across the street from the hotel. But to little avail: “Liza Minnelli would not shut up for even a minute,” he said. “She kept bugging Pepe for more blow.”

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