TRAFFICKING: The Boom and Bust of the Air America Cocaine Ring by Berkeley Rice

TRAFFICKING: The Boom and Bust of the Air America Cocaine Ring

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An attention-grabbing tale of how a venturesome crew of youthful fliers earned tens of millions of dirty dollars transporting dope for Colombia's drug lords. Drawing on interviews with key principals, court records, and briefings from law-enforcement sources, Rice (The Other End of the Leash, 1968) offers a detailed rundown on a once vital link in the distribution network of the narcotics trade. At the heart of his narrative is Air America (deliberately named after the CIA's legendary front), which was founded by an upwardly mobile opportunist from suburban Long Island known as Rik Luytjes. Based in Scranton, Pa., the quasi-legitimate enterprise specialized in custom modification of small general-aviation planes. The company's real business, though, was ferrying contraband. Luytjes, the so-called Flying Dutchman, recruited clean-cut young pilots like himself to work for the notorious Medellin Cartel, carrying up to 300 kilos of cocaine per trip from remote Colombian airstrips to pickup points throughout the eastern US. During its early 1980's heyday, the well-organized, white-collar gang smuggled about 10 tons of pure coke (with a street value of nearly $2 billion) into the States. Crime paid handsomely for Air America's mastermind and his accomplices. Alt told, they netted over $40 million. Their lucrative, tax-free idyll came to an end when a company plane crashed, spilling its illicit cargo all over a Georgia farm. Investigators located the banged-up pilot from the downed aircraft's registration, and he promptly informed on his co-conspirators. Most are now serving comparatively light sentences in federal prisons, and only half the big money they made has been recovered. Rice makes a first-rate job of conveying the attraction of drug-running (megabuck rewards in return for incurring calculated risks) for middle-class professionals like Luytjes and his associates. He also leaves readers to ponder how they might respond to monetary temptations of similar magnitude.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Scribners