A new concept approach from ARGunners present you with a 130 page teaser of one of our favorite books and author, Nick Jacobellis’s – Controlled Delivery
This should give our readers an excellent idea of what this true story is about and possibly make them interested in purchasing Book One and Book Two ,available at amazon.com, here.
Controlled Delivery follows:
NICK JACOBELLIS, SENIOR SPECIAL AGENT
U.S. CUSTOMS SERVICE, RETIRED
In the War on Drugs
A True Story
Controlled Delivery, Book I
Copyright ©2018 by Nick Jacobellis
ISBN 978-0-9982956-4-0 (print)
ISBN 978-0-9982956-5-7 (ebook)
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof
may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever
without the express written permission of the publisher
except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Book design by www.StoriesToTellBooks.com
Email: [email protected]
Controlled Delivery Book I i
A controlled delivery is the ultimate sting operation. In the 1980s and 1990s,
undercover operations known as a controlled delivery became an effective tactic
to use to dismantle Colombian based smuggling organizations.
The story Controlled Delivery is not your ordinary police procedural and depicts
the actions of one of the most unique undercover operations ever mounted by
the United States Customs Service. In addition to being the author of this book,
I am also the U.S. Customs Agent who initiated, directed and participated in the
undercover operation that is the main focus of this two-part true story.
While serving in an undercover capacity, my colleagues and I waged a secret
war on the drug merchants who threatened our borders on a regular basis.
Whenever we went operational, we became the portable front lines of The Drug
War and achieved a victory for our side. The undercover personnel featured in
this book were The Dirty Dozen With Wings, a group of self trained covert
operators, who performed a mission that most people of sound mind would
shy away from.
ii Nick Jacobellis
In order to understand how this true story came about, I need to take you
back in time, to when I was a kid growing up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.
It was during this period of time, that I had two dreams in life. One was to
become a federal agent and the other was to learn how to fly. To be more specific,
whenever I thought about the future, I always imagined myself wearing a military
style flight suit and being involved in a law enforcement aviation pursuit of some
After years of wondering how this vision of the future would materialize, I
knew exactly how I was going to achieve my goals, when I read a magazine article
about the missions that were performed by the U.S. Customs Service. The more
I learned how this federal agency used uniformed officers, a special agent force
and a fleet of vessels and aircraft to combat acts of smuggling, I knew exactly
what I wanted to do for a career. After getting a college degree and working in
city and state law enforcement positions, the day finally came when I was hired
by the U.S. Customs Service.
After being assigned to the Resident Agent in Charge (RAC) Office at JFK
Airport and the RAC Long Island, I requested a transfer to the front lines of
The Drug War in South Florida. While the main focus of our efforts were in
the ports of entry and along our borders, some of us also aggressively pursued
smugglers beyond our shores.
My first assignment when I arrived in Miami was to serve as a member of the
Freighter Intelligence Search Team aka FIST. FIST was the unit that interdicted
Controlled Delivery Book I iii
acts of smuggling along the Miami River, as well as in the Port of Miami. On
certain occasions, we also conducted vessel boarding operations in Customs
Waters (within 12 miles of the shoreline).
After serving in the Miami Freighter Intelligence Team, I experienced deja
vous in megaton proportions when I received my wings and I became a U.S.
Customs Air Officer. As an Air Officer, I flew interdiction missions throughout
the Caribbean, in search of smugglers who used private aircraft and high speed
“go fast” boats, to smuggle drug contraband into the United States.
While residents and tourists enjoyed South Florida beaches and nightlife,
an armada of U.S. interdiction assets engaged drug smugglers on a daily basis
throughout the Caribbean. In time, the blue and green water of the Bahamas
became littered with the rusting hulks of smuggling aircraft that didn’t make it
to their intended destination. Contraband occasionally washed up on the beach
and the thunder of high-speed boats could always be heard rumbling off shore
throughout the night.
After being promoted to the rank of Special Agent, I was assigned to the
newly formed Miami Air Smuggling Investigations Group 7. Group 7 was
located in a trailer complex behind the Miami Air Branch facility at Homestead
Air Force Base. After a successful run at making several significant cases, I set
my sights on more elusive targets.
During the period that I refer to as The Miami Vice Era of The Drug War,
smugglers used various methods to penetrate our Southeast border at all hours
iv Nick Jacobellis
of the day and night. While their goal was to “shotgun” as many drug shipments
as possible into the United States, our mission was to stop them from doing so.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. and Bahamian drug interdiction
forces were very effective in forcing air and marine smugglers to operate further
away from our shores. At the same time, it became more challenging for U.S.
interdiction forces to operate farther away from their bases. Before our success
in the Caribbean, the smugglers came to us, sometimes in droves. In fact, the
smugglers seemed to subscribe to the theory, “If you throw enough shit against
the wall, some of it was bound to stick.”
During the period of time that it took to drive the smugglers away from
South Florida and various locations in the Bahamas, smuggling organizations
suffered significant losses of planes, vessels and crews. This was a serious blow
to their operations, because transportation is the key element in any act of
smuggling. As a result, without transportation, the smugglers were unable to
bring their products to market.
While serving in this successful interdiction effort, I saw an opportunity for
a group of undercover operatives to offer their services to unsuspecting violators
(criminals). In order to conduct a successful infiltration operation, we had to
convince our “clients” that we had ability to smuggle drug shipments into the
CONUS (Continental United States), while avoiding U.S. interdiction assets.
However, this plan would only work, if we utilized private aircraft that could
carry large shipments of drug contraband. These planes also had to be capable
Controlled Delivery Book I v
of flying long distances without needing to be refueled.
In the last two decades of the 20th Century, South Florida was a labyrinth of
intrigue that included a large number of informants, domestic drug traffickers,
smugglers and law enforcement officers in the local population. As a result, my
colleagues and I were in the right place at the right time to put our feelers out
and draw attention to ourselves. Our targets were Colombian based smuggling
organizations and their stateside representatives/receivers. My plan was to strike
deep into the heart of the enemy through the effective use of covert operations.
In order to fund this operation, I intended to use the “front money” aka the
expense money that was given to us by our Colombian “clients.” This money
would be used to pay the expenses that we incurred, when we provided the
transportation services to “smuggle” drug shipments from Colombia to the United
States. Once we were “hired” by a smuggling organization and we picked up a
drug shipment in Colombia, we would maintain complete “control” over the
contraband at all times. This included when we executed the “delivery” phase of
every operation. It is also important to note, that whenever we went operational,
my colleagues and I had to act like real smugglers without breaking the law.
Once an undercover aircraft and crew returned to the CONUS, my plan
was to use the drug shipment as bait, to lure out as many drug smugglers and
stateside receivers as possible. To add insult to injury, my colleagues and I would
wait until we were paid a sizable amount of drug money for services rendered,
before we agreed to deliver any of the contraband. Once the delivery was made,
vi Nick Jacobellis
a small army of U.S. Customs Agents and other law enforcement officers would
move in and arrest the subjects of our investigation. If everything went according
to plan, the undercover operatives would ride off into the sunset, devise a new
cover story, get introduced to another group of unsuspecting smugglers and
repeat the same process as many times as possible.
Because we could not confide in the Colombian government, it was imperative
for us to utilize the services of contract aircrews and sources of information to
operate covertly on foreign soil. To be more specific, due to the risks involved,
sworn law enforcement officers were not allowed to operate in an undercover
capacity in places like Colombia. This policy necessitated the use of non-sworn
civilian personnel, who were formally documented as confidential sources of
information and contract employees.
In order to make my idea a reality, I turned to my most trusted network of
airport contacts and documented sources of information. Up until this time in
my career, my sources of information had helped me make a number of cases and
seizures. The day I approached my private aviation contacts, they all agreed to
serve and provide me with planes, crews, hangars, mechanics and office space. All
I needed now was authorization from my superiors and we would be in business.
In October of 1988, I requested permission to form an undercover air unit
that would be responsible to infiltrate smuggling organizations, for the purpose
of executing as many controlled deliveries as possible. After presenting my plan to
the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) in Miami and the Regional Commissioner,
Controlled Delivery Book I vii
my “Trojan Horse” operation was approved. Clearly, at that time, the U.S.
Customs Service was an agency that encouraged individual initiative.
With no prior military experience and an expired student pilot’s license in
hand, I became the ad hoc commanding officer of my very own undercover air
unit. Looking back, I was probably the last person who should have been put
in charge of a covert air operation, considering the fact that I only had about
a dozen hours of flight training and three solo flights under my belt in single
engine aircraft. The simple truth is, I got this job because it was my idea and no
one else apparently wanted to assume the responsibility.
Having authorization to do anything in federal service was more important
than anything else. Fortunately, a recent change in federal law allowed federal
law enforcement agencies to establish proprietary corporations and create phony
bank accounts, in the same way that intelligence agencies are known to operate.
In addition, this new law authorized agencies to use trafficker directed funds,
or money that was provided by violators (criminals) during undercover sting
operations, as expense money to conduct undercover operations. This meant,
that we could react to situations without delay, because we did not have to apply
for traditional government funding through normal channels. While conducting these high risk undercover operations, every penny that we recovered from
our drug smuggling “clients” would be deposited in a certified undercover bank
account and would be strictly controlled.
In order to go operational, I recruited a cadre of contract personnel who were
viii Nick Jacobellis
willing to play by the rules, despite the fact that on the surface we had to act
like the smugglers we were targeting. Our contract crews included, war heroes,
convicted felons, three defendant informants, a former Colombian drug cartel
pilot, experienced private pilots, commercial airline pilots and a smuggler who
never got caught.
While mounting these highly specialized covert operations, we assembled
an impressive fleet of undercover aircraft that were “leased” to the U.S. Customs
Service on a case-by-case basis. Because some of my contacts were aircraft brokers, we were able to rent any aircraft that we needed that we did not have in
Officially, we were assigned to the U.S. Customs Service Miami Air
Smuggling Investigations Group 7. After we completed our first mission, we
became known as The Blade Runner Squadron, a nickname that we adopted
because we flew on the edge. The original logo for this operation depicted an
undercover aircraft taking off on the edge of a knife blade; the same knife that
would be used to execute our crews, if their real identities became known to
When I wasn’t working alone, I had at least one special agent, sometimes two
or three, assigned to help me run this rather unorthodox covert air operation.
When we went operational, we teamed up with other special agents from Group
7, from other Customs units in Miami, as well as with special agents from other
agencies and from other Customs offices throughout the country.
Controlled Delivery Book I ix
In the process of executing a succession of transportation cases aka controlled
deliveries, we made history on a number of occasions. The stakes were always
very high and despite what one of our critics had to say, we took calculated risks
because we were in a risky business, but we never took chances and believe me
there’s a difference between the two. Everyone who worked for us also proved to
be incredibly trustworthy. This is evident by the fact, that we transported tons
of cocaine and handled millions in untraceable cash without experiencing any
As you can imagine, participating in undercover operations involving
multi-hundred and multi-thousand kilogram shipments of cocaine would prove
to be a very dangerous and demanding experience. What was even more bizarre
was that none of us were specially trained to do what we did. You see, despite the
fact that controlled deliveries were the “meat and potatoes” of the U.S. Customs
Service, there was no formal training available, that prepared us to mount safe
and successful covert operations using undercover aircraft.
To be more specific, there was no specialized training program entitled
Controlled Delivery 101. The undercover school that did exist provided very
basic training at best. Worse yet, a number of special agents who were stationed
in South Florida, weren’t sent to undercover school in a timely fashion. As an
example, I wasn’t sent to undercover school until September of 1991. This meant
that my colleagues and I were largely self-taught and learned our trade in the
field. We learned how smugglers conducted business and how they behaved, by
x Nick Jacobellis
investigating acts of smuggling and interdicting smugglers in the act of violating
the law. Working with reliable informants and documented sources of information also helped us to hone our skills as undercover operatives. The next hurdle
was to learn how to negotiate smuggling ventures and drive hard bargains with
Colombian based smugglers and their stateside representatives.
In order to learn the business of directing undercover air operations, I relied
on my experience as a U.S. Customs Air Officer and what little training and
experience that I had as a student pilot. Just like I was a self-taught undercover
agent, I was a self-taught director of flight operations as well. Since no school
existed that could train me to serve in this capacity, I spent my spare time devouring flight manuals and talking to U.S. Customs Pilots and private pilots, to learn
about the flying characteristics of different types of aircraft. In doing so, I learned
how far different aircraft could fly, while carrying the required crew compliment
and various amounts of fuel and cargo.
I also became well versed on the capabilities of different types of aircraft,
to safely land and take off on different kinds of runways. This included while
taking off with a “full bag” of fuel and a cargo bay bulging with drug contraband.
I also had to become familiar with seaplane operations. In addition, I learned
how to navigate and plot courses on a map/air chart so I could plan operations
down the last gallon of aviation fuel. Last but not least, I also learned about
the weather and other factors that related to the safe operation of aircraft. This
included learning how to successfully penetrate Colombian airspace undetected.
Controlled Delivery Book I xi
Luckily, I was a people person. This made it easy for me to recruit, direct and
control an eclectic group of the informants, sources of information and contract
personnel. Even though there were times when I felt like the headmaster of a
school for wayward boys, I accepted the antics of our “hired hands” as a way to
let their hair down before going in harm’s way.
While directing and participating in this undercover operation, I came to
believe that pilots are a special breed, because each and every time they got
airborne they defied gravity. I also believe that because I tried my hand at flying, I
elevated my standing a notch or two with the experienced pilots that I recruited
to serve in our UC OP.
Looking back, this dream of mine was only a success because I had the best
people imaginable working by my side. In time, I saw us gel into an effective
undercover force that never compromised its integrity and was able to fly under
the most adverse conditions imaginable without experiencing the loss of life.
We had close calls, but fortunately for us, being close only counts while playing
horseshoes and throwing hand-grenades.
Everyone who agreed to work with us was treated with respect, regardless
of their past mistakes and crimes against society. The special agents who were
involved in this operation received a few quality step increases and monetary
awards amounting to a few thousand dollars. A few of the Group 7 Special
Agents who were actively involved in this certified undercover operation were
eventually promoted and became Senior Special Agents. None of us asked for,
xii Nick Jacobellis
or received any medals and none were handed out, even though many of the
things that we did warranted being formally decorated.
In order to receive substantial monetary payments, a person had to be directly
responsible for helping U.S. Customs Agents arrest major violators and seize
significant amounts of contraband, drug money and valuable assets. If necessary,
sources of information and contract personnel also had to be prepared to testify,
if that’s what it took to prosecute a case in federal court.
From the time that I started investigating acts of smuggling in South Florida
until our undercover operation was disbanded, I was authorized to pay my
sources of information and contract aircrews approximately $2.5 million dollars
for services rendered. That figure alone should give you some idea of how successful we were. I say this, because the federal government does not authorize
this amount of money to be paid to informants, sources of information and
contract personnel unless they provide a very valuable service.
During this undercover operation, my colleagues and I provided the specialized assistance necessary that enabled U.S. Customs Agents, FBI Agents
and DEA Agents, to arrest dozens of major violators and seize a number of
multi-hundred and multi-thousand kilogram shipments of cocaine, thousands
of pounds of marijuana and large quantities of drug money. In addition to helping me seize a number of drug smuggling aircraft, my cadre of informants and
sources of information also made it possible for me and other agents to seize
over thirty vehicles, two go fast vessels, dozens of firearms and other drug assets
Controlled Delivery Book I xiii
valued in the millions of dollars. Clearly, whatever amount of money we paid
our “hired hands” was only a fraction of what they enabled the government to
seize. In fact, in some respects, it is difficult to put a price on certain aspects of
When these operations were being conducted, we never released any information that explained how these major drug seizures and arrests were actually
made. When the media wanted to know more, our response was, “No comment.”
To their credit, the reporters who covered our press conferences didn’t push for
After reading this true story, some of you might ask why I never walked away
from this incredibly stressful and dangerous assignment, in order to become a
so-called “regular agent.” One reason is because this operation was my idea. I
should also mention that this operation didn’t happen overnight. As you will
read, it took several years of participating in interdiction missions and conducting
different types of smuggling investigations, before I requested permission to
form an undercover unit that specialized in executing controlled deliveries using
private aircraft. By the time we completed our first high risk controlled delivery,
I was hooked and wanted to stay in the game as long as possible. Quite frankly,
I always believed that I would know when it was time to move on. Until that
day came, I had every intention of honing my own skills and developing the
capabilities of The Blade Runner Squadron.
One of the reasons I was drawn to covert operations, was because every
xiv Nick Jacobellis
controlled delivery required a great deal of “Yankee” ingenuity. I was also seduced
by the taste of the hunt and the challenge of participating in the ultimate sting
operation. I also enjoyed the adrenaline rush that was always present while
working in high risk drug enforcement operations.
To give you an idea of where I am coming from, consider that one of my
favorite movies is The Dirty Dozen. The theme of this unusual war movie should
give you a better idea of what made me tick as a human being. The idea of taking
a dozen misfits, eccentrics and social outcasts and grooming them to become
a force to be reckoned with, was something that got my creative juices flowing
and made it worthwhile for me to get out of bed in the morning.
As a result of my Catholic upbringing, I also believed in forgiveness. Having
this mindset enabled me to treat the informants, sources of information and
contract personnel who had a “tainted” past with respect, providing they followed
the rules and served with distinction. In fact, one of my sources of information
who was a convicted felon, performed so admirably, I would have gladly given
this guy a full pardon, if I had the authority to do so. I also worked with certain
defendant informants, who I thought deserved to be formally pardoned.
From a professional standpoint, running the undercover operation that is the
main subject matter of this book was the high point of my entire law enforcement
career. In fact, nothing that I did before was as exciting and nothing I would
ever do in the future, would peg my intrigue meter more, than being involved
in covert air and marine operations.
Controlled Delivery Book I xv
There was also a bit of the rebel in me, who hated wearing suits and ties and
working 9 to 5 as a “regular” agent. Call me crazy, but I preferred to make my
own hours and work 12 to 18 hours days, instead of working 8 hours a day in
an office pushing paper. If maintaining this level of activity meant that I had
to work with little or no quality time off, then so be it. I was also a bit of an
eccentric, who preferred working with other eccentrics.
I also liked the idea of cultivating my own cases, instead of being handed
a stack of cases to investigate. In this regard I loved being proactive. I also like
being creative and what was more creative than concocting cover stories and
invading Colombia. I was also very loyal to the U.S. Customs Service and saw
my involvement in cutting edge undercover operations, as a way to help keep my
agency on the front page of the national news. In this regard, I was no different
than any other professional, who did his best to make his team look good.
In order for us to get to the point where we were ready to go operational,
my colleagues and I spent many days and nights learning the ropes of running
successful undercover operations. We also learned early on, that failure to cover
some small detail could result in the loss of life and a variety of other problems.
Any federal agent, who needed an undercover crew to infiltrate a smuggling
organization and successfully transport a shipment of drug contraband, had to
believe in our capabilities. In order to develop and maintain a favorable reputation, we had to execute every mission without making any mistakes, or causing
an international incident. This was critically important, because making mistakes
xvi Nick Jacobellis
and creating international incidents were not tolerated. In this regard, only time
would tell if my colleagues and I would always have the so called “right stuff.”
In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, the U.S. Customs Service was evolving into an agency that was heavily involved in certified undercover operations.
High ranking Customs managers liked having investigative groups under their
command involved in successful covert operations for two main reasons. As I
briefly mentioned before, one reason for this, was because successful UC ops
generated the money aka trafficker funds that enabled agents to pay for a variety of legitimate expenses. In our case, this included rental fees for undercover
vehicles, aircraft and vessels, as well as paying fuel bills, cell phone bills and
travel expenses. In order to document every legitimate expense that we made,
my colleagues and I obtained receipts whenever possible. In fact, we became
so judicious about documenting our legitimate expenses, our unofficial motto
became, “GET A RECEIPT!”
Having access to this outside source of revenue made local SAC and RAC
Offices less dependent on headquarters for funding. Because the U.S. Customs
Service had a knack for running successful undercover operations or special
ops, annual cash awards and Quality Step Increases (QSI Awards), that were
mini promotions, were handed out to the most active agents, as well as to their
superiors. Naturally, the bosses received the larger cash awards, while the smaller
amounts went to the worker bees.
Controlled Delivery Book I xvii
It is also important to note, that in my opinion, the statistics generated during
The Drug War should be viewed as being even more impressive, when you
consider that a smaller number of agents were actually responsible for initiating
the most significant cases. The bulk of the remaining agents provided valuable
support, with some agents doing as little as possible. In other words, the heaviest
load was actually carried by a smaller number of agents than you are aware of.
I say this because, when a major case breaks on the local or national news and
you hear that fifty federal agents were involved in an enforcement action, this
case was probably made by one or two hard charging special agents, but forty
eight others were needed to conduct surveillance’s and execute search and arrest
warrants. Like it or not, that’s the way it was.
xviii Nick Jacobellis
I started writing this book in February of 1989. From the inception of this
rather unusual undercover operation, I documented our adventures, trials and
tribulations as they occurred, with the hope of one day sharing these events with
the general public. With the exception of periodic editing, I wrote this true story
while I was actively involved in directing and participating in drug interdiction
missions, smuggling investigations and undercover operations. One reason why
it took so long for me to publish Controlled Delivery Book I and II, is because
this is not an easy story for me to tell.
Whether boarding tall ships in New York Harbor during the early days of
our country, or preventing the smuggling of different types of contraband in
more modern times, the agency known as the U.S. Customs Service had an
outstanding reputation for protecting the revenue and the national security of
the United States. After the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01, the U.S. Customs
Service that I worked for was merged with the Immigration and Naturalization
Service (INS) and transferred from the Treasury Department to the newly
formed Department of Homeland Security. Today, an agency called U.S.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) represents the uniformed side of the
Controlled Delivery Book I xix
original or “Legacy” U.S. Customs Service and the “Legacy” INS. An agency
called Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and U.S. Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) are the entities that perform a combined Customs/
Immigration and DHS enforcement and investigative mission. This is strictly my
opinion, but I hope the day comes when ICE/HSI are merged into CBP. Doing
so, would enable us to have ONE federal agency that performs every Customs
and Immigration mission.
For the purposes of contributing to the amazing history of the “Legacy”
U.S. Customs Service, I will keep things as they once were and use the agency
name that dates back to 1789 when I tell this true story. Putting the present
situation aside, the U.S. Customs Service is often the last agency to capture
the mind of the average person, when one considers the contribution made by
the federal government in undercover drug enforcement operations. Far too
many people believe that Customs “Agents” are the folks who go through your
luggage at the airport when you return from a trip overseas. Although uniformed
Customs Inspectors (now called CBP Officers) perform a necessary and at times
a dangerous job, they are not part of the investigative side of the house. Only
Special Agents and certain Customs Officers conducted criminal investigations
and worked undercover. Hopefully, this book will shed some light, on one of the
missions of the “Legacy” U.S. Customs Service that very few people are aware of.
The story Controlled Delivery takes you through several years of adventure
and intrigue as seen through my eyes, while performing the duties of a U.S.
Customs Patrol Officer, Air Officer, Special Agent and Senior Special Agent.
xx Nick Jacobellis
In the beginning of this true story, I’ll take you on the same journey that I took,
when I graduated from the ranks of being a more traditional law enforcement
officer and I became an undercover agent.
For security reasons, this story could not be told when these undercover
operations were being conducted. After waiting over two decades to tell this
story, the time has come to let the world know, how a relatively small group of
undercover operatives executed a number of highly successful controlled delivery
operations, that resulted in the seizure of over 22,000 pounds of cocaine, 11,000
pounds of marijuana, the arrest of dozens of major violators and the recovery
of approximately $3 million dollars in trafficker directed funds (drug money).
Of all the individuals who were arrested and sentenced as a result of our sting
operations, two major violators received life sentences in federal prison for their
“Drug War” crimes. I decided to go with a figure of 22,000 plus pounds of
cocaine, because this is the amount that was transported on our undercover aircraft. An additional quantity of cocaine was air dropped to an undercover vessel,
by the Colombian based targets of a Miami Group 7 investigation. This airdrop
occurred after one of our undercover aircraft picked up an initial shipment of
500 kilos. This case is included in Controlled Delivery Book I.
While working in an undercover capacity, my colleagues and I made
record-breaking drug seizures in different locations and broke our own record
four times in the New England area alone. As you will read, our efforts were not
without sacrifice. The question is, why have so many law enforcement officers
Controlled Delivery Book I xxi
given so much, for what at times seems to be such a hopeless cause? First, I think
that we all respectively love our jobs. Our strong work ethic and upbringing
molded us into people who are not afraid of a little hard work, even when the
odds are against us. Second, I believe that we live in a world of extremes and are
attracted to a combative existence when the cause is noble and just.
Law enforcement officers also enjoy protecting society from harm. In fact, one
of the most gratifying aspects of our job was to seize a large drug shipment, or a
significant amount of drug money. To put things in a more modern perspective,
law enforcement officers from my generation considered drug smugglers to be no
different than the terrorists that we are fighting today. Simply put, drug smugglers
were the enemy and we engaged them to the best of our ability on a daily basis.
As a result, we enjoyed being in a profession where we could bring major violators
to justice and make them trade their Rolex watches, for an inexpensive pair of
Smith & Wesson handcuffs.
All good things come to an end and as such, our operation did not last
forever. The sanctioned undercover operation that was unofficially known as
The Blade Runner Squadron was disbanded on May 12, 1993. Looking back,
there was never a dull moment. I also have to state for the record, that I was
actually grateful when I was transferred to other duties. I felt this way, because
I had no more to give and I needed a change in scenery.
During my law enforcement career I was a chain-smoking workaholic, who
would have preferred to work twenty-four hours a day if such a thing was
xxii Nick Jacobellis
possible. I guess you can say that I was an adrenaline junkie, who eagerly ran
into harm’s way each and every time an opportunity presented itself. By the time
I joined the U.S. Customs Service and transferred to Miami, I lived by the motto
that was made famous by Operation Greenback Agents (a money laundering
operation in Miami); “So many Colombians, so little time.”
As a result of my involvement in covert operations, I learned that being
an undercover agent is a lot like being a stand-up comic, in a place where the
audience gets to kill you if your jokes aren’t funny. I also learned that working
undercover can make the Grand Canyon look more like a shallow grave than a
Even after my line of duty spinal injuries got worse, I pushed myself as hard
as humanly possible. I knew plenty of other law enforcement officers who would
have gladly traded places with me and retired early, until the first time they were
unable to walk right, or were in excruciating pain. After I turned down the first
offer to medically retire, I used prescription medication and a cane to help me
stay on the job and get around when my injuries flared up. In the process, a bad
situation made worse, when I was re-injured for a third time in the line of duty.
After a long and very successful law enforcement career, I was forced to
medically retire after I failed a medical fitness for duty examination. Since I
had no say in the matter, I graciously accepted the set of retired special agent’s
credentials that came in the mail to my home. It was time for me to move on to
the next phase of my life.
Controlled Delivery Book I xxiii
Once I retired, I went from doing 100 miles an hour in a 25 mile an hour
speed limit, to a crawl. While it took some time to get used to a much slower
pace, I eventually saw my situation as a blessing in disguise instead of a curse.
As a retired agent, I used my free time to immerse myself in the lives of my
family members. You might say that I made up for lost time, even though time
is something that you can never really make up.
The first step that I took to accomplish this was to apologize to my two sons
for being away so much. Even when I was technically off duty and at home, all of
our lives were constantly interrupted by phone calls and emergencies that caused
me to return to work. The day I made this apology, my youngest son Michael,
who was 10 years old at the time, responded with all of the innocence of a child
when he looked up at me and said, “Don’t worry, Dad. You were fighting for
our country.” I still get choked up to this day whenever I think of my youngest
son’s kind words.
The story Controlled Delivery takes you back to a time when a relatively small
number of U.S. Customs Agents and private contractors took the fight to the
enemy through covert means. Whether my colleagues and I were very lucky, or
good at what we did, is up to you to decide. Personally, I believe that God was
our Co Pilot and that my colleagues and I were protected by a higher authority
whenever we went operational. If you doubt this is true, I suggest you read on.
I also sincerely hope that you will find the information in this book to be even
more interesting, because it was written by a special agent and not by a journalist
xxiv Nick Jacobellis
who tagged along and documented these events through inexperienced eyes. It
is also my hope, that after reading Controlled Delivery, you will have a greater
insight into the efforts that were made by a few good men to successfully engage
a very elusive enemy. Enjoy!
Controlled Delivery Book I xxv
A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR
Due to the volume of information that I received written authorization to
publish, I decided to divide the true story Controlled Delivery into two parts.
Doing so enabled me to include some additional information, that provides a
more detailed description of what it was like to serve during The Miami Vice
Era of The Drug War.
In order to conceal the identities of the government personnel that I worked
with, I used their first name, followed by the first letter of their last name to
identify them. I also used nicknames to identify the contract pilots, crew chiefs,
informants and sources of information who helped us accomplish our mission.
The bad guy’s identities have also been changed, as are some of the details of
certain events to protect trade craft.
When I decided to write this book, I sought immediate direction from the
Office of Regional Counsel in 1988, regarding the publication of written material
by a U.S. Customs Officer/Agent. In order to comply with agency policy and
obtain written permission to publish the story Controlled Delivery, manuscripts
that contained additional information were provided to the U.S. Customs Service
xxvi Nick Jacobellis
for official review. The first letter of authorization that I received from an agency
administrator is dated March 19, 1991, the second is dated July 15, 1994 and
the third letter is dated June 10, 1996.
The photographs that are included in CD Book I and II were taken by various
agents and undercover operatives in the field and were provided to me over the
course of several years. *Copies of documents that authenticate the information
in this book will be posted on my website: badgepublishing.com.
The story Controlled Delivery was written from my perspective and is
based on what I did, what I observed, what I was told and what I documented
when these events occurred. This includes, when I performed certain duties on
my own and with other law enforcement officers, as well as when I recruited,
debriefed, directed and worked with various informants, sources of information
and contract personnel. I also made sure to give credit where credit was due, by
acknowledging the contribution that was made by the law enforcement officers,
contract personnel and sources of information, who served with great distinction
during various enforcement actions, investigations and sanctioned undercover
operations. When it was appropriate to do so, I also included my opinion and
some personal information. I also left a few things out of this story, in order to
comply with certain instructions that were relayed to me by the U.S. Customs
Service. Regardless, I promise you won’t be disappointed.
I should also mention, that documenting what we did was easy, compared to
the process of editing the mountain of raw material that I was given authorization
Controlled Delivery Book I xxvii
to publish. While I continued to prepare this story for publication, I also sanitized the contents well beyond what was required. This process included deleting
and sanitizing certain information that I was previously authorized to publish.
In the years that I waited to publish CD Book I and CD Book II, I further
developed my skills as a freelance writer, by publishing over 170 magazine articles
and two historical fiction books; The Frontline Fugitives Book I, The Khaki Cops
and The Frontline Fugitives Book II, Cops In A Combat Zone. Currently, The
Frontline Fugitives Book III and The Frontline Fugitives Book IV are in their final
stages and will be published in 2018.
A Note from the Author xxv
1 In the Beginning 1
2 A Dream Come True 19
3 Air Ops 33
4 The Air War over the Bahamas 36
5 Pursuing Air Smugglers on the Ground 53
6 Making the Transition to Undercover Agent 78
7 Breaking Away from the Pack 88
8 Operation White Christmas 96
9 Our First Mission 105
10 Open for Business in Miami 123
11 The Very Thin Blue Line 131
12 Necessity is the Mother of Invention 135
13 The Greed Factor 139
14 General Puma 142
15 Informants 193
16 The Greatest Show on Earth 199
17 Standing By to Stand By 208
18 Ready, Set, Go! 216
19 Shaken Not Stirred 227
20 Anchors Away 245
21 Victory at Sea 254
22 Welcome to Colombia 270
23 Born to Be Wild 281
24 Go West Young Man Go West 291
25 Mayday Mayday We’re Going Down 302
A Preview of Controlled Delivery Book II 326
Controlled Delivery Book I and Book II are dedicated to my wife, my
sons, the members of The Blade Runner Squadron, as well as to the
U.S. Customs Agents, U.S. Customs Pilots, U.S. Customs Officers, FBI
Agents, DEA Agents, police officers, sheriff’s department detectives,
federal prosecutors and U.S. military personnel who participated in the
investigations, enforcement actions and undercover operations described
in this true story.
THE BLADE RUNNER SQUADRON MOTTO
We fly at night if the price is right, no load too great, no distance too far,
I’m the man for your contraband, one plane in, one plane out, last call!
Controlled Delivery Book I 1
IN THE BEGINNING
S ome of the reasons why I decided to become a law enforcement officer
are simple, while others are more complex. For starters, I think a lot of it
had to do with my fascination with secrets and my religious upbringing.
As an Italian American I was raised in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, New
York where I went to Catholic School and majored in guilt. Whether I wanted
to go or not, my parents dragged me and my four younger brothers to Holy
Cross Church every Sunday to attend Mass. Like clockwork, the priest would
use a loud and authoritative voice, to order everyone who stood in the aisles and
the back of the church to find seats; everyone except the New York City Police
Officers, who were attending part of the Mass before they went back on patrol.
Seeing this happen week after week, made me realize at an early age, that police
officers were special people in the eyes of God.
I also realized something interesting about the police, when I was a young
boy growing up in Brooklyn and I observed two detectives arrest a man on the
street where I lived. A crowd formed and everyone whispered back and forth
trying to speculate why the police were taking our neighbor into custody. The
moment I observed the two detectives in action, I realized that only they knew
2 Nick Jacobellis
why they were on East 29th Street. From that moment on, I knew that the police
lived in their own world and that anyone who wasn’t a cop was an outsider. If you
wanted to know the secrets you had to be a victim, a perpetrator, or a policeman.
For obvious reasons, I decided never to be a victim and didn’t want to know the
secrets bad enough to get myself arrested. Instead, I wanted to become one of
them, a member of the secret society that carried a badge and gun.
My first career break came when I was in high school and I managed to get
hired in a part time Neighborhood Youth Corps position at the 17th Precinct
in Manhattan. When a wave of police corruption resulted in the creation of
the Knapp Commission, I decided to re-consider my career options and see if
there were any other agencies where I might like to serve, besides the N.Y.P.D.
As I said earlier, my quest for a career ended when I learned about the missions that were performed by the U.S. Customs Service. Since I was still in high
school at the time, I decided to ask my father, if I could take flying lessons with
a buddy of mine, who later became an Air Force Pilot. When my request was
denied, I waited to graduate, so I could enlist in the Marines and train to become
a helicopter pilot. Since my father was a World War II veteran, I thought for sure
that he would approve. I was wrong. As far as my father was concerned, there
was no reason for me to enlist, when the War in Vietnam was winding down
and almost over. Unless my lottery number was selected, I was going to college.
Fortunately, a brand new city university called John Jay College of Criminal
Justice was taking applications from students who wanted to pursue a career in
Controlled Delivery Book I 3
law enforcement. After receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Police Science, I
spent several years working in different city and state law enforcement positions,
while I waited to be hired by the U.S. Customs Service.
A Twist Of Fate
As I look back over my career as a police officer and federal agent, I can remember
a number of times when I risked my life, never giving it a second thought until
later on. Taking action when you’re on duty is dangerous business. Getting
involved in a hair-raising situation when you are off duty is a horse of a completely different color.
After working a 3×11 tour of duty in the Bronx as a New York State Park
Police Officer, I decided to drive through Manhattan and stop for a cold one on
the way home. Actually, I was doing what a lot of cops did back then when they
got off duty, especially after getting off duty late at night. Rather than go home
to a dark house, cops were famous for doing a little bar hopping to unwind.
Right or wrong, this was the way it was.
As a native New Yorker, I always thought Manhattan was especially spectacular at night, when the city was virtually empty of pedestrians and vehicles.
Once the masses of people went home, you could cruise through the mountains
of well-lit skyscrapers with the greatest of ease and enjoy the sights as if you were
a tourist with special privileges. Toss in a light dusting of snow in Manhattan at
night and you have the perfect Christmas.
4 Nick Jacobellis
The last thing that I expected to run into, while I was cruising around
Manhattan was a robbery in progress. The moment I turned my brand new fire
engine red diesel powered VW Rabbit eastbound on East 47th Street, I spotted
two young Hispanic men leave a brownstone building and enter a yellow cab. I
cannot explain how or why, but I knew these guys were “dirty” and a crime had
just been committed.
While the cab sped away, I pulled up to the building, just as a well dressed
man frantically ran out to the street and started yelling that he had been robbed.
As I rolled the window down and identified myself, I could see the look of relief
on the man’s face, when he realized that an off duty cop had come to his rescue.
While I kept one eye on the yellow cab as it stopped at the traffic light on the
corner, I listened to the victim report that two Hispanic males just robbed him
and that they had a gun. The moment I spotted the taxi cab start to pass through
the intersection, I put my car in gear and told the victim to call the police.
As I worked my way through the gears, I went in hot pursuit as fast as my
little diesel engine was able to propel me down the street. At first, my hopes
were high that I would spot a police car and get some help. After driving a few
blocks cross-town, I was beginning to wonder where the entire midnight tour
had gone off too.
I knew that cops were known to doze off on a late tour, but what were the
odds that every cop in Manhattan was sound asleep before 1AM. Simply put, I
couldn’t help but shake my head when I realized that there is never a cop around
Controlled Delivery Book I 5
when you needed one. Since I had not taken any action yet, there was still time
to get some help. Rather than give up, I continued to look in all directions for a
passing police car, while I followed the bad guys cross-town.
As the cab approached Rockefeller Center, the two Hispanic bad guys turned
and looked right at me. The cat was out of the bag as they say. So much for
the element of surprise. The good news was, that even though the two perps
(perpetrators) knew that they were being followed, they did not leap out of the
cab and haul ass. The bad news was that I was still alone. As I prepared to take
these guys down, I spotted one of the holdup men lean over and instruct the
cab driver to pull over. This was it, show time, I thought to myself, as I prepared
to go into action.
When the cab pulled over to the curb, both perps remained in the back seat
and kept an eye on me rather than get out. Rather than appear overly concerned
or hesitant to take action, I decided to come on like gangbusters. I immediately
jammed on the brakes and exited my car the same way I would if I was at work.
As I came across the hood with my revolver in hand, I identified myself as a
police officer and ordered both men to freeze.
The words, “Police! Don’t Move!” were never said with more authority. Much
to my amazement both perps complied. Without giving it a second thought I
charged their position. With my five shot .38 Special S&W .Model 36 revolver
in hand, I quickly approached the rear of the taxi and ordered the two perps to
exit the vehicle and assume the position up against the side of the yellow cab.
6 Nick Jacobellis
When the shorter perp hesitated and tried to get back into the cab, I became
very concerned about him taking the cab driver hostage. As I screamed as loud
as I could, I aimed my off duty revolver at the second perp and yelled, “Get out!
Let’s go, move it!”
I was still in control. My commands must have hit home. The shorter one
listened and joined his partner outside by the side of the Checker cab. While
sounding as calm as possible, I told the cab driver to call his dispatcher and get
me some help. While the old cabby picked up his radio, I turned my full attention
back to the Hispanic version of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
When the shorter of the two perps started whining, “My wife’s in the hospital.
She’s bleeding bad, man,” and his plea fell on deaf ears, he became aggressive and
yelled, “What’s your problem?” While I continued to hold them at gunpoint, I
responded in a raised voice and said, “There’s been a robbery and someone said
you two did it!”
While I listened for the sound of police sirens, the seconds passed like hours.
I never felt more alone in my life. The next one to comment was the taller perp.
“We’re leaving.” A second later the shorter one with the big mouth remarked,
“I’ll sue your ass.”
I didn’t flinch, even though I must admit that I felt as if the situation was
about to go from bad to worse. In fact, all I could think about was being on the
front page of the newspaper, after I shot one or both of these assholes when
they jumped me.
Controlled Delivery Book I 7
While I continued to cover them with my revolver, I decided it was time to
raise my voice in a last ditch effort to exert control. The second I yelled, “Don’t
move!” the two perps said something to each other in a low voice before they
turned on me. As they advanced toward my position, I took a defensive step back
with my right foot and tucked my revolver close to my side.
I was just about to open fire, when I pointed to the ground with my left
hand, while I screamed at the top of my lungs and said, “You see that fucking
line? Step over it and I’ll fucking shoot! Come on you mother fuckers! Come
on! One more step!” As the two perps froze, they actually looked down at the
imaginary line that I warned them not to cross.
During this encounter I felt like a cave man facing a pair of saber tooth tigers
with a club in his hand. On top of being very concerned about my personal safety,
I was literally a breath away from pulling the trigger. It was almost as if I could
see the temptation in their eyes deciding whether or not they should continue
to lunge at me and attack. As soon as they looked at each other, I felt the threat
diminish a bit, when they reeled back around and went back up against the side
of the cab. Just about the time that I thought they were complying with my
commands, I heard the one with the big mouth say, “He won’t shoot us in the
back.” With that they were off and running.
As I took off after them, I remember commenting under my breath that I
hate to run. When the two bad guys reached 6th Avenue, one went south and
the one with the big mouth went north. Great! Now what?
8 Nick Jacobellis
It is truly amazing how your mind can compute information in a matter of
seconds, to give you the answers that you need when you are in a dangerous
situation. I decided to forget about pursuing the taller one, because he ran
into a subway station. Instead, I opted to go after Mr. Big Mouth, because he
was heading uptown where the streets were well lit. Then, out of nowhere, an
unmarked car pulled up next to me and I heard the crackle of a police radio.
As I turned to my right, I saw two guys in plainclothes who looked like cops.
A split second later on of them called out and said, “Hey, are you the off-duty
cop who needs help?
My response was quick and to the point, “Yea!”
After hearing what I had to say, one of them called out, “Get in, we’re
Rockefeller Center Security.”
Without hesitation I jumped into the unmarked security car and was quickly
introduced to two Retired New York City cops who were now working for the
Rockefeller Center security force. “Make a right,” I said as their car reached the
corner. As we drove toward the next traffic light, I scanned the streets and locked
in on my target. There he was, Mr. Big Mouth standing on the corner nervously
looking around for me.
The security car was still rolling to a stop when I leaped out and ran toward
Mr. Big Mouth. Thank God he did not see me until I was right on top of him.
Everything I learned in the police academy and on the street came pouring out
of me, as I threw myself on top of this guy like a cheap suit. The second I flipped
Controlled Delivery Book I 9
the robbery suspect to the ground we were engaged in a fierce street fight.
As crazy as this may sound, the effects of tunnel vision prevented me from
feeling any of this bad guy’s punches, while I focused my mind on one thing, my
survival. Things started to really get ugly when I began to get tired of fighting
and I realized that this particular perpetrator was trying to grab my revolver.
With my life clearly on the line, I rallied every ounce of strength that I had left
and poured it on until I heard someone yelling from behind, “It’s OK, he’s giving
up!” When I turned around, I saw a sea of New York City Police Officers and
the two security officers standing over and all around me.
While I sat on top of the perp and pushed his face against the concrete, I
locked his hands behind his back and extended my free hand like a doctor in
an operating room when I asked someone for a pair of handcuffs. As soon as
someone slapped a pair in my hands, I had the “bracelets” on Mr. Big Mouth.
As I started to slowly come out of the effects of tunnel vision, I could hear and
see more that was going on all around me. Even though the cavalry was a little
late coming to the rescue, the presence of such a large number of cops and police
cars on scene was a very impressive sight to behold.
Since I was too tired to pick my prisoner off the ground, I literally dragged
the perp over to the curb and deposited him in the back of the closest RMP
(New York City Police Radio Motor Patrol car). The moment I heard a police
radio broadcast the call to disregard the report of a Signal 10-13 Assist Police
Officer, I wondered if my brand new VW was still parked where I left it. “Holy
10 Nick Jacobellis
shit, my car,” I said to the cop who was driving. As soon as I told the two cops
that I left my car in the middle of the street with the engine running, the driver
said, “Let’s go.” A split second later I was being taken back to Rockefeller Plaza
so I could recover my car.
After racing over to Rockefeller Plaza, I was amazed to see that my brand
spanking new fire engine red Volkswagen Rabbit was still running with the
driver’s door wide open and the headlights on. I guess no self respecting car
thief would want to admit, that he stole a VW with a diesel engine that was left
running in the middle of the street with the door open. This could only happen
in New York City.
No matter how hard I tried I could not give this arrest away. When an
NYPD Lieutenant told me that this collar (arrest) was too good to give away,
I was forced to process the arrest. Personally, I didn’t care about getting credit
for this arrest, because I had three days off and wanted to get away from New
York for some R&R.
To make a long story short, Mr. Big Mouth wanted to cooperate, but I had no
intentions of listening. Finally, two New York City Police Detectives convinced
me to speak to my prisoner. The next day I went to the Manhattan District
Attorney’s Office and after testifying in the Grand Jury I was given an arrest
warrant for the bad guy who got away.
After visiting the local police precinct and getting some plainclothes cops
to give me a hand, we raided a fleabag apartment building on the west side and
Controlled Delivery Book I 11
arrested the second robber. I will never forget the look on this guy’s face, when
he saw me standing in the open doorway to his shithole of an apartment, while
armed with something a little more substantial than a five shot thirty-eight.
As a result of this particular off duty arrest, I met Mario Cozzi, the Assistant
Chief Investigator for the New York (Manhattan) District Attorney’s Office.
At the time, I was on my way to visit a friend from college who worked in the
DA’s Office, when I heard a cranky voice blurt out, “Hey, Trooper, where’s your
horse?” Since New York State Park Police Officers wore the same snappy gray
uniforms as State Troopers, it was common to be referred to us as a cowboy of
some kind, especially since we also wore those light coffee colored Stetson hats.
The second I turned around to see who was talking to me, I spotted an older
gentleman sitting behind a pile of reports. Since the sign on his door identified
Mario as the Assistant Chief Investigator, I walked over and introduced myself.
The moment we met, Mario asked me what I was up to. After I gave him a brief
rundown of the off-duty incident that I was involved in, Mr. Cozzi leaned across
his cluttered desk and asked if I liked being a uniformed cop, which I did.
When Mario asked me if I had any other aspirations, I responded without
hesitation and said that my dream in life was to become a U.S. Customs Agent.
As soon as I told Mr. Cozzi what my long term career goal was, he smiled wide
as he reached into his shirt pocket and removed a black leather commission
book, like the type that federal agents carried. After accepting the worn leather
ID case I flipped it open and almost died.
12 Nick Jacobellis
While I examined the retired credentials, Mario told me about his twenty
plus years of service as a U.S. Customs Agent, which included time as an Attaché
at our Embassy in Italy. I couldn’t believe it. Here I was sitting across the desk
from a man who retired from the job that I wanted in the worst way.
“Hey, you want to be a detective in the meantime?” he blurted out.
“Sure,” I said as I sat back still in shock.
“OK, fill this out, send it to me and we’ll be in touch,” he said as he fumbled
for a wrinkled application form and passed it to me.
That day I left the Manhattan DAs office totally amazed and more convinced
than ever, that there was a God and that he liked policemen. Some three months
later, while working another 3X11 tour in the Bronx, I received a phone call right
after roll call. As soon as I took the call, I heard the scratchy and overpowering
voice of Mario Cozzi almost yelling as he said, “Hey, hey, you start Monday. See
ya!” As I hung up the phone, I smiled and thought to myself, what a colorful guy.
That Monday I sat across from his cluttered desk and watched Mr. Cozzi
rummage through a desk drawer, while he asked me what badge number I liked.
Not knowing what to say, I sat patiently as Mr. Cozzi held up a gold investigators
shield displaying the number 109 before he tossed it over to me and said, “Hey,
you like that one?” As I admired the gold badge, I responded and said, “Yes,
Sir.” In that instant I became an Investigator for the famous New York District
Attorney’s Office. As I left Mario’s office to get my ID card photograph taken,
it felt like I just received a battlefield commission.
Controlled Delivery Book I 13
MY FIRST LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE
While working with an informant who was purchasing illegal firearms in
Manhattan, my partner Ralph M. and I were told that an Arab social club owner
wanted some assistance in kidnapping a wealthy New York businessman. The
main reason why this businessman was targeted was because he was Jewish. (I
should mention that our informant was a real character. When we documented
this guy and told him that he was officially known as CI 6, he immediately asked
what happened to CI 5.)
Once CI 6 briefed us about his conversation with the Arab social club owner,
my partner Ralph M. and I eagerly volunteered to go undercover as the Mafia hit
men that the subject of our investigation was looking to hire. However, before
my partner and I went undercover, we needed to get the recorded conversations
between our informant and the subject of our investigation “officially” translated
from Arabic into English. In order to accomplish this, arrangements were made
through our superiors at the DA’s Office for me to meet an official from the
Israeli government at the Lexington Hotel.
While I sat across from this Israeli official, I instinctively knew that I was in
the presence of a very interesting and intelligent man. Even though this Israeli
operative was much older than I was, he gave me the distinct impression that
he was no stranger to a good fight.
Being a true professional, this Israeli official paid very close attention to
everything that I said, when I briefed him about our investigation. He seemed
14 Nick Jacobellis
to be especially interested in the part of the story that involved the Arab social
club owner’s vendetta against a wealthy New York businessman, because he
was Jewish. Just like in the movies, I turned the tapes over to the Israeli official,
shook his hand and left the room.
Shortly after my meeting with a representative of the Israeli government, I
was contacted by an Israeli Police General stationed at the United Nations. Even
though General Y.M. and his men were very busy, he personally made sure that
I had every recorded conversation transcribed in time for my partner and I to
make our next move.
MY FIRST UNDERCOVER RODEO
Going undercover as a young Mafia hit man was easy for me, because I had a
vivid imagination and years of growing up in New York City under my belt.
It also helped that I was a full blooded Italian American, who had plenty of
opportunities as a kid to observe the local mobsters in action. I say this because
back in the day, you would have to be deaf, dumb and blind, not to notice the
traditional organized crime mobsters, who operated in New York City when I
was a kid. In those days the mob guys were everywhere. Almost every aspect of
life back then was in some way, shape, or form influenced by the Mafia, or so
it seemed. What made them amazing characters, was how blatant they could
be when they wanted to telegraph their presence, which of course was most of
Controlled Delivery Book I 15
(All four of my grandparents immigrated from Italy to the United States in
the early 1900s. My real family name is Iacobellis and is pronounced Yacobellis.
Personally I regret that it was ever “Americanized” and changed to Jacobellis.)
In order to give you an idea of how I received my education about traditional
organized crime aka The Mafia, permit me to take you back in time to the 1960s.
I began learning about the Mafia and the impact that their activities had on life
in New York City, when I walked into my aunt’s house and I spotted a brand
new color TV in the corner of the living room. While I admired this magnificent
piece of “modern” technology, the nearby dining room table was filled with family
members. Before I continue, you have to understand that back in the early to
mid 1960s, it was quite common for middle class families to own a black and
white television set. In other words, to own a color television set at that time
was a big deal.
As I slowly extended my index finger, to touch the largest color television
set that I ever laid eyes on, my father called out to me and said something about
how the TV was a little warm and that I should be careful not to touch it, or
I would burn my fingers. Of course everyone had a laugh at my naive expense.
As I looked at my father with young innocent eyes, I wondered what he
meant, because my aunt’s brand new color TV wasn’t emitting any heat at all. I
was twice as confused when my father called out, “It fell off a truck, son. Don’t
worry about it.”
I was even more perplexed when I examined the brand new color TV and I
16 Nick Jacobellis
was unable to find a scratch on it, let alone the type of damage that one would
expect to see, if a television set fell off the back of a truck when it was being
delivered. I was also surprised to hear, that my aunt and uncle would buy a TV
that fell off the back of a delivery truck, even if there wasn’t a scratch on it.
The day eventually came when my father explained, that the local mobsters
were routinely selling hijacked truckloads of sought after items, to otherwise
law abiding people at discounted prices. Buying stolen items of value was part
of life back then. As my father would one day explain, plenty of good decent
people supported the Mafia, by patronizing their underground black-market
activities. Naturally, this included purchasing all sorts of luxury items, from fur
coats to television sets in order to save money.
As a kid, I grew up in the black and white world of the 1950s and 60s,
where you were either a good guy or a bad guy. There was simply no in-between.
As I said before, you could be a victim, a suspect, an innocent bystander, or
the detective handling the case. I should also mention, that despite the Mafia’s
negative impact on society, the streets in certain neighborhoods were safe, because
criminals were more afraid of answering to the Italian mob than the police. In
fact, back then, only a complete fool would mug an old lady, stick up an Italian
deli, or burglarize a home in a neighborhood where the Mafia dons lived and
operated. Like it or not, there wasn’t a police precinct in New York City, that
sent that kind of message out to the criminal element and everyone knew it.
Besides, back then, far too many cops accepted free meals and received all
Controlled Delivery Book I 17
kinds of gratuities to look the other way and not enforce certain laws. Things
really got out of control when some cops allowed themselves to be corrupted
by drug traffickers and a few went on to commit other serious crimes. Still, no
matter how sharp the mob guys looked with their flashy cars, clothes and jewelry,
I never once wanted to be a part of their lifestyle. Years later, when it came time
for me to act like a young Mafia hit man, all I had to do was remember the days
when television sets “fell off the back of trucks” and never received a scratch.
During my first undercover assignment I had a chance to “break bread” with
a real bad guy and pretend to be someone else, while I wore a Nagra recording
device known as a “wire.” What made this undercover operation even more
interesting, was that we were assisted in our investigation by Israeli Intelligence
Officers. Being assisted by the Israelis was my first opportunity to participate
in a “big picture” undercover operation.
The first time I worked undercover, my partner and I met CI 6 and the
subject of our investigation for lunch in Teresa’s (Italian) Restaurant, in the
Little Italy Section of lower Manhattan. During this meeting, I was relaxed and
incredibly comfortable in my roll as a young Mafia hit man. Unlike my favorite
movie stars, I had no script or cue cards to follow when I spoke to the subject
of our investigation. Whatever we did worked, because Ralph M. and I made
enough of an impression on the Arab social club owner to become part of his
kidnapping and extortion plan.
18 Nick Jacobellis
When it came time to carry out this crime, Ralph and I met with CI 6 and the
Arab Social Club owner to execute the kidnapping of the Jewish businessman.
On the way to the victim’s home in the Marine Park section of Brooklyn, we
stopped the undercover car and placed the Arab social club owner under arrest.
An interesting turn of events occurred, when our prisoner didn’t believe
that we were police officers. Instead, the Arab social club owner thought that
we were testing him, to see if he would give us up if he was taken into custody.
When our prisoner continued to refuse to believe that we were police officers,
we called our back up team over to convince the subject of our investigation that
we were real Mc Coy. The moment the Arab social club owner was taken away
in handcuffs, I knew that I found my niche in life. Simply put, I loved working
undercover and couldn’t wait to do it again.
Several years later I visited my friends in the DA’s office and made a point
to stop by and see Mr. Cozzi. When the Chief Investigator joined us and asked
if I would like my old job back, Mr. Cozzi remarked with pride, “He’s not going
anywhere. He’s got the best job in law enforcement. He’s a Special Agent with
the U.S. Customs Service.”
Controlled Delivery Book I 19
A DREAM COME TRUE
After waiting eight long years, I was finally offered a position as a U.S.
Customs Patrol Officer in 1983. The day I reported to 2 World Trade
Center, a young secretary in an empty office handed me U.S. Customs Patrol
Officers Badge # 198 and my temporary U.S. Treasury ID card. Even though
this wasn’t much fanfare for a job that I waited so long to get, it was definitely
a moment worth waiting for.
The day I reported for duty I met Jack L., the Assistant Special Agent in
Charge at JFK Airport. When Jack asked me what I wanted to do in Customs,
I wasted no time in telling him that I wanted to fly. As soon as Jack L. explained
in a fatherly way, that my superiors would not want to hear that someone they
just hired was eager to transfer to Customs Air Operations, I agreed to keep
my aspirations to myself. After working in plainclothes at JFK Airport and out
on Long Island, I was sent to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
(FLETC) in Brunswick, Georgia.
EARNING MY WINGS
While I never knew exactly how it would happen, I was convinced the day
20 Nick Jacobellis
would come when I would learn how to fly. The opportunity of a lifetime took
place, when I was going through training at FLETC and I became friends with
the four U.S. Customs Pilots who were in my class. When a Customs Pilot by
the name of Bob W. heard me express an interest in learning how to fly, I was
airborne in less than 24 hours.
At 31 years of age I was too young to be afraid and too gung ho to think that
I could get killed while trying to learn how to fly. Regardless, I eagerly climbed
into the cockpit of a Cessna 150 and started the engine with the help of my flight
instructor. As we taxied out to the 10,000 foot runway, I learned the hard way
that a plane is steered with your feet and not with your hands when it was on
the ground. After I sloppily managed to make it to the runway, Bob W. showed
me how to run up the engine and prepare for takeoff. In a matter of minutes I
After about ten hours of flight instruction, Bob W. was ready to cut me
loose for my first solo flight. On the morning of March 26, 1984, the weather
broke and Bob W. decided that I had waited long enough. Just to be sure that
I was ready to solo Bob and I took off for some additional practice runs. After
completing a number of “touch and goes” Bob told me to stop the plane halfway
down the runway. While speaking with a Texas drawl, Bob grinned and said,
“I’ll wait here for you,” as he calmly exited the plane, closed the door, walked
over to the side of the runway and sat down.
After I looked around the small cockpit, I checked the controls, scanned the
Controlled Delivery Book I 21
instruments and applied full power, without giving my decision to solo a second
thought. As I rolled by my flight instructor, I got the thumbs up sign for good
luck. Before I knew it the single engine Cessna was picking up more and more
speed. At the time, I was so excited I never noticed that I was alone inside the
cockpit. When I reached the point of no return, I knew what had to happen next.
At just the right time, I gently pulled the controls back into my chest and rotated
the plane into the air. I was as euphoric as a human being could be without using
drugs. I was flying on my own with no one else in the cockpit. Clearly, this was
one of the greatest moments of my life.
After I successfully completed three solo “touch and goes” I parked my plane
by a small crowd of Customs Patrol Officers and Pilots; all friends who supported me through my flight training. My T-shirt was ripped off Army style and
inscribed with the date of my first solo.
In addition to being one of my greatest personal achievements, learning how
to fly put me one step closer to getting a transfer to Air Operations. Learning
how to fly would also come in handy, when I began to plan and direct the
undercover air operations that are the primary focus of this true story.
After completing 13 weeks of training, I returned to New York. Initially, I
worked in plainclothes at the International Arrivals Building at JFK Airport. I
was eventually transferred with two of my friends to the RAC Long Island at
Republic Field. My first assignment at the RAC Long Island was to work with
Jimmy Z., a U.S. Customs Patrol Supervisor from the Marine Unit. Shortly after
22 Nick Jacobellis
we met, I gave Jimmy Z. the nickname “Otto” because he looked like a German
U-Boat commander whenever he wore his white Irish wool sweater.
The ride over to the U.S. Coast Guard Base on Governors Island, on the
thirty six foot U.S. Customs patrol boat, was a relatively smooth trip. Our
mission that night was to establish a floating surveillance platform, to observe
the stern of a Colombian freighter that some Special Agents believed was transporting 100 kilos of cocaine.
Once we arrived on Governors Island, we tied up next to the U.S. Coast
Guard Cutter Dauntless and set up our beach chairs to wait out the night. To
fight off the boredom one of our fellow crewmen, an older Customs Patrol
Officer (CPO) broke out his fishing pole, while Kenny C. and I went to the
base Burger King to fill up on fast food. After we ate, we took turns watching
the stern of the Colombian freighter from across the river.
By 3 AM or so we were getting ready to call this surveillance off, when I took
one last look at the murky water around the stern of the large black freighter.
As I looked through the binoculars, I could not believe my eyes when I saw a
diver wearing a black wet suit in the water. Just to make sure that I wasn’t seeing
things, I asked Kenny C. to take a look. Sure enough, Kenny confirmed my
observations. Since we had no radios, we had to run half way around the base,
to return to the pier where “Otto” was sitting on a lounge chair.
Controlled Delivery Book I 23
As soon as we ran up to Jimmy Z., he could tell that we were excited. In
between huffing and puffing, I spoke as fast as I could, as I pointed toward the
Colombian freighter and said, “Jim, there’s a diver in the water. I’m sure I saw one.”
Otto was calm, cool and very collected as he asked, “What did you see?”
With Kenny C. backing me up, I described how I observed the head of a scuba
diver bobbing up and down behind the rudder of the ship that we had under
Jimmy Z. was a former U.S. Customs Air Security Officer aka Sky Marshal
who worked his way up in rank and had a real passion for working on the water.
Personally, I always thought we got along great. In fact, before I go any further,
let me say that going to work with Otto was always a pleasure and something to
look forward to. As a result, I was anxious to do a good job for him. I had also
been in law enforcement long enough to know when I saw something, especially
something as unique as a scuba diver in New York Harbor. When I filed my
report I made sure to do so with confidence.
Although he seemed a bit reluctant at first, Otto began to nod his head and
consider the possibility, that what we actually saw a scuba diver in the water
behind a Colombian freighter, on the Brooklyn side of the harbor. After looking
out into the New York Harbor, Jimmy Z. relayed our observations to the U.S.
Customs Agents, who were maintaining the surveillance on the subject vessel
over in Brooklyn. Soon the radio crackled with reports of noises being heard in
the water around the pier area. I wasn’t crazy after all. There was a diver in the
24 Nick Jacobellis
water. Moments later, several special agents reported hearing splashing in the
water around the freighter.
As soon as the surveillance teams tightened their perimeter around the
Colombian freighter, we heard calls for assistance from the special agents who
were in hot pursuit of a car that picked up a scuba diver from a nearby pier. In
no time, Otto had the thirty-six foot U.S. Customs patrol boat (a former U.S.
Navy Vietnam War era SWIFT boat) cranked up and heading across the harbor.
After years of plying my trade as a local law enforcement officer, I finally
made it to the front lines of our nation’s Drug War as a U.S. Customs Patrol
Officer. While our patrol boat raced across New York Harbor at flank speed,
I was screaming inside, as I thought about the days when swashbuckling U.S.
Customs Officers boarded tall ships in New York Harbor, to enforce the laws
of a new nation.
While the special agents on land made their arrests and recovered a duffel bag
filled with cocaine, my colleagues and I on the patrol boat searched the Brooklyn
side of the river, to see if there were any other divers or contraband under any of
the piers. After Otto entered the filthy water to conduct a more thorough search
under one of the piers, we cleared the area and returned to base.
My first surveillance and interdiction effort as a U.S. Customs Officer ended
in success. Unfortunately, my morale would suffer a bit, when the U.S. Customs
Service handed out commendations and cash awards, to the personnel who
participated in the seizure of 75 kilos of cocaine valued at $7.5 million dollars,
Controlled Delivery Book I 25
from a freighter called the Republica de Colombia.
I’ll never forget the look on Jimmy Z.’s face when he told me that there
had been a slight oversight and my name, as well as Kenny C.’s name, were not
turned in for a commendation and cash award. As you can imagine, I was a bit
disappointed to learn that I was overlooked, especially since I made more of a
contribution to this seizure than the old patrol officer with the fishing pole, who
fell asleep during the surveillance, but got recognized anyway.
Jimmy Z. was kind enough to take me and Kenny C. out for dinner where
we laughed about the inadequacies of the system over Mexican food and a few
beers. Later on, another veteran U.S. Customs Agent I knew told me not to
worry about being overlooked, because the day would come when I would get an
award when I did not deserve one. Needless to say, that never happened during
my career in the U.S. Customs Service.
This type of case did not happen every day in New York City, but there was
one place where it did. That night I started to think about transferring to Miami;
a duty station that was filled with nonstop action.
LET THE GAMES BEGIN
The fact that I had some investigative experience came in handy, when it came
time for me to conduct my first federal criminal investigation. While I was
stationed at the Long Island RAC Office, I was assigned to work a collateral
investigation that involved locating a fugitive. This particular investigation
26 Nick Jacobellis
intrigued me, because it involved a manhunt for a fugitive, who was wanted
for his involvement in a marijuana smuggling case. The RAC Long Island was
contacted because this fugitive was believed to be hiding out in New York State.
With not much to go on, I started digging.
Needless to say, as a newly hired CPO (Customs Patrol Officer) I wanted to
make a good impression. For several days, I used every contact I had and ones
that I had to make, in order to locate the fugitive who was wanted by our agents
in Florida. Eventually, I was able to pinpoint the missing link’s whereabouts to
a business in Rockland County, New York. The day I was ready to make an
arrest, I asked CPO Bob S. and CPO Kenny C. to give me a hand. Special Agent
Tommy N. was sent along to keep an eye on us, a fact that reinforced my faith
in the information that I developed, because Special Agents only seemed to go
out in the field when things looked promising.
Being a native New Yorker meant that I was accustomed to winter weather
conditions. As a result, snow storms and cold weather never bothered me. If
anything, a fresh coating of snow always made me feel like it was Christmas
time. Regardless of the inclement weather, we made our way up to Rockland
County from our office at Republic Field on Long Island. By the time we got
into position, the snow was ankle deep.
As a result of some old fashioned police work, the fugitive was located at
an auto supply store. Because of the layout of the combination warehouse and
showroom, we positioned ourselves in the parking lot, so we could arrest the
Controlled Delivery Book I 27
fugitive when he left work and headed for his car. Once it started to snow again,
it didn’t take long before the parking lot and our cars were covered with a fresh
blanket of white stuff.
At the end of his work day, the fugitive emerged from the building and headed
towards his car. After days of tracking him and hours of sitting in our cars, it
was time to move in. Since it was my case, I got to call the shots. As the fugitive
walked to his car, oblivious of our presence in the parking lot, I picked up my
Customs radio and imitated Gene Hackman when he played Detective Popeye
Doyle in the French Connection and yelled, “Move in! Take him down!” Just
like in the movies, all four of us converged on the fugitive’s car with guns drawn.
Like many other enforcement actions, this arrest went down fast and thankfully without incident. Once I called the case agent in Florida, to let him know
that we found his fugitive, I finished some paperwork and made the long drive
back home on an ice cold sleet driven night. The next day this arrest made the
local newspaper. The Customs Service got some ink and my colleagues and I
had a little bit of fun in the process.
This arrest did not go down in the history of The Drug War as a major
campaign, or for that matter anything even close to a skirmish. Successfully
conducting this “collateral” investigation did enable me to further develop my
investigative capabilities and provide assistance to a U.S. Customs Agent in our
Jacksonville office. In the end, that was enough for me.
28 Nick Jacobellis
UNDERCOVER AGAIN AND LOVING IT
While I was assigned to the RAC Office at Republic Field, I volunteered to work
undercover in a fishing village on the tip of Long Island. During this assignment,
I worked undercover with Jimmy Z. aka Otto, Agent Tommy N. CPO Jim
O’R and CPO Bob S. The fact that I attended the Marine Law Enforcement
Training Course aka Boat School at FLETC, enabled me to gain some valuable
field experience, when I had the opportunity to serve on the undercover vessels
that we used during this operation.
Everyone involved in this operation was a pleasure to work with. In particular,
Bob S. and Jim O’R. were fearless individuals, who looked more like pro football
players than federal law enforcement officers. While Jim O’R. really did play
for a college team, Bob S. was famous for telling strangers that he was in the
Samoan Football League.
When one of the locals wondered if Bob was telling the truth, he responded
in a very convincing tone of voice and said, “The reason you don’t recognize
me is because I wear a helmet when I play.” Deep down inside I was hysterical
laughing, when this particular local resident began to nod her head and accept
his explanation. It was this type of quick witted response that made Bob S. well
suited for undercover work. Simply put, you can’t train people to think on their
feet like this and come up with a response that sounded legitimate, even though
it is was complete bullshit. Jim O’R also had moments when he was equally
convincing in his undercover role.
Controlled Delivery Book I 29
During this operation we got to practice what it was like to adopt a fictitious
identity and gather information without revealing who were really were. We also
got the chance to work in a potentially dangerous environment, without carrying
badges or guns and without back up.
While working in this undercover operation, Bob S. and I talked seriously
about transferring to Miami. Towards the end of our assignment, we convinced
our wives to let us travel to Florida to check out the office and speak to the boss.
As soon as we met the Chief of Patrol in Miami, we accepted his offer to
transfer to South Florida with all moving expenses paid for by Uncle Sam.
Unfortunately, everyone seemed anxious to go except my wife. In addition to
having a career that she really enjoyed, my wife made a lot more money than
I was making at the time. Worse yet, I was asking her to leave a job where she
was recently promoted and became the first woman officer of her corporation.
My wife also knew that I was not one to work the required eight hours a day
and race home for dinner. In the end, my wife reluctantly agreed to go. Years later
our marriage would strain to the point of almost disintegrating, because my wife
regretted not staying behind to maintain her career. In a way, I couldn’t blame her.
Once the moving truck picked up the contents of our small apartment, we
were off to the airport to catch our flight to South Florida. As far as I was
concerned, there was something motivating me to transfer to the Sunshine State.
As a result, I was 110% confident that I was doing the right thing.
30 Nick Jacobellis
A VIEW FROM THE FRONTLINES
By the mid 1980s the Drug War was escalating. Instead of the emphasis being
on the Mexican Border, as depicted in the Life Magazine article that I read back
in 1969, the spotlight was now on South Florida. Fortunately, the fix was in and
I knew before I arrived that the Chief of Patrol assigned me and my partner
Bob S. to the Miami Freighter Intelligence Search Team, otherwise known as
FIST. After a trip to the range to qualify with our weapons, including the 9mm
H&K MP5 submachine gun, my buddy Bob S. and I were ready to get to work.
The FIST Group covered the Miami River and the Port of Miami on a 24
hour, seven day a week basis. U.S. Customs Patrol Officers worked in plainclothes and in unmarked cars developing informants, conducting surveillance
operations and raiding freighters to interdict shipments of cocaine, marijuana,
U.S. currency and weapons. Naturally, it did not take long before I realized that
Miami was like Morocco, a web of intrigue that was not to be compared with
any other part of the country.
Every day we went to work, my partner and I spent our time stopping cars
and trying to develop informants, who could let us know when drug shipments
were going to be smuggled into Miami. The ships we watched ranged in size
from large vessels to small coastal freighters. In addition, we covered the cruise
ships and the less attractive Haitian freighters. Clearly, working along the Miami
River and in the port area was a lot like being a street cop in a high crime area.
Shortly after we arrived in South Florida, my partner Bob S. and I
Controlled Delivery Book I 31
participated in our first arrest and drug seizure. Since this case involved a
freighter that was in dry dock in Port Everglades (Ft. Lauderdale), we met at
Lester’s Diner on State Road 84 to grab something to eat, before it was time to
take up our positions.
The case we were working on that night was assigned to CPO Paul G., the
most active and successful FIST member in Miami. Paul G. was a super hard
working CPO, who had more informants working the Miami River and the
Port of Miami, than the Catholic Church had priests in the Vatican. When
Paul said that we would make a seizure, we made a seizure. This night was
no different. ( Just like the rest of us who served as CPOs, Paul G. would get
promoted and become a Special Agent when the Customs Service expanded its
After we ate, we were given our assignments and made our way into Port
Everglades to assume our positions. During this tactical interdiction operation,
Bob S. and I were assigned to maintain the eyeball on the freighter. This meant
that our job was to report any suspicious activity. After spending several hours
sitting in a sweltering hot car, we spotted a smuggler walk down the gangway
of the suspect vessel.
As soon as we notified the other members of our team who surrounded
Port Everglades, we received requests from several CPOs to give the direction
of travel of the suspect. Since Bob and I were knew to the area, we were about
as lost as you could be. We barely knew the difference between north and south,
32 Nick Jacobellis
especially since it was our first time inside Port Everglades. In no time, Bob and
I were hysterical laughing, while we sat in our car and tried to direct our first
surveillance in South Florida.
Finally, the suspected smuggler got into an old car and began to drive out
of the port. Now we were on our way. To say that we were anxious and excited
would be an understatement. We also instinctively knew that the car we were
following had to be loaded with drugs as we headed toward the exit to the Port.
Everything was going well, until the crewman we were following turned into
the on-coming traffic lane and sped toward the exit at a high rate of speed. While
CPO Bob S. and I were in hot pursuit, CPOs Louie M., Scott L. and Paul G. had
the exit blocked and intercepted the smuggler before he could escape. Once the
driver was handcuffed and searched, we found 13 kilos of cocaine in the trunk
of the old Ford Torino. This seizure was a great way to welcome us to South
Florida. Even though I didn’t know how or when it would happen, I would see
a lot more cocaine than 13 kilos in the future.
Controlled Delivery Book I 33
One of the happiest moments in my career took place in April of 1986,
when I was contacted by Roger G. from air operations and asked if I
was still interested in becoming a U.S. Customs Air Officer. Without hesitating
I accepted the position and was welcomed aboard. In addition to receiving a
promotion and a pay hike, I would finally be getting my wings and a chance to
live my life long dream and become an aviator for Uncle Sam.
The late 1980s and early 1990s was the period of time when the United States
Government went on the offensive and decided to take the fight to the enemy.
This was the height of The Drug War in South Florida and the Caribbean; an
era when the U.S. Customs Service was dramatically expanded in size to meet
the drug smuggling threat head on.
REPORTING FOR DUTY
The day I arrived at Homestead Air Force Base to assume my new duties, I got
the distinct impression that we were a nation at war. This seemed obvious the
moment I observed a number of heavily armed U.S. Customs aviators wearing
military flight suits, military flight boots and military issued sunglasses. Even
34 Nick Jacobellis
some of the aircraft that the Customs Service operated was either previously or
currently used by the U.S. Armed Forces. The fact that we conducted ourselves
in a paramilitary fashion also made The Drug War seem like a real conflict. I
say this because almost every aspect of our job was influenced in some way by
military tactics and military protocols. Even the way we told time and spoke on
the radio, was very GI, especially when we used Zulu Time. (The military refers
to Greenwich Mean Time as Zulu Time.)
Whether we were chasing smugglers through the mangrove swamps, on the
open ocean, in the air, in remote border areas, or in populated urban areas, being
a U.S. Customs Officer or Agent was a dangerous profession, that at times was
considerably more exciting than traditional police work. Working in places like
South Florida, throughout the Caribbean and along the Mexican Border also
reinforced the fact that we were operating on the front lines. This was the case,
because the action was non stop and always very intense in these locations. The
fact that people on both sides of this conflict carried guns and used codes to
communicate, further added to the intrigue and made surviving contact with
the opposing forces something to celebrate.
Anyone who questions, whether it makes sense to relate to The Drug War in
military terms, is either a non combatant, someone who has never been involved
in drug enforcement operations, or isn’t paying attention. Certainly, anyone who
lost a loved one or a friend to a drug overdose, or watched a loved one or friend
ruin their life by using drugs, will agree that the drug problem is far too serious
Controlled Delivery Book I 35
of a conflict, to only be classified as a social crime dilemma.
36 Nick Jacobellis
THE AIR WAR OVER THE
Many of the men I flew with in the U.S. Customs Service were combat
veterans of the War in Vietnam and had years of experience chasing
smugglers. Some of our pilots and air officers also had law enforcement experience from other agencies.
For the record, U.S. Customs Air Operations was a very professionally
run organization. This was the likely the case, because Air Ops was generally
managed and supervised by former military pilots. Air Ops was also staffed by
a rather impressive number of very capable people. This included U.S. Customs
Pilots like John R., Bill P., Red D., Roger G., Gene P., Ron M., Rick B., Ralph
G., Jack H., Brooks B., Robbie V, Mike S., Bob B. etc… Larry K. and Harry B.
were two Special Agents, who went on to serve as Aviation Group Supervisors
and provided critical support to the undercover operation that is the central
focus of this true story.
Controlled Delivery Book I 37
My first air chase took place over the teal green waters of the Caribbean near
Eleuthera Island at sunset. As soon as we intercepted the “bogie” or target aircraft,
the drug smuggling pilot began to make his run. After we broke off our pursuit
and circled above the air drop site, we watched the kicker crouch in the open
door of the smuggling aircraft and drop several bales in a nice neat line near an
This was the moment I had waited a long time for. I was patrolling the frontlines of the Drug War in the Caribbean, in a U.S. Customs aircraft, that was
ready to prevent the smuggling of contraband into the United States. Then reality
set in. With no U.S. Customs, or U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats in the area, this
drug shipment would likely get through. Worse yet, the act of smuggling that I
just witnessed was not a crime in the United States, at least not yet.
The next airdrop that I observed was further down the Bahamian Island
chain. A Beechcraft Queen Air approached from the south and executed three
perfectly good passes twenty-five feet above the ocean. All I could do was watch
in complete amazement, as I counted eight splashes in the water on each run.
After the third airdrop, the drug plane made a sharp right turn and headed south
again. It was fruitless to chase this aircraft, because the United States was in the
other direction. All we could do was pass each other in the sunset sky and go
about our business as if nothing happened.
A number of drug smuggling pilots and their crews weren’t so lucky. In one
short period of time, five drug smuggling aircraft crashed into the sea, while being
38 Nick Jacobellis
pursued by U.S. Customs aircraft in the Bahamas. Each one of these smuggling
aircraft crashed while trying to airdrop drug shipments to awaiting smuggling
vessels. On one occasion, a Piper Navajo cart wheeled into the ocean, after
the drug pilot dropped his landing gear and flaps too close to the waves, when
the kicker started tossing out bales. This particular twin engine Piper Navajo
exploded on impact and sank.
Even though under normal circumstances most people would be upset to
observe a plane ditch or crash at sea, I never felt any remorse for the smugglers
who were killed while trying to make a delivery. As far as I was concerned, drug
smugglers were the enemy and if they died during the commission of a crime,
so be it.
In another incident, two smugglers ditched their light twin engine aircraft
during an airdrop and were lucky to evacuate the plane before it sank. Fortunately,
for them and for us, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was on station and was able
to pull the two smugglers out of the water.
This time I had a reason to get excited, because the coasties (U.S. Coast
Guard) agreed to deliver the two drug smuggling aviators to Homestead Air
Force Base, instead of taking their soaking wet passengers to Jacksonville
Memorial Hospital in Miami. Bear in mind, that when the Coast Guard fished
smugglers out of the ocean during this period of The Drug War, they usually
took the “survivors” to the closest hospital. This was done so the “survivors” could
get examined for exposure and injuries. By the time a team of U.S. Customs
Controlled Delivery Book I 39
Agents arrived to “clear” these rescued individuals through Customs, they were
usually no where to be found. This time things would be different.
Even though at the time, these smugglers broke no laws in the United States,
they were still obligated to “clear” Customs upon their arrival in our country.
Doing so, gave us a chance to check these individuals out to see if they were
On the flight back to Homestead Air Force Base, I wondered how long my
colleagues and I would have to play this deadly game of tag. At that time, the
only thing we could do once a drug shipment was dropped into the ocean, was
to try and have U.S. Customs or Coast Guard patrol boats pursue the marine
smugglers who picked up a load. For every crash and burn, there was another
daredevil with a pilot’s license out there, trying to make a successful run, so he
could get paid a large amount of money.
When the two smugglers were dropped off near the control tower on
Homestead Air Force Base, they had no idea that I would be waiting for them.
Once again, I felt like the Gene Hackman character Detective Popeye Doyle,
when the “rescued individuals” jumped out of the Coast Guard helicopter and
they found me standing there grinning and waving my right hand. With a contingent of U.S. Air Force Security Policemen standing by my side, I identified
myself and asked the two men if they wouldn’t mind clearing Customs. Naturally,
they complied because they had no choice.
Instinct and experience, combined with a little training, can be a formidable
40 Nick Jacobellis
tool for a law enforcement officer to possess. After conducting a brief interview,
I knew these guys weren’t going anywhere, until I checked them out from top
to bottom and inside and out. I was also convinced, that the subject with the
Swedish passport was “dirty” aka a criminal. Proving it was the hard part. The
fact that what they just did in the Bahamas was not a crime in the U.S., meant
that I could only hold them for so long while I checked them out.
When the Group 7 Duty Agent Special Agent Mark F. responded, he gave
me a hand going over what little we had. Luckily, we were able to determine that
our Swedish friend was in fact a fugitive, wanted in Florida for his involvement
in a major smuggling venture. Under the circumstances, I felt great that my
hunch about this guy proved to be correct. After releasing one of the rescued
individuals, we arrested the fugitive and transported him to the Metropolitan
Correctional Center (MCC).
WHEELS IN THE WELL
Once we were notified of a scramble, U.S Customs air crews had eight minutes
to get airborne or “wheels in the well,” so we could intercept an acquired target.
As soon as the Command Duty Officer (CDO) announced the presence of a
target that was worthy of further scrutiny, everyone on flight status grabbed
their rifles and survival gear, before heading out to the flight line.
Somewhere over the Bahamas, a target was identified and was being tracked
by our radar detection specialists. The U.S. Customs Citation Jet, which was
Controlled Delivery Book I 41
already on patrol, was being diverted towards the radar blip, that was performing
a series of turns over the ocean. Since we had a full compliment of personnel
working the 4X12 shift, the Miami Air Branch would put up a maximum effort,
to investigate the suspicious aircraft. At the very least, we wound get a chance
to practice our skills, even if we found nothing. If we were lucky, we would fly
smack into an airdrop of drug contraband and begin a chase that would take us
in any number of directions.
So far, I had flown in every fixed wing aircraft and helicopter that the U.S.
Customs Miami Air Branch had in inventory, except the old twin engine blue and
white Aero Commander that we affectionately called Emily. With our Citation
Jet already airborne and no seats available in the Black Hawk helicopter, I jumped
in with Customs Pilot Bill P. and Customs Pilot Dennis Del G. and strapped in.
While the Pilot in Command (Bill P.) taxied the old Rockwell 560 Model
Aero Commander towards the active runway, I watched as our Black Hawk
helicopter got airborne. In a way, I envied my fellow Air Officers, who were lucky
enough to be assigned to bust crew duty in the “Hawk” that night. Everyone
knew that the chances of seeing any ground action increased when you flew in
one of our helicopters. This was the case, because it was the Black Hawk’s job to
insert the “bust crew” into any location where a drug plane landed, especially in
places where fixed wing Customs aircraft could not safely land. Naturally, when
feasible, Air Officers and Customs Pilots would made arrests while operating
fixed wing aircraft.
42 Nick Jacobellis
After getting over the disappointment of being excluded from helicopter bust
crew duty, I paid more attention to what was going on around me. Once Customs
Pilot Bill P. got the green light from the Air Force control tower to take off, he
applied full power to Emily’s engines and off we went into the wild blue yonder.
As excited as you can be at a time like this, you have to keep your eyes and
ears open. When you are not looking for other “traffic” (other planes in the sky),
you pay close attention to the radio chatter so you can follow what’s taking place.
You need to do this, so you will know what to do, if you are called into action.
Once everyone lifted off, we each had an assigned task. Since Emily was an
air interdiction asset, we got to fly out over the ocean to rendezvous with the
Citation and get into the chase. While we went feet wet and headed out over the
ocean, the Black Hawk skirted the coast and waited to pounce on the smugglers
if they landed stateside.
Again we were functioning like a team. While the Customs Radar Detection
Specialists at our air interdiction command and control center known as C3I,
continued to track the target, he directed our Citation Jet to the area where the
“Judy” (target aircraft) was located. After being vectored into the area by C3I,
the Customs Citation Jet jumped the target aircraft in the middle of an airdrop.
As the smuggling vessel moved in to pick up the packages that were dropped
into the ocean, the crew realized that their associates in the smuggling aircraft
were in trouble. This was easy to figure out, because the Citation Jet had no
stealth capabilities. As a result, it was impossible to hide its presence from the
Controlled Delivery Book I 43
smugglers on the boat below. In an effort to warn a fellow smuggler that he was
in trouble, the boat captain radioed the pilot of the Aztec with the bad news
that he had company on his tail.
Unfortunately for the bad guys, a smuggler flying a light twin engine Piper
Aztec would never be able to outrun a Citation Jet. Under the circumstances,
the pilot of the smuggling aircraft had limited options. These options included,
ditching near the friendly smuggling vessel, or landing in a place where the
Citation was unable to land. Smugglers also had to be concerned that there were
no U.S. government helicopters in the area. They could also make a run for the
U.S. coastline and try to mix in with the other air traffic, especially as night fell
over South Florida.
As Bill P. eased up on the throttles, he put Emily into a slow turn and joined
up on the Citation, as it continued to follow the red and white Aztec. From my
vantage point in the back of Emily, I was close enough to the action to see that
there were two people on board the smuggling aircraft. This was a typical flight
crew for an air drop scenario. It was also our good fortune that we were headed
straight for the South Florida coastline.
While I sat in the un-air-conditioned chase plane, I check my survival gear,
just in case we made an unscheduled stop in the Atlantic. In addition to my U.S.
military issued inflatable life jacket, I wore my survival vest over my flight suit
and my police style raid jacket. Tucked under my left arm was a nylon shoulder
holster that contained my 9mm pistol and one spare thirteen round magazine.
44 Nick Jacobellis
I also carried a small five shot .38 caliber S&W revolver and a Colt CAR-15
assault rifle with two 30 round magazines tapped together. An additional 20
round M16 magazine, extra pistol magazines, revolver ammunition, handcuffs,
a strobe light and other equipment was secured in my military issue survival
vest. Many of us also carried canteens and food in our helmet bags, because we
never knew how long we would be out on a chase, or where we would end up.
Since I had some time to spare, I decided to feast on some crackers and
lukewarm water while I kicked back to watch the show. After I finished my last
cheese cracker and I sipped some water from my canteen, I heard the Citation
pilot ask if we would take the lead position in the chase.
As Bill P. brought Emily in behind the Aztec, the Citation pulled up and
off to the side to give us plenty of room to maneuver. The coastline of South
Florida was off in the distance and our arch enemy, nightfall, was approaching
fast. If a smuggler had one chance in a thousand, it was at night, in a chase over
a well lit city. (I am not going to explain why.) I will say, that safety was our first
consideration. As you can imagine, things could get very complicated, when
we pursued a smuggling aircraft over a major city, that included a sky full of
legitimate air traffic. Fortunately, the FAA air traffic controllers did an amazing
job in clearing paths for us, whenever we crossed over into U.S. airspace.
Shortly after getting in behind our target, we spotted all sorts of debris being
thrown at us from the open pilot’s side window of the smuggling aircraft. Bill P.
reacted quickly, as he yanked and banked Emily to the left and right, to prevent
Controlled Delivery Book I 45
us from getting hit by tie down ropes and other items that could have seriously
damaged our aircraft.
I was literally sitting on the edge of my seat, while the crazy bastards in the
Aztec continued to throw things at our aircraft. Clearly, if any of these items
crashed through our windshield or got caught up in one or both of our propellers
we would be in serious trouble. Our aircraft was of course unarmed except for
our sidearms and my rifle. Under the circumstances, all we could do to defend
ourselves was to perform some fancy flying. Then it happened! A streak of light
similar to a tracer round or a flair, shot out from the pilot’s side window and
whistled right by us.
Once again Bill P. reacted quickly and pushed the controls forward and dove
for some safe airspace. “He’s firing at us,” I yelled, as the flair like object rocketed
past our plane just missing us. As soon as I made my comment, the radio crackled
as the details of what just happened were transmitted to the other Customs
Under the circumstances, I would have loved the opportunity to open the
emergency window and pepper the drug plane with 30 rounds of ammunition
from my Colt CAR 15 assault rifle. Unfortunately, our rules of engagement
prevented us from defending ourselves in this fashion.
In anticipation of a possible stateside interdiction, our Black Hawk helicopter was cruising along the beach between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. As
we approached the coastline, the lights came on as night fall blanketed South
46 Nick Jacobellis
Florida in darkness. By the time we went feet dry (crossed over onto land), we
were pursing the smuggling aircraft over rush hour traffic.
No matter what this drug pilot did to elude capture, we managed to stay right
behind him, as if we were dog fighting with an enemy plane that just invaded
the United States. With no where else to go, the smuggler pilot in the Aztec set
up to land at the International Airport in Ft. Lauderdale. While our co-pilot
Dennis Del G. worked with the FAA and Customs Air Traffic Controllers, Bill
P. planted Emily on the Aztec’s tail, as the drug smuggling pilot made his final
approach to land.
A few seconds later we touched down right behind the drug plane. As we
continued our pursuit, I cracked the crew door open in anticipation of jumping
out to make my arrests. I knew that once I left Emily, I would be on my own
until the Black Hawk arrived, or Bill P. and Dennis Del G. were able to shut the
Aero Commander down and give me a hand.
While Bill P. was giving some last minute instructions to his co pilot, I spotted
the cockpit door on the bad guy plane open. Bill then reminded me to run around
the wing and not under it.
As soon as I acknowledged his advice, Bill called out, “Get ready!”
While I inched closer to the open cockpit door, I kept telling myself to
remember to run around the wing instead of under it, to avoid being decapitated.
(All Aero Commander aircraft had a high wing instead of more traditional
low wing. When the engines were off you could crouch down and walk under
Controlled Delivery Book I 47
the wing. When the engines were turning, you had to walk around the wing to
avoid being hit by the propeller.) As we continued to taxi down the runway, the
drug plane veered off to another taxiway toward a deserted part of the field. All
I could think about was getting to the bad guys, before they were able to exit
their aircraft and make a run for it.
Before Emily came to a complete stop, I jumped out and ran around the left
wingtip in order to safely execute this enforcement action. As soon as the Aztec
rolled to a stop, I knelt down behind the right wing and pointed my Colt CAR
15 assault rifle at the cockpit. The second the cockpit door opened, I yelled, “U.S.
Customs!” Once the two smugglers exited the aircraft and they made their way
down the wing, I grabbed the co-pilot/kicker by the hair and forced him down
to the ground. While I covered the pilot with my rifle, I ordered him to get face
down on the ground next to his friend. By the time the Customs Black Hawk
landed and inserted a bust crew, the two drug smugglers were in custody.
Just as I was recovering from a massive adrenaline rush, my Aviation Group
Supervisor informed me that he wanted another Air Officer to receive the credit
for making these arrests. My supervisor made this decision, because the other
Air Officer’s monthly stats were down. (Even though we were unable to make
an arrest for air dropping a drug shipment in Bahamian waters, we were able to
take the two smugglers into custody for their attempts to damage our aircraft in
flight and assault federal officers.) After shaking my head in disbelief, all I could
do was return to my aircraft and wait for Bill P. and Dennis Del G. to take me
48 Nick Jacobellis
as far away from this place as possible.
Under the circumstances, the flight back to Homestead AFB was a quite
one. Everyone knew I was disappointed to put it mildly. Once we landed, I
changed my clothes and used the fifty mile car ride home to cool my jets while I
considered all that transpired. As far as my supervisor was concerned, he ended
up making things up to me, by allowing me to run free and work in the field,
when I began to conduct air smuggling investigations.
Both drug pilots were later found guilty and were sentenced to four and five
years in federal prison for assaulting federal law enforcement officers. As I look
back on this incident, I can not help but think of all the talented people that
make up this job. Fortunately, we tended to have more laughs than disagreements.
The next time I flew with Bill P. we ended up chasing a smuggling aircraft
into another South Florida Airport. The picture that hangs in my den to this
day, shows me and Bill P. standing in front of the plane that we seized during
another nighttime interdiction mission. For the record, Bill P. was just like the
other Customs aviators mentioned in this book; a true professional who was a
pleasure to work with.
THE WORM TURNS
As the Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Customs in Miami at the time, Pat O’B.
was determined to find a way to enable us to be more effective in our interdiction
efforts. The way to accomplish this was to extend our area of operation deep
Controlled Delivery Book I 49
into the Caribbean. In order to legally extend our area of operation, Miami SAC
Pat O’B., Stuart S., from Customs Regional Counsel and a few other officials,
including the Customs Commissioner created a plan that resulted in a change in
federal law. This new law dramatically expanded our ability to interdict smugglers
well beyond our borders. With the U.S. Customs Service, the State Department
and the Bahamian Police working together, a plan was put in motion to create
a joint Bahamian-American Narcotics Drug Interdiction Team. The operation
was called BANDIT and few Americans are aware that it ever existed.
Before Operation Bandit changed the rules of engagement, the islands in the
Bahamas were a safe haven for smugglers; a place where smuggling aircraft and
vessels operated with little or no danger of being interdicted by Bahamian or U.S.
authorities. Operation BANDIT changed the rules of engagement and permitted
U.S. interdiction forces to operate in the Bahamas under strict guidelines. To
be more specific, Operation BANDIT authorized U.S. Customs Officers and
Agents to conduct joint interdiction operations in the Bahamas, as long as a
Bahamian Police Officer was on-board the American aircraft or vessel.
Operation Bandit enabled Bahamian police officers to be inserted into locations that they were unable to respond to on short notice without our assistance.
In other words, with our help, the Bahamian Police were now able to capture
smugglers in the act. This was often accomplished, by using our technology to
acquire the targets that our aircraft and vessels interdicted on behalf of our
50 Nick Jacobellis
Once Operation Bandit was initiated, anyone using a U.S. registered vessel
or aircraft to air drop, or attempt to introduce any illegal contraband within 250
miles of the United States, could be prosecuted under Title 19 United States
Code 1590. The days of smugglers having a free reign in the Bahamas with no
threat of U.S. intervention were over. We would eventually end up doing our
job so well, that many smugglers were forced to operate further away from their
traditional Bahamian drug sanctuaries. Please keep this in mind as you read on,
because this victory of sorts, proved to be one of the underlying reasons, why
the undercover operation featured in this book was initiated.
Even though the Bahamian-American Narcotics Drug Interdiction Team
(BANDIT) was no secret, it took a while before every drug pilot caught on.
During one interdiction mission that we flew, a pilot flying a smuggling aircraft
air dropped his load within sight of our coastline. When this drug smuggling
pilot flew into Ft. Lauderdale International Airport, he was surprised to see that
we were hot on his tail.
While one of our patrol boats picked up the contraband in international
waters, my colleagues and I in the U.S. Customs Black Hawk helicopter surrounded the smuggling aircraft as it rolled to a stop. The moment we placed the
confused drug pilot under arrest, he asked why he was being handcuffed. My
response was for violation of 19USC1590. As soon as I informed our prisoner
about the change in federal law, he remarked, “But you didn’t tell us about this.”
Naturally, when I responded, I asked our prisoner if we should have dropped
Controlled Delivery Book I 51
leaflets over the Bahamas and Colombia, to advise him and the other smugglers,
that a new federal law allowed us to make arrests under circumstances that were
previously prohibited? The worm had turned and it felt great to have the upper
hand over our otherwise elusive enemy.
Until the word got out, there were a number of very shocked and surprised
smugglers, who thought that they could drop a drug shipment to go fast boats
then land on a Bahamian Island, or fly into the U.S. and walk away free men. As
long as Bahamian cops were working with us, U.S. Customs Agents and Officers
could go anywhere in the Bahamas. Once we landed in Bahamian territory, the
Bahamian Constables took the lead and moved in to make the arrest. Our job
was to “protect the crew and our aircraft” unless summoned by the Bahamian
police to assist. When we operated in the United States, we jumped out first
and usually found the eager Bahamian cops toting their British Sterling 9mm
submachine guns as they followed us into action. It was pretty amazing stuff.
During the early stages of Operation BANDIT we confused the hell of a lot
of people in both countries. The rules of engagement had changed in our favor
and the U.S. and our Bahamian Allies started to kick-ass in plain English. In
time, we would force the smugglers so far south, that the incidents of airdrops
and land based deliveries on Bahamian islands by private aircraft decreased
Even though the front line of the Drug War in South Florida and the
Caribbean had shifted, there was plenty of work to be done. One of our biggest
52 Nick Jacobellis
problems was that we were generally too slow to react to new smuggling trends.
The solution was to remain flexible and not be afraid to be just as bold and
innovative as the smugglers were. Officials like Miami SAC Pat O’B, Stuart S.
and Customs Commissioner Carol H. did just that.
Controlled Delivery Book I 53
SMUGGLERS ON THE
While serving as a U.S. Customs Air Officer, I was just as interested in
flying drug interdiction missions as I was in learning how to conduct
air smuggling investigations. Early on in my career I adopted the attitude, that
if I was going to work with pilots I needed to know what made them tick. More
importantly, if I was going to start arresting pilots who were smugglers, I wanted
to know as much as I could about aviators, aircraft and flying. In other words,
I believed in the old adage, know your enemy. Learning how to fly and flying
drug interdiction missions in U.S. Customs aircraft, helped me in more ways
than one in this regard.
Before I could become a successful air smuggling investigator I had a lot to
learn. In addition to reading technical manuals and flying magazines, I constantly
asked questions and learned how fast and how far different aircraft could fly
with various amounts of fuel and cargo on board. I also had to learn which
planes were best suited for air drops. This included learning how crew and
cargo doors could be modified, to facilitate a successful airdrop and allow the
54 Nick Jacobellis
kicker to close the door in flight, once the drug shipment was jettisoned. Some
smuggling aircraft were also modified to accommodate an additional supply of
fuel in rubber bladders, metal tanks, or in 55 gallon drums. The more fuel and
cargo a plane carried, meant that it was limited in the number of people that
could be carried on board. Smugglers also had to maintain the “proper weight
and balance,” in order to insure the safe operation of their aircraft.
Thanks to my network of airport contacts and sources of information, I
seized a number of aircraft, that were modified in violation of federal law to
facilitate acts of smuggling. Becoming familiar with different types of illegal
modifications, was something that I learned in the field and not in a formal
While developing my skills as an Air Officer, I also learned, that a legitimate
FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) approved extra fuel system, is available
for a ONE WAY “ferry” permit. This type of permit allowed an aircraft to be
transported a long distance for a legitimate reason. To make this type of fuel
system an illegal installation, a smuggler would install the “ferry tanks” and not
file a notice with the FAA or get a 337 certificate. Drug smugglers were also
known, to keep a plane equipped with an additional fuel system and fly more
than the one flight than the ferry permit allowed.
My first big break as an Air Officer came, when a U.S. Customs Agent who
was getting ready to retire, introduced me to a contact of his at a local airport.
The day I met the documented source of information called Airport Sam, I
Controlled Delivery Book I 55
immediately knew that he was extremely knowledgeable about private aircraft,
as well as a wide variety of air and marine smuggling activities.
Even though Airport Sam was interested in working for Customs for the
money, I sensed early on in our relationship, that he liked the intrigue and also
enjoyed being one of the “good guys.” In addition to the fact that I personally
liked Airport Sam, I also found him to be very eager to work with an agent who
didn’t mind putting in long hours. In fact, as you will read, Airport Sam would
become one of the most active and reliable sources of information I ever had.
Initially, I focused my efforts on identifying aircraft that were being used
by smugglers, to fly drug shipments into the Bahamas and the CONUS
(Continental Unites States). This included locating aircraft that were fitted
with illegal fuel systems, that extended the range of a plane, so it could travel
farther without having to refuel.
During the first few months that we worked together, I was able to develop a
reputation for being an active air smuggling investigator. This reputation, along
with the experience that I developed, made it possible for me to get promoted
and become a Special Agent. Best yet, I was able to get assigned to the newly
formed Miami Air Smuggling Investigations Group 7.
Steve Minas was the first supervisor assigned to Group 7. Steve was the son
of a well respected Retired U.S. Customs Agent and one of the most devoted
special agents on the job. As a tribute to Steve, who passed away in 2016, he is
the only U.S. Customs Agent who I identify in this book by using his full name.
56 Nick Jacobellis
If there’s one person helping St. Peter to secure the borders that surround heaven,
it’s Steve Minas. Rest in peace my friend.
SAC MIAMI AIR GROUP 7-THE EARLY DAYS
Whether I was working air smuggling cases as an Air Officer or as a Special
Agent, I was pretty much a one man unit. This meant that I usually worked
out of the trunk of my car and dressed in comfortable clothes, while covering
the northern part of our area of operation. In fact, with the exception of Steve
Minas, I rarely if ever worked with any of the agents in my group. To his credit,
even though Steve was the Group Supervisor, he was available 24/7 to assist me
whenever I needed help.
The 1980s was also the end of an era, when federal agents and police detectives kicked in doors the old fashion way and made arrests without the help of
a SWAT Team. As an example, Steve Minas and I went on one raid together,
when we took a smuggler into custody, who was harassing a federal witness by
unleashing rats in the old ladies house. Needless to say, it was our pleasure to
take this demented soul into custody.
Throughout my career as a U.S. Customs Agent, I was absolutely intrigued
by all aspects of smuggling, especially air smuggling. While catching someone in
the act of smuggling was exhilarating, infiltrating a smuggling organization and
dismantling it from the inside out, was an adventure on par with the escapades
Controlled Delivery Book I 57
I should also point out, that even though I was operating in a target rich
environment, it still took a great deal of hard work to make a case. It was also
well known at the time, that a special agent was only as good as their informants
and sources of information. As I mention elsewhere in this book, the main
reason why I was successful in this regard, was because I was a “people person.”
I developed this skill at a very young age, while spending quality time with my
father and my paternal grandfather.
Whenever I spent time with my paternal grandfather, the man I was named
after, I thought he was the Major of New York City. I felt this way, because
everyplace we went, my grandfather seemed to know everyone we met on the
street. One reason for this, was because my grandfather and I never took a
subway train or a bus. Instead, we walked everywhere. As a result, we were always
meeting different people, when we walked from my house on East 29th Street
in Brooklyn, to my grandfather’s apartment building at 609 Rogers Avenue.
My paternal grandfather was also a great story teller. One of his favorite
topics was to tell me about his younger days in Italy and his time in the Italian
cavalry. Listening to my grandfather tell his stories, taught me to respect the
fact that other people had interesting things to say. Later on in life, I became
someone who was just as interested in relaying a good story, as I was in hearing
one. This became a critical attribute to have during my law enforcement career,
when I interacted with others.
In addition to being very entertaining, my grandfather was also very
58 Nick Jacobellis
instructive. Looking back, my grandfather seemed to be determined to pass
on as many pearls of wisdom as possible, right up until the end of his life. In
addition to what I learned from our time together, my paternal grandfather
made me feel very special, because he spent so much of his time with me. Even
though I didn’t realize it at the time, later on in life, I adopted the same trait
and made it a point to spend time with my informants, sources of information
and contract personnel.
My father was another people person, who got along just as well with strangers, store owners and casual acquaintances, as he did with close friends and
relatives. At a very young age my father and his father showed me the importance
of being sociable and interacting with others. My father also showed me how
you could get better treatment, better service and better deals, when you were
respectful and friendly.
One story worth repeating involves my younger years, when I though every
adult male in Brooklyn was named Johnny. This seemed to be the case, because
whenever my father was making a purchase, he would invariably remark in a
friendly fashion something to the effect of, “Hey, Johnny, you’re killing me. Can’t
you give me a better deal than this?”
The day finally came when I asked my father why Johnny was such a popular
name. He laughed and explained how he used the name Johnny as an icebreaker,
or a way to be more down to earth when he dealt with a stranger. Whatever he
did worked, because he usually got a better deal by being more personable. There
Controlled Delivery Book I 59
were also times when my father became a crafty SOB, who let whoever he was
dealing with know, that he would not be taken advantage of.
I probably learned the most about how to cultivate and maintain good contacts and work undercover, when I went with my father when he visited local
businessmen. One of his favorite stops was a bicycle shop that was owned by
two brothers. Another one of my father’s favorite stops was the local Oldsmobile
car dealership. He especially liked to drive one particular car salesman crazy.
I’m convinced that they had a mutual respect for each other and truly enjoyed
haggling over the price of a car.
Making these regular stops with my father instilled in me the importance
of taking the time to visit your network of contacts. In other words, people will
end up doing a lot more for you in the long run, when you spend more time with
them as a friend, as opposed to only stopping by because you need something.
As an example, if you need to develop information at a private airport, or in a
marina, you need to make regular visits to those locations that are more social in
nature than official. Buying someone lunch, or stopping by for a cup of coffee to
shoot the breeze, will do more for you in the long run, than if you come across
like a typical bureaucrat.
When my informants, sources of information and contract personnel gave me
valuable intelligence information, or performed a particular service, I didn’t get
up and leave once our business was concluded. Instead, I made it a point to be
sociable and spend time with them. I did so for several reasons. One reason was
60 Nick Jacobellis
because I liked people. I especially liked my core group of informants, sources of
information and contract personnel. Simply put, they were a colorful collection
of misfits, eccentrics, “angels with dirty faces” and patriots. I also learned a great
deal about air and marine smuggling, money laundering and operating private
aircraft, as a direct result of spending quality time with my network of contacts.
I should also point out, that my fellow agents and I were very selective, when
it came to allowing someone to become a member of our core group of sources
of information and contract personnel. As an example, two people who worked
for us on one particular operation never made it into the core group and were cut
from the team. Another person who wanted to work for us was never recruited,
when another Customs Agent told me to avoid this individual at all cost.
I also didn’t think it was appropriate to treat the people who were providing
valuable information and assistance like a prostitute. As a result, my fellow special
agents and I maintained a friendly professional relationship with our informants
and sources of information.
My father and my grandfather were “regular” guys. There was nothing pretentious about them. The example they set, as well as their mentoring, made
it possible for me to recruit, direct and control some of the most successful
informants, sources of information and contract personnel who ever worked
for a law enforcement agency.
Controlled Delivery Book I 61
ESCAPE, EVASION AND SURVIVAL
For as long as I live I will never forget January 8, 1987. One this particular night,
I just finished working on some paperwork at the Group 7 office and was walking
to my car to go home, when I heard the air operations scramble alarm over the
loudspeaker. The moment I spotted U.S. Customs Pilot John R. run to his car
and grab his gear, I went over to see what was going on.
As soon as John R. said that they were “short in the back,” I eagerly volunteered to go along. Once I grabbed my Colt CAR 15 rifle and my helmet bag, that
contained my flight suit, survival vest, raid jacket, water, food and extra ammo
from the truck of my G-ride, I ran out to the flight line to join the others. By
the time I jumped in the back of the Black Hawk helicopter, U.S. Customs Pilot
Gene P. and John R. were turning over the engines and preparing to take off.
As any U.S. Customs Pilot or Air Officer will tell you, whenever we scrambled, we never knew where we would end up, or what would happen during
each mission. Despite being well armed with weapons and survival equipment,
U.S. Customs aviators wore military flight suits, military issue flight jackets
and other police and military gear, so we could operate anywhere at anytime.
This included, being trained and equipped to participate in different types of
enforcement actions, while operating on different types of terrain, in different
It was part of the adventure to buckle up and go feet wet, then race over the
ocean in hot pursuit of drug smugglers. As I am sure many of my colleagues
62 Nick Jacobellis
will agree, we never thought about the dangers of ditching at sea, or what might
happen once we jumped out to make an arrest with little or no backup. In fact,
I personally believe, that U.S. Customs aviators operated with the same level of
enthusiasm, as U.S. military aircrews during a combat mission.
As soon as we lifted off, Gene P. received the clearance from the Air Force
control tower to transverse the active runway. In less than eight minutes, we were
feet wet and racing into the darkness, toward a target that was being tracked near
Bimini Island. Because our Bahamian Police escort was off that night, we were
bound by the old rules of engagement. This meant that we were prohibited from
taking enforcement action in the Bahamas. Nevertheless, we went on this mission
to accomplish as much as we could, while operating within the boundaries of
While we were hauling ass over the ocean, our crew in the Citation Jet was
monitoring the activities of a Cessna 210, that was making its way toward Bimini
Island. During this intercept, a U.S. Coast Guard Falcon 20 Jet joined up with
our Citation Jet.
When we were about eight miles away from Bimini, we were notified that the
target aircraft was descending for either an air drop or a night landing. A second
or so later, we were advised that “the bogey” crashed. During this particular
mission, I was sitting in the starboard side door-gunners window seat behind
John R. As soon as I looked over John’s shoulder, I saw a huge fireball light up
the night’s sky off in the distance. Once again, my colleagues and I had a front
Controlled Delivery Book I 63
row seat to the action, in a conflict that was being waged while tourists enjoyed
the night life of South Florida.
Based on the size of the fireball, Gene P. and John R agreed that there was
nothing more for us to do, so they turned the Black Hawk around and headed
back to the barn (slang for our base). Shortly after we turned around, the U.S.
Coast Guard asked us to fly over the crash site and check for survivors. Without
hesitating, John R. turned the Black Hawk back around and flew straight toward
the burning wreckage, that illuminated the sky above Bimimi Island.
As soon as we arrived over Bimini and we made our first low level pass over
the crash site, I could not believe my eyes, as I leaned all the way out of the open
door gunner’s window and called out over the intercom, “We’ve got survivors
As soon as our Pilot in Command ( John R.) remarked, “What!” he banked
the Black Hawk in a tight right turn and slowed her down to a gentle hover.
After hearing my report, Gene Parker immediately radioed the U.S. Customs
Citation Jet crew, to report that we had two survivors wading ashore. It was also
easy to see, that the survivor wearing the white pilot’s uniform shirt appeared
to be in pretty bad shape.
Based on our report from the crash site, the U.S. Coast Guard notified the
authorities in Nassau, Bahamas and requested authorization for us to land and
conduct a rescue operation. I could not believe my ears, when we were ordered
three times not to land. The U.S. Coast Guard then asked us to stay over the
64 Nick Jacobellis
crash site and wait until a U.S.C.G. helicopter from Opa Locka Air Station
arrived in forty-five minutes.
As soon as we received this news, the sea below became filled with go-fast
boats running lights out. These “suspected” Bahamian drug smuggling vessels
showed up like vultures, to recover any contraband that floated free of the
burning wreckage. It was truly an amazing site to behold, as we circled above
the crash site in our intimidating behemoth of a helicopter, while we waited for
the U.S. Coast Guard to arrive.
At the request of the United States Coast Guard, our new mission was to
keep an eye on the injured pilot and refuse to let any of the smuggling vessels
pick him up. Best yet, we had to accomplish this impossible task without landing.
For the next forty-five minutes, we yanked and banked, dove and climbed for
one hell of a ride, as we waited for the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter to arrive on
station. In the meantime, the fire from the “suspected” smuggling aircraft burned
for almost forty-five full minutes, before it extinguished itself.
Because the “suspected” drug plane ditched within a stones throw of the
beach, it was easy to keep the injured drug pilot and his kicker under surveillance.
Every time one of the go fast boats tried to move in closer to shore, we would
swoop down and scare the living shit out of the bad guys with our enormously
large and loud low flying black helicopter.
After thirty minutes of playing games with the Bahamian boat crews, the
pilot of the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter called us on the radio, to advise that he
Controlled Delivery Book I 65
was ten minutes out and on the way. That was the good news. The bad news was,
that after waiting all this time, the U.S.C.G. refused to land without an armed
escort to protect their rescue party. U.S. Coast Guard personnel weren’t stupid.
They felt that the situation was too risky, to put two unarmed crew members
on a Bahamian Island in the middle of an apparent drug deal. The U.S. Coast
Guard then contacted us and asked if we could assign an armed U.S. Agent to
provide security for their rescue party.
When a radio report advised that Bahamian cops were on the island and were
ready to assist us, I sat back in my seat and wondered where these Bahamian
cops had been since we arrived on station. We had been hovering over that
stretch of beach for some time and had not seen anyone except for the injured
pilot and his associate.
The next time John R’s voice came over the intercom, he asked for a volunteer to be placed on the U.S. Coast Guard helicopter. Since our Black Hawk
Helicopter was not equipped with a transporter beam, the only way that we
could transfer the lucky volunteer over to the U.S. Coast Guard chopper was to
land on Bimimi. This automatically posed a bit of a problem, because we were
previously ordered not to land on Bahamian soil. Despite the risks involved, I
eagerly volunteered to help rescue the badly injured suspected drug smuggling
Without wasting any time, the U.S. Customs Black Hawk helicopter raced
back to the nearby runway to drop me off. Once the Black Hawk landed, I
66 Nick Jacobellis
jumped out and handed my Colt CAR-15 rifle to an Air Officer. I did so, because
this was supposed to be a “rescue” mission, not an enforcement action. As soon
as the Black Hawk lifted off, the crew waved to me, as the chopper returned to
the U.S. Customs Air Branch complex at Homestead Air Force Base.
While I stood on the edge of the runway, it hit me that I was all alone, on an
island that was a popular location for smugglers to use as a base, before making
the final 37 mile run into South Florida. As I crouched down and scanned the
area around the runway, I realized how crazy I was, for volunteering to help the
Coast Guard rescue a badly burned suspected drug smuggling pilot.
Eventually, a spotlight illuminated the sky off in the distance as the U.S. Coast
Guard helicopter made “a B52 approach” in order to pick me up on the runway.
As the searchlight got closer, I stood up and used my U.S. Navy issue flashlight
to signal the crew. Once the chopper set down, I ran over, jumped inside and
knelled between the two pilots.
“OK, we’ll lower you down when we get over the beach,” said the U.S. Coast
Guard pilot as we lifted off. As I looked around, I saw the crew chief preparing
the harness that I would wear as I was lowered over the side of the chopper.
Under the circumstances, all I could do was roll my eyes in complete disbelief,
that I could have been so stupid as to cheerfully volunteer for this mission.
In a matter of seconds we were over the beach. Unfortunately, by the time
we arrived, one of the go-fast boats made its way to shore and had the badly
injured pilot on board. The remaining go fast boats were also in the immediate
Controlled Delivery Book I 67
area. This meant that not much changed, as far as the potential security problem
“OK, we’ll lower you here,” said the Coast Guard pilot, as he put the chopper
into a stable hover.
“No way,” I said, before I quickly added, “The rules have just changed. I’m
not getting lowered down on top of some druggie go-fast boat.”
As the pilot sized up the situation and realized that I was not about to follow
his order, he glanced back at me and said, “What’s next?”
“Time to go to Plan B,” I said.
When the Pilot asked, “What’s that?”
I shook my head I said, “I don’t know, but this isn’t it.”
While the Coast Guard pilot flew the helicopter back to the runway, I considered my options, as far as the best way to accomplish our mission. During
the very short flight back to the runway on Bimini, the Coast Guard PIC (Pilot
in Command) radioed the two jets circling overhead, to tell them that things
looked hostile on the beach. (No shit!)
As soon as we landed, a voice on the radio reported that “Nassau” said it was
safe to land and that the Bahamian police were standing by to turn the injured
pilots over to us. All I could do was shake my head and wish that the person on
the radio was going with me, since he thought it was safe to go for a walk on the
beach in this neighborhood.
After hearing the last radio message, the U.S. Coast Guard PIC looked back
68 Nick Jacobellis
at me and said, “Would you take my crew chief and paramedic down to the
beach on foot?”
As I unbuckled the harness, I keyed the headset mic and said, “Lets get
this over with.” Within seconds we were out of the chopper. After we ducked
down and ran out from under the rotating blades, we stood off to the side for
a second to assemble. When the crew chief asked me, “Which way do we go,
Sir?” I looked at the polite Crew Chief and motioned him to follow me as I
remarked, “This way.”
As I led the way down to the beach, all I could think about was how much
I hated being called Sir. Once we entered the trail at the edge of the runway,
we became enveloped in some heavy brush. This particular path looked as if it
had been used many times in the past, to carry drug shipments from planes to
awaiting boats on the beach. We didn’t get very far, when the three of us froze,
as the bushes ahead of us rustled with activity. When two Bahamians dressed
in civilian “street” clothes came closer, I heard the crew chief say, “Oh shit,” in a
low tone of voice.
Under the circumstances, I instinctively reacted by drawing my 9mm pistol,
while I glanced back at the crew chief and said, “Chief, we’re about to create an
international incident.” As I looked back down the trail, in the direction of the
beach, I yelled, “U.S. Customs! Don’t move!””
The second I relayed my command, the two Bahamians froze and called with
their British accents, “Don’t shoot, Mon. Come with us. We’ll take you to them.”
Controlled Delivery Book I 69
As I holstered my pistol, I approached the two Bahamians and asked if they
were Bahamian Police Officers. When I got no answer, the two fairly well dressed
Bahamian men turned and walked toward the beach. Once again, I shook my
head and led our rescue party on our mission of mercy.
A few seconds later, we emerged on a beautiful stretch of beach that would
have been a nice place to spend some time, if it was located in South Florida.
From a security standpoint, the bad news was that there were several Bahamians
on board the go-fast boats that were parked in shallow water along the beach.
Others were standing near their vessels.
Standing on the bow of one of the boats, was the badly burned “suspected”
drug smuggling pilot, who was screaming at the top of his lungs that we shot
him down. Needless to say, this was pure bullshit, because those of us who were
flying in the Black Hawk were some eight miles away, when the aircraft crashed
in shallow water along the beach. Since it is impossible to open the door on a
Citation Jet in flight, it was also impossible for our Citation crew to shoot this
While I provided security, the Crew Chief helped the female paramedic get
the badly burned pilot down from one of the Bahamian go fast boats. As soon
as the female Coast Guard paramedic escorted the badly burned pilot back to
the chopper, the Crew Chief asked me to help him get the other crew member.
Just about this time, a short Bahamian in a dirty blue uniform police shirt, who
was carrying a Belgium FAL assault rifle and a rusted 12 gauge shotgun with a
70 Nick Jacobellis
cracked stock emerged from the crowd.
When the two gun toting Bahamian in the blue police shirt asked me to
follow him, I responded and said, “Where to?” as I looked around and continued
to size up the situation.
“The other one is down the beach. He needs help too,” said the local cop.
At this point, the U.S. Coast Guard crew chief asked if I would mind, if
he left to help the female paramedic take the badly injured pilot back to their
helicopter. For some reason unknown to me at the time, I stopped and turned
to face the Crew Chief and said, “You better wait for me. Don’t go leaving me
After assuring me that they would wait for me, the Coast Guard Crew Chief
quickly added, “Go get the other guy and meet us back at the chopper.” A split
second later, the Crew Chief ran off to catch up with the female paramedic and
her badly burned patient.
Now I was getting concerned. My instincts told me that this was not a good
situation to be in. As a result, my first reaction was to offer to help the local
constable by carrying one of his weapons. If the shit hit the fan I figured a long
gun might prove handier than my pistol. It was also at this time, that I regretted
leaving my rifle in the Customs helicopter. As I said before, the only reason I
did so, was because this was supposed to be a rescue mission. What a mistake
After we made our way a little further down the beach, I stopped and turned
Controlled Delivery Book I 71
to my little sidekick and remarked, “Hey, where is this guy? You said he was a
few hundred yards away.” When the Bahamian constable responded, he pointed
into the nearby patch of brush and said that the other injured bad guy was no
longer on the beach, but in the bush.
As I looked into the overgrown vegetation along the beach, all I could see
was a lot of darkness. I can’t explain it, but I instinctively knew that trouble
was close by. “No way. This is it.” I said. Then, as I looked the Constable in the
face, I remarked, “If this guy is healthy enough to run away, he doesn’t need to
The little Bahamian cop persisted. “Come with me, Mon. You can help me
arrest him in there,” again pointing into the brush along the beach.
Without wasting any time I faced the Bahamian Constable and remarked,
“Forget it, my friend. I gotta go. If you want him arrested, call DEA, ‘cause I’m
outta here.” The second I turned to leave, I heard the distinctive sound of the U.S.
Coast Guard helicopter as it streaked over my head and kept going. I’ll never
forget how I looked up at the orange and white U.S. Coast Guard helicopter,
as it left me alone, on this God forsaken Bahamian island that catered to drug
smugglers. About all I could say was, “Son of a bitch,”
When the Bahamian cop looked at me and remarked, “They left you behind,
Mon,” the only thing I could think to say was, “No shit.”
As I began to walk away, I had no idea how I was going to get back home
in one piece. To make matters worse, by the time I made my way back to the
72 Nick Jacobellis
vicinity of the crash site the armada of go-fast boats were pulled up on the beach
by their crews. This resulted in a rather unfriendly crowd forming, with several
Bahamian go-fast boat operators making fun of my predicament.
I knew my situation was getting worse, when one of the Bahamians, who I
had every reason to believe was a smuggler, called out, “Mr. Customs Mon. Why
don’t you let us give you a ride back to Miami?”
As soon as the crowd laughed at my expense, I did my best to sound friendly
when I responded and said, “No thanks.”
When another Bahamian remarked, “Come with us, Mon and we’ll take you
for a ride down the coast,” I decided that it was time to nip this bullshit in the
bud, before things got real ugly. As far as I was concerned, the only course of
action that made sense was to show the “Pirates of the Caribbean,” that I was
not going to be taken advantage of without a fight.
As soon as I stopped walking and I turned to face the crowd, I had no idea
what I could or should do, or what the crowd would do next. Fortunately, the
Bahamians made the first move, when a rather large Bahamian wearing a Mr. T
starter set of gold chains and a gold watch, stepped forward and squared off with
me. When the obvious leader of this group spoke with a British type Bahamian
accent, he sounded dead serious when he said, “Hey, Mon, your friends left you
behind. Where do you think you’re going, Mon? This is an island.”
Before I responded, I looked up and scanned the sky hoping to see a U.S.
Customs Black Hawk helicopter streak overhead, but this aircraft was no-where
Controlled Delivery Book I 73
in sight. Neither were the two jets. This meant that I was all alone and left to
fend for myself. As I felt what little control there was fading away, I remembered
what the New York City Police Academy instructors said about how to react in
a dirty street fight. It was time to let the Bahamians know, that I was not to be
fucked with and to do so without provoking them.
I should also mention that the Bahamian cop who was armed with a FAL
assault rifle and a shotgun was standing quietly off to the side of crowd. As far as
I was concerned, this Bahamian Constable represented absolutely no authority
on this island. If he did, he would have come to my defense early on, but that
was apparently too much to ask of this particular Bahamian policeman. Even
the two Bahamians who we met earlier, never showed their faces and proved to
be no help at all.
After weighting my options, I drew my 9mm pistol and held it by my side as
I took a step closer to the rather large Bahamian. Since I had absolutely nothing
to lose, I ignored the crowd and looked their apparent leader in the eyes and
said, “I’m leaving and nobody follows me, understand.” When the big Bahamian
asked me where I was going, I continued to look him right in the eyes when I
remarked, “To make a phone call.”
As soon as I finished speaking, I continued to face the unfriendly crowd, as
I backed into the vegetation that ran along the beach. Once I was out of sight,
I took off running and headed inland. All I could think about as I ran was the
music of the song “Runin Through the Jungle” by Credance Clearwater Revival.
74 Nick Jacobellis
It’s amazing what goes through your mind at a time like this. In addition
to thinking about a song that fit my predicament, I also remembered the three
words that were the motto of the U.S. Air Force Water Survival School that I
had attended. ESCAPE, EVASION, SURVIVAL! So far I had escaped and I
was evading. Now, I needed to survive.
Once I found a suitable place to hide out, I took stock of my equipment and
supplies. In addition to my 9mm service pistol and four magazines, I had my
five shot .38 Special Smith & Wesson revolver, some extra revolver ammunition,
a USMC K Bar Knife, my Navy issue crook neck flashlight and pack of cigarettes that I didn’t need, because I didn’t want to give my position away. Since I
wasn’t taking prisoners, I forgot about my handcuffs and continued to quickly
go through my pockets and came up with a pack of chewing gum and oh yes,
my portable radio.
To make myself less of a target I turned my raid jacket inside out and tied it
around my waist over my green Nomex flight suit. I did this, to prevent the day
glow yellow letters that spelled U.S. CUSTOMS on the back and the agent’s
badge that was on the front from being seen from a distance. I then pulled out
my radio and began to broadcast in a low but steady voice. I stopped when I
realized that there was no radio repeater on Bimini Island.
At this point, I resigned myself to accept the fact, that I was trapped for a
while, until someone realized that I was Missing in Action. Holy shit I thought
was I in trouble. A split second later, a strange sense of calmness came over me
Controlled Delivery Book I 75
like a protective blanket and I actually started to grin. I then thought of a U.S.
Customs Pilot friend of mine, who told me what it was like when he was shot
down during the Vietnam War and how he evaded the NVA for three days
until he was rescued.
This was 1987 and I was only thirty-seven miles from the USA, yet I might
as well have been on the other side of the world. As I took cover in the most
defensible position I could find, I did my best to remain quiet and calm. In fact,
I became so in tune with my surroundings, I was able to listen to the mosquito’s
After what seemed like an eternity, I heard the distinctive sound of the Black
Hawk helicopter, as this massive jet black flying machine raced back and forth
over Bimini Island looking for me. As I broke from cover, I knew that yelling
would be of no use. Fortunately, I remained calm and had the presence of mind
to use my U.S. Navy flashlight to signal the Black Hawk chopper crew. Luckily,
Air Officer Bill H. spotted my light. Once that happened, the U.S. Customs
helicopter turned around and hovered near my position.
The bad news was that I was in a location where the large helicopter could
not land due to the presence of so much vegetation. Once the Black Hawk pilots
spotted a suitable place to land, they flew over to this location and made wide
circles, as a way to let me know where they would be able to pick me up,
With my pistol in hand, I ran toward the clearing where the Black Hawk
was circling. As soon as I broke through the brush into a rather large clearing,
76 Nick Jacobellis
U.S. Customs Pilots John R. and Gene P. came in so fast, I saw the tires on the
XXXL size U.S. military chopper compress, as the Black Hawk made contact
with the ground.
While I ran toward the Black Hawk, someone opened the cargo door all the
way, just in time for me to jump inside. The second I landed in the cargo bay,
Gene P. pulled pitch and we took off as if we were leaving a hot LZ in time of
war. As soon as I saw the smiling faces of the crew, I smiled back and gave them
the thumbs up.
On the flight back to Homestead Air Force Base, I heard the story of how
the U.S. Coast Guard Pilots took off as soon as the badly burned pilot was
placed on board their aircraft. Worse yet, the U.S. Customs Service was never
told of my whereabouts, until our Black Hawk crew inquired via radio about
the status of the rescue mission. It was also at this time, that our Black Hawk
Pilot in Command advised the Coast Guard, that a car would be sent to Miami
to pick me up. The reason for this was because Black Hawk helicopters were too
big to land on the helipad at Jacksonville Memorial Hospital in Miami. From
what I was told, the U.S. Coast Guard response was, “Oh, we left your agent
on the beach.”
As soon as they heard that the U.S. Coast Guard crew left me behind, the
U.S. Customs Black Hawk crew raced back to Bimini to locate yours truly. This
incident was investigated and naturally nothing happened. The U.S. Coast Guard
helicopter crew admitted to leaving me behind and said they did so, because
Controlled Delivery Book I 77
the security problem for their crew ended, once the injured party was placed on
board their chopper. (Unbelievable!)
To this day, I still find it hard to believe, that I was placed in jeopardy, because
a U.S. Coast Guard pilot thought the life of an injured “suspected” drug smuggler
was more important, than the life of a U.S. Agent. My kids deserved to be raised
by their father and not by the flag that would be presented to their mother at
my funeral. I risked my life for this particular U.S. Coast Guard aircrew and
the least they should have done, was wait for me to return to their helicopter.
For the record, the U.S. Coast Guard is an outstanding organization. History
is filled with numerous instances, when U.S. Coast Guard personnel performed
countless acts of bravery in both war and peace. That said, as far as I am concerned, the U.S. Coast Guard Pilot who decided to leave me behind, made a
really bad call and should have been severely disciplined for doing so.
78 Nick Jacobellis
MAKING THE TRANSITION
TO UNDERCOVER AGENT
Rather than plunge right into the primary focus of this book, I thought
it would be beneficial to explain how I made the transition from criminal
investigator to undercover agent. I also thought it would be beneficial to introduce you to some of the key players involved in this true story. To accomplish
this, I decided to explain how I met the men I would recruit to serve in The
Blade Runner Squadron.
AIRPORT SAM, THE GAMBLER, MAJOR TOM & THE COLONEL
As I stated earlier, Airport Sam proved to be incredibly knowledgeable when it
came to identifying private aircraft that were configured for smuggling. Airport
Sam was also the documented source of information who enabled me to initiate an investigation into one of South Florida’s most successful smuggling
It was also through Airport Sam that I met The Gambler aka Mr. Lucky and
Major Tom, two private pilots employed in private aviation, who were also very
eager to work for me as documented sources of information. The Gambler aka
Controlled Delivery Book I 79
Mr. Lucky was a military veteran with a pilot’s license who made a good living
buying and selling planes and running various businesses. Major Tom was a
highly decorated Vietnam era helicopter pilot, who flew cargo planes then went
into private aviation. Major Tom also happened to be the only African American
to serve in our unit. Both The Gambler and Major Tom were real characters,
who enjoyed trick fucking bad guys as much as everyone else who worked with
us. Personally, I’m glad they were on our side.
Once The Gambler helped me make some cases, he introduced me to another
private pilot I recruited and called The Colonel aka Captain Mona. The concept
of networking continued throughout my career as a U.S. Customs Agent, when
my contract pilots, sources of information and confidential informants continued
to introduce me to people, who were eager to work undercover for Uncle Sam.
I had another big break in my career, when Group 7 Supervisor Steve Minas
asked me to become the control agent for a confidential informant that he wanted
to me to work with. Steve believed that a Cuban American informant I ended
up calling Hombre de la Calle (Man of the Street) aka Gordo (Chubby, Fatso),
had a great deal of potential and needed to be properly directed.
I was nominated to be Hombre’s control agent, because (as I was told)
another agent who didn’t act quickly enough, lost out on using the information
that this informant provided, to make a major drug seizure. According to Steve
80 Nick Jacobellis
Minas, instead of the U.S. Customs Service being able to make this case, another
agency ended up seizing thousands of pounds of marijuana.
While on the surface this might not seem to be a big deal, the Customs
Service was unable to pay Hombre de la Calle the payment that he deserved,
because our agency did not receive credit for making this particular drug seizure.
Steve also knew that you increased the chances of making other major cases,
when your informants, sources of information and contract employees were well
paid and loyal to your agency.
The day Steve took me to the Little Havana section of Miami near Calle
Ocho (8th Street) and he introduced me to Hombre, I instantly knew that we
would get along just fine. Knowing that Hombre was a former smuggler who
never got caught didn’t bother me one bit. In fact, if anything, I liked the idea
that my newly documented Cuban informant was a survivor, who was smart
enough to voluntarily change sides before the authorities were able to close in
on him. Besides, U.S. Customs Agents tended to have the most diverse types of
informants, sources of information and contract employees of any federal law
enforcement agency. Our list of “human assets” included commercial and private airport workers, licensed pilots, marina owners, merchant marine captains,
merchant seamen, convicted felons, defendant informants, law abiding citizens
and corporate executives.
Immediately after we got acquainted, Hombre told me that two drug traffickers from California were on their way to Miami with $500,000 to pick up 20
Controlled Delivery Book I 81
kilos of cocaine. To be even more specific, Hombre added that these two drug
traffickers would be driving a car with Wyoming license plates. Sure enough,
after working a surveillance for two days with the Miami Police Department
Narcotics Unit, the two subjects arrived in South Florida as expected.
After conducting a mobile surveillance from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale, a trip
that involved me deputizing the Miami cops as U.S. Customs Officers, we used
a police dog from the Broward County Sheriff ’s Office to alert on the car that
the two subjects were driving. After writing a search warrant and visiting a judge
in the early hours of the morning, the Miami PD narcotics cops and I opened
the luggage that we found in the trunk and seized $530,011 in drug money. In
addition to being a decent size money seizure, this case established the credibility
of Home de la Calle, a documented source of information, who would become a
major player in the undercover operation that is the main focus of this true story.
Another case that had a direct impact on the undercover air operation that
I would eventually initiate, involved me being introduced to a source of information who helped me seize a private plane that was intended to be used by
Colombian smugglers. During this investigation, The Gambler and Major Tom
introduced me to a pilot I ended up recruiting and calling Captain Video aka
CAPTAIN VIDEO AKA CAPTAIN CUERVO
According to The Gambler and Major Tom, a pilot friend of theirs had
82 Nick Jacobellis
information about a Colombian who was looking to purchase an expensive
aircraft for a smuggling venture. Just as they had described, the man I ended up
calling Captain Video turned out to be another colorful character with a great
sense of humor, who was extremely reliable and trustworthy.
Rather than work this case alone, I received help from FBI Agent Kenny
P. and his partner Agent Rick C. While Kenny P. was the senior of the two
agents, Rick C. was an experienced younger G Man. Kenny and Rick proved
especially helpful, when I needed to cover Captain Video whenever he met with
the Colombian subject of this investigation. In the end, we decided not to risk
exposing Captain Video in order to make a more substantial case. Instead, I
settled for the technical violation that enabled me to seize the plane that Captain
Video identified as the aircraft that the Colombian intended to use in a smuggling
Doing so enabled me to protect Captain Video’s identity as a documented
source of information for the U.S. Customs Service, while also paying him for
the seizure of such an expensive private aircraft. This case also enabled me to
establish Captain Video’s reliability as a documented source of information. In
the process, we became very close friends on a professional basis. As you will
read, Captain Video would later join Airport Sam, The Gambler, Major Tom,
the Colonel, Hombre de la Calle and others as a member of the SAC Miami
Group 7 undercover air operation.
Controlled Delivery Book I 83
Every federal agent needs a major case to jump-start their career. At the time,
a major investigation like Operation Excalibur was often referred to as a GS13
case. This meant, that any special agent who successfully initiated and completed
an investigation of such magnitude, was usually considered a shoe in for a promotion to a GS13 (Senior Special Agent) position.
Before I go any further, I need to explain how I initiated the U.S. Customs
end of this complex investigation of international significance. I first became
interested in the owner of the Royal Motorcar Dealership, when I was driving
home late one night and I stopped to admire the exotic cars that were on display
in the showroom. Even though I had driven by 1624 E. Sunrise Boulevard on
numerous occasions, something caused me to stop that night and take a closer
While I admired the showroom full of exotic cars, I had a premonition
that this dealership was a front for a criminal enterprise. When I say I had a
premonition, I mean, that there was no doubt in my mind that the day would
come, when I would be able to prove, that this particular exotic car dealership
was backed by drug money. As a result, there was also no doubt in my mind,
that I would seize this establishment at some point in my career.
IT’S A SMALL WORLD AFTER ALL
As I mentioned before, after becoming an Air Officer I started working with a
84 Nick Jacobellis
documented source of information I called Airport Sam. One night after making
another seizure based on his super reliable information, I took Airport Sam out
for dinner, to explain the other ways that he might be able to help me make cases.
During this discussion, I explained in more detail, that U.S. Customs Agents
could make money laundering cases and seize businesses and other assets, as long
as we could prove that these items of value were purchased with the proceeds
from criminal activity.
That night I realized that we live in a very small world, when an enlightened
Airport Sam, told me about a smuggling organization that used the money they
made from drug smuggling, to purchase all kinds of expensive assets, including an
exotic car dealership called Royal Motorcar. As I continued to listen to Airport
Sam, I couldn’t believe my ears. My documented source of information knew
enough about the smugglers behind the Royal Motorcar dealership, to enable
me to open a criminal investigation. Was this unbelievable, or what?
After thoroughly debriefing Airport Sam, I briefed Steve Minas and opened
a case on the exotic car dealership and the smugglers involved in the group called
the Excalibur Organization. In addition to Airport Sam, the confidential source I
called The Gambler aka Mr. Lucky had his own insight into the Excalibur smuggling organization. The Gambler was also able to provide me with some valuable
intelligence information on the Excalibur Organization, that corroborated some
of the information that Airport Sam provided me with. This meant, that I had
two reliable sources providing the same intelligence information about a major
Controlled Delivery Book I 85
South Florida drug smuggling organization.
NOW THE FUN BEGINS
Shortly after I opened this investigation, I received a phone call from a high
ranking DEA supervisor, who was pissed off to no end, that I had the nerve
to initiate a case, that he didn’t believe was within the jurisdiction of the U.S.
Customs Service. Needless to say, I was right and he was wrong, because the
U.S. Customs Service was 110% justified to investigate the crime of money
At that time, the term currency/narcotics was used to describe a criminal
investigation that involved the laundering of money by smuggling organizations.
In fact, using this term in a conversation, was often enough to make some DEA
Agents turn green. Whether DEA liked it or not, U.S. Customs Agents were
authorized to investigate any individual, group, criminal organization, or corporation that used the proceeds/money raised from ANY criminal activity, including
DRUG SMUGGLING, for any purposes, including purchasing items of value.
It also pissed me off to no end, that this particular DEA manager, a man
that I came to have a great deal of respect for, was giving me a ration of shit
over what he considered a jurisdictional issue. In fact, during this rather heated
telephone conversation, I told this high ranking DEA manager, that if he had a
problem with me initiating this investigation, he should call the Special Agent
in Charge, not me.
86 Nick Jacobellis
Eventually, a temporary cease fire was called and my request to have this investigation become an OCEDEF case was approved. This meant that Operation
Excalibur would be a multi-agency task force investigation that included the U.S.
Customs Service, DEA, the IRS, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Broward
County Sheriff ’s Office. In the end, this joint investigation led to a 57 count
indictment against thirteen key figures in one of South Florida’s most successful
drug smuggling organizations.
In order to make this case, I worked with another U.S. Customs Agent
(Dave D.), a DEA Agent, IRS Special Agent Rick K. and two detectives from
the Broward County Sheriff ’s Office. For the record, Broward County Sheriff ’s
Office Detectives Dan De C. and Billy B. were without question two of THE
BEST cops I ever worked with in my entire law enforcement career.
While working together, we gathered the evidence necessary to prove, that
the subjects of this investigation smuggled 6.9 tons of cocaine and 12,000
pounds of marijuana from Colombia through the Bahamas into South Florida.
After a great deal of hard work, that was periodically interrupted by serious
inter-agency conflicts between the Customs Service and DEA, my colleagues
and I gathered enough evidence to make our case against the smugglers in the
On April 13, 1987, a joint task force of U.S. Customs, DEA and IRS Agents
along with members of the Broward County Sheriff ’s Office and the Miami
Metro Dade Police Department executed a number of arrest, seizure warrants
Controlled Delivery Book I 87
and search warrants. By the end of the day, we had completely dismantled the
Excalibur smuggling organization, by arresting all thirteen major violators and
seizing approximately $7 million dollars in drug assets, including six aircraft,
29 exotic cars, 46 weapons, 1000 rounds of ammunition, expensive jewelry,
including gold Rolex watches, one go-fast racing boat, fur coats, coin collections,
radios, mobile phones, beepers, expensive household items and a custom made
Operation Excalibur was a screaming success, especially since it wasn’t an
every day occurrence, that the United States Government was able to seize the
contents of an exotic car dealership that was used to launder money for a drug
smuggling organization. After the successful completion of Operation Excalibur,
I paid Airport Sam and The Gambler AKA Mr. Lucky $250,000 for providing
the original information that enabled me to initiate this case on behalf of the
U.S. Customs Service.
As a result of this investigation, I was able to further establish my working
relationship with Airport Sam and The Gambler; two sources of information
who were directly responsible for me being able to create the undercover operation that is the primary focus of this true story. It was also as a direct result of
the overwhelming success of Operation Excalibur, that I was able to enhance
my reputation as a self-starter and approach my superiors for permission to
establish a rather unique type of undercover air operation.
88 Nick Jacobellis
BREAKING AWAY FROM
n October of 1988, I took a long hard look at the resources at my disposal
and decided to venture out into uncharted territory. As busy as we were in
Group 7, not one agent was able “to put a load of dope on the table” (make a
drug seizure) in the U.S. This was the case, because in the early days of Group
7, the U.S. Customs Agents assigned to this unit didn’t have any informants or
sources of information who were able to facilitate the seizure of a drug shipment.
We did aggressively try to indict drug contraband by secretly installing court
ordered tracking devices on suspect smuggling aircraft, but even this tactic did
not prove to be very successful.
It is also important to remember, what I said about the major victory that
U.S. and Bahamian interdiction forces achieved in the Caribbean in the mid to
late 1980s. Once the interdiction forces became effective in driving the smugglers
away from South Florida and their safe havens in the Bahamas, U.S. Customs
air and marine units, as well as other agencies, became an occupation force of
sorts that remained in place to prevent the return of the smugglers. Even though
we did not completely stop smugglers from operating, we did manage to make
Controlled Delivery Book I 89
them change their way of doing business.
As soon as I started working air smuggling cases, I became curious as to how
individuals and criminal organizations got into the business of using planes
to smuggle. Between flying drug interdiction missions, seizing approximately
twenty drug smuggling aircraft, working other cases on the ground, constantly
debriefing sources of information and working with veteran U.S. Customs pilots,
air officers, special agents and a few local cops, I began to get a good feel for how
the bad guys operated. This included, learning why the smugglers were successful
and why they got caught.
Before I got promoted and I became a Special Agent, I believed that we had
to change our tactics, in order to continue to ride the wave of success that our
interdiction efforts brought about. As far as I was concerned, the controlled
delivery process, also known as a transportation case, was the way to go. I was
convinced that as long as we had the right private help and we were able to get
the right introductions, we would be able to successfully infiltrate smuggling
organizations. Once this happened, we would be able to seize drug shipments
and assets, while arresting major violators and insuring successful prosecutions
in federal court.
However, before we could mount a successful controlled delivery/transportation case, we had to seek approval from DEA to do so. This situation existed,
because DEA was the federal agency that approved or denied all requests for the
“country clearance,” or the official permission to travel to and operate in foreign
90 Nick Jacobellis
countries. This included traveling to countries like Colombia, Venezuela and
Like it or not, the U.S. Customs Service was a competitor of sorts and was
forced to go to DEA, to ask for permission to conduct (drug smuggling) investigations and undercover operations that involved foreign travel. Forcing the
U.S. Customs Service to ask DEA for permission to make a case, that could
potentially make DEA look bad, was like having Macy’s ask Bloomingdales for
permission to have a sale.
By this time in my career, I worked for over two years with a core group
of sources of information and confidential informants, who were responsible
for providing me with the intelligence information that enabled me to make
arrests and seize millions of dollars in drug assets. For reasons that I explain
throughout this book, I believed that we were ready to take on bigger and more
My plan was to create the best undercover air unit in federal service; one
that could be used to transport large quantities of drug contraband over long
distances, in order to execute the most successful controlled deliveries imaginable.
In order to complete the types of missions that I hoped to execute, I needed to
gain access to aircraft that had the fuel capacity or “legs” to travel long distances,
while carrying multi-hundred and multi thousand kilogram shipments of cocaine.
I say cocaine, because this was the drug of choice at this period of time. Naturally,
we would gladly transport other types of contraband as well.
Controlled Delivery Book I 91
By having access to aircraft with long range capabilities, my colleagues and I
would be able to convince our future “clients,” that we were the right men for the
job, because we operated the type of aircraft that were able to avoid detection,
by flying long distances to the northeast or southwest U.S. This was a critical
component to my plan, because the smuggling organizations were well aware
of the interdiction capabilities of the U.S. Government. In other words, the bad
guys wanted aircraft and crews that were capable of successfully delivering a large
drug shipment to the CONUS (Continental U.S.)
Even though I was about to travel into uncharted and dangerous territory,
my confidence level never wavered. I believed that my imagination would make
up for whatever it was that I lacked in formal training or experience. Had there
been a school or training course to attend, that would teach me how to run a
covert air operation, I would have eagerly enrolled. Since that wasn’t the case, I
would have to learn as I went along.
Fortunately, I was brimming with confidence, because I knew how to gather
intelligence information, conduct investigations and direct informants and
sources of information. Between my limited flying experience, my time as an
Air Officer and the knowledge that I picked up while working with U.S. Customs
aviators and my sources of information, I felt that I would be able to handle the
logistics of running a secret air unit of sorts. I also knew that I had an excellent
core group of contract pilots, sources of information and confidential informants
who were ready, willing and able to help me deal with the bad guys and handle
92 Nick Jacobellis
the flying part of this operation.
Knowing how to smuggle without getting caught was just as important as
being able to transport contraband in an undercover operation. In order for us
to be convincing, the bad guys that I intended to deal with, had to believe that
my colleagues and I were concerned about the same things that real smugglers
were worried about. For this to happen, we had to know what worked and what
We also had to know what made smugglers tick. In other words, once we
started meeting with real smugglers/violators, we had to “walk the walk and talk
the talk” as they did, or we would be immediately suspected of being undercover
agents. If the mistake was big enough and it was made while meeting with
the wrong group of bad guys, in the wrong place, some of us could get hurt.
This meant that once we infiltrated a real smuggling organization, we had to
be prepared to act like real smugglers during the execution of every phase of a
controlled delivery, including the part that involved operating undercover aircraft
under potentially dangerous and adverse conditions.
Once the pickup was made and our crew returned safely to the United States
with a shipment of drug contraband, there would be very little time to celebrate
once we started negotiating our way through the delivery phase. If everything
went according to plan, we would survive the final phase of the controlled delivery
and live and fight another day.
Controlled Delivery Book I 93
OPERATION LONG HAUL AKA “LOADS R US”
Before I approached the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) in Miami, I had a
long talk with my sources of information and contacts in the private aircraft
community and asked for their help. Fortunately, my private airport contacts
and sources of information were well paid assets, who welcomed the chance to
get more involved, even if it meant taking additional risks.
Once I presented my sources of information with my plan, I was given
immediate access to a small fleet of private aircraft, that could be used to get us
off the ground and into the air to start flying some missions. Since two of my
documented sources of information were aircraft brokers, I was also able to rent
aircraft that were suitable for undercover air operations. I was also given access
to airport offices and hangar space at two different South Florida airports. In
addition, The Gambler located an insurance broker, who would provide the War
Risk insurance coverage for the aircraft and crews that we used in an undercover
capacity. This special insurance coverage was required whenever you operated
in a “war zone,” or in any location that was deemed to be a high threat area.
Needless to say, none of this was included in any of the formal training that I
received from the U.S. Customs Service.
Eventually, the day came when I asked Senior Special Agent Pat R, who was
serving as my acting Group Supervisor, if I could pitch my idea to form a Group
7 undercover air operation to the Special Agent in Charge (SAC). Timing is
everything in life and thanks to Pat R. I was in the right place at the right time to
94 Nick Jacobellis
pitch my plan to the SAC. Fortunately, the success of Operation Excalibur put
me in good standing with my superiors and made it possible for me to be taken
seriously, when I pitched the idea to form this undercover operation.
The day I presented my proposal to SAC Miami Mr. Pat O’B., I pitched my
plan like a screenwriter presents an idea for a movie to a famous Hollywood film
producer. As I laid out a set of blueprints of the private airport office where I
intended to operate from, I told the SAC what I had in mind. By the time Pat
R. chimed in and added a few pearls of wisdom, I could see the wheels were
turning in the SAC’s head.
When the SAC asked what I was going to use for funding, I responded with
complete confidence and said, “Bad guy money all the way.” I then explained how
I intended to use the money or trafficker funds, that the bad guys paid us to
provide our transportation services, to fund the operation. As soon as the SAC
put his pipe down, I knew he liked my plan. The second he rounded his desk
and said, “Let’s take this up to the Regional Commissioner,” I knew we were in
Once I briefed the Regional Commissioner (George H.) and his assistant
(Leon G.), I was given authorization to proceed. That day, I left the SAC Office
as the newly appointed commanding officer of an undercover air unit that had
no assigned “government” aircraft, or crews, other than the contract pilots and
planes that I recruited through my contacts in South Florida. What I did have
was permission to proceed and in federal law enforcement circles, authorization
Controlled Delivery Book I 95
to take action was more important than anything else.
Ironically, the idea to form the SAC Miami Group 7 undercover air operation,
that unofficially became known as The Blade Runner Squadron, did not come
from a group of high ranking government officials whose job it was find ways
to win The Drug War. Instead, this plan was proposed by an eccentric U.S.
Customs Agent with an over active imagination who loved to fly. It also helped
a great deal, that the Special Agent in Charge of Miami at that time (Pat O’B)
saw the potential of my proposal, for had he not done so, The Blade Runner
Squadron would have never gotten off the ground.
96 Nick Jacobellis
S hortly after I was given authorization to establish an undercover air
operation in Miami, I was assigned to a temporary detail (TDY) in Boston
in the early winter of 1988. As you will read, this TDY couldn’t have come at a
more opportune time.
In the late 1980s, the U.S. Customs SAC office in Boston was comprised
of about forty special agents. These agents were responsible for investigating
acts of smuggling in Massachusetts and other parts of New England. They also
conducted collateral investigations in support of other Customs offices and
participated in joint investigations with other agencies.
During my temporary detail (TDY) in Boston, I was assigned to work with
Special Agent Jimmy S., the most colorful and famous U.S. Customs Agent in all
of New England. Everyone who reads this true story needs to know, that Agent
Jimmy S. was the central figure in every record setting controlled delivery that
was successfully executed in New England. The four Boston controlled deliveries
that I received authorization to write about, are stories about team work and
by all accounts, Jimmy S. was the Captain of the Boston team. Each and every
Controlled Delivery Book I 97
controlled delivery that we successfully executed in New England and elsewhere,
were major engagements during The Drug War, that were fought by a relatively
small number of U.S. Customs Agents and other law enforcement officers, as well
as by our contract personnel, sources of information and confidential informants.
Whether you call it fate, destiny, or Divine Intervention, I found myself in
Boston at just the right time, because Jimmy S. had an informant who recently
infiltrated a Colombian smuggling organization, that wanted to transport
over 500 kilos of cocaine from Colombia to New York via New England.
Unfortunately for Jimmy S. and his hard working CI, their case wasn’t going any
further, because the Colombians promised to provide the necessary front money,
after they saw the plane that would be used to make the pickup in Colombia.
Like most special agents in the Customs Service, Jimmy S. did not have the
wherewithal to complete this controlled delivery on his own. Unfortunately, a
special agent could not pick up the phone and request headquarters to provide
an undercover crew and a suitable plane out of inventory. As big as the U.S.
Customs Service was, it did not have a fleet of undercover aircraft standing by,
all fueled up and ready to go at a moment’s notice. Another way of putting this,
is to say that our Uncle Sam was an old guy on a recruiting poster and not an
executive in the rent a plane business.
The moment I saw Jimmy wondering how he was going to complete this case,
I assured him that his transportation problems were solved. Now that I had
Jimmy’s undivided attention, I explained that I was recently given authorization
98 Nick Jacobellis
to establish an undercover air unit, that was designed to provide undercover
transportation services in cases such as this. As Jimmy stood up, I could see
the expression on his face change to one of relief. I don’t know who was more
excited me or Jimmy S.
There I was, with my untested undercover airline looking for our first mission
to fly and Jimmy had a case that would never be made, unless he found a suitable
plane and crew, that could fly to Colombia to pick up over 500 kilos of cocaine
and return to Massachusetts in the dead of winter. Naturally, Jimmy was full of
questions and I was full of answers.
In order to answer some of his questions, I picked up the phone on his desk
and dialed The Gambler’s airport office in South Florida. After dispensing with
the usual jokes, I got down to business and said, “I need a crew and a plane that
can fly 2000 miles non-stop and carry 1100 pounds of cargo.”
After hearing The Gamblers first question, I told him to hold on, as I looked
over to Jimmy and his partner Special Agent Richard (Dick). O’C and asked,
“What kind of strip are we going into?” Jimmy was quick to give me the answer.
As I turned my attentions back to The Gambler, I answered his question in a
matter of fact tone of voice and said, “Unimproved, in the jungle.”
As I continued my conversation, The Gambler agreed to provide us with a
former military aircraft that carried enough fuel to fly from Colombia to New
England. When Major Tom picked up the extension I had my first volunteer.
Then Captain Video agreed to go along and was recruited to fly as the Contract
Controlled Delivery Book I 99
Pilot in Command, because he had more experience than Major Tom, in the
aircraft that The Gambler was willing to rent us for this mission.
After we discussed the case, I hung up and promised to get back to The
Gambler, Captain Video and Major Tom when I knew more. As I sat on the
other side of his desk, I told Jimmy that he had a plane and a crew that could
make his case a reality, once we received front money from the bad guys and
country clearance from DEA.
As soon as Jimmy briefed his Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC)
and the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) about our plan, the New England based
agents wanted to know if the Boston office would lose the “stat” (statistic) to
the Miami office. This was a valid concern, because my permanent duty station
(Miami Group 7) was providing the contract pilots and the plane to make the
Under the circumstances, I assured the Boston agents that my contract pilots
would fly for them and that I would do everything possible to help them make
this case in their area of operation. I said this, because as far as I was concerned,
the gold badge that I carried in my pocket was issued by the U.S. Customs
Service, not by the Miami Customs Service. Once our superiors blessed the
plan, I was told to get everything ready on my end.
The first order of business was for me to call my contract pilots in Miami and
give them the good news that we had our first mission to fly. Once I got them on
the line, I put Jimmy on the speaker phone and introduced him to my contract
100 Nick Jacobellis
pilots and The Gambler. Now that we had the green light to launch, we solidified our arrangement with my contacts in South Florida. Since we anticipated
receiving an ample amount of front money from the Colombian subjects of this
investigation, we agreed to pay The Gambler $10,000 as a deposit for the rental
of the undercover aircraft. The remaining balance would be paid at a later date.
That night Jimmy and I left the federal building on Causeway Street in
Boston in great spirits. As far as I was concerned, I was fulfilling my destiny
and doing exactly what I was put on this earth to do, as far as my federal law
enforcement career was concerned. I also believed that too many things were
happening for all of this to be one big coincidence.
As I drove the 85 miles to the motel on Cape Cod where my family and I
were staying, I thought about all that had transpired to bring me this far in my
journey. I never once thought that I bit off more than I could chew. It was also
at this time, that I affectionately became known as the Air Czar by the agents
in the Boston Office.
THE BAPTISM OF FIRE
In order to accomplish our goal and put a load of dope on the table, we used
every minute of every day to carefully orchestrate this controlled delivery from
beginning to end. For several weeks, Jimmy S., Dick O’C. and I, along with other
agents, spent our days and nights meeting with the Boston informant, recording
phone calls and updating our contract pilots, while doing more paperwork than
Controlled Delivery Book I 101
a school teacher at test time. After the Thanksgiving holiday, it was time to pick
up some front money from our Colombian “clients.”
Once we arrived in South Florida to take the next step in this case, Jimmy
S. led the Boston agents on the surveillance in Miami. At the end of a sumptuous meal at a first class restaurant, the Boston Source of Information was paid
$40,000 in front money to seal this deal. Once our undercover operative was
back in his car, the agents made sure that they weren’t being followed, when they
escorted the CI back to his hotel room for the debriefing.
As you can imagine, we were all happy campers when the $40,000 in “front
money” was presented to Jimmy S. Now that we had a descent amount of expense
money, we made arrangements to conduct a “show and tell” of the undercover
aircraft the next day. Just to make sure that we covered all the bases, we contacted
the U.S. Customs RAC Office in Ft. Lauderdale, to let them know that we were
moving the undercover aircraft to an airport in their area of operation. A call
was then placed to the Colombians, who were ecstatic that we were working so
fast to accommodate their request to examine the plane.
After conferring with my contract pilots and making the arrangements to
show the Colombians our plane, Jimmy and I stopped at the Pelican Bar next to
Cafe 66 in Ft. Lauderdale. While we sat and watched the boats pass by under the
17th Street Causeway Bridge, we had a drink and did our best to relax, because
once the Colombians checked out our plane, our crew would be heading south.
102 Nick Jacobellis
THE SHOW AND TELL
Even though we always seemed to get along, it wasn’t easy for a “Miami” Agent
to operate in Ft. Lauderdale’s area of operation, without being suspected of
poaching or invading their territory. To his credit, the RAC Ft. Lauderdale (Greg
J.) always treated me well and let me explain myself, whenever my presence in
his jurisdiction was a disturbance in The Force.
That evening we found Greg in his office. Just as I introduced the Boston
agents to him, our conversation was interrupted by a phone call from one of
Greg’s agents, who just seized an airplane displaying a false tail number at a local
airport. As soon as Greg repeated the description of the plane and its phony tail
number, I began to die a slow and painful death. When Greg saw my reaction,
he immediately covered the phone and asked what was wrong.
After quickly explaining the purpose of our visit, that included giving Greg
J. an update on our case that involved conducting a “show and tell” in his area of
operation, Greg realized that one of his agents seized our undercover aircraft.
Even though it wasn’t easy to do, Greg had no choice but to tell his otherwise
hardworking agent to un-seize the undercover aircraft and immediately leave the
area. Fortunately, everything worked out as planned and the Colombian broker
was satisfied, that our plane was capable of flying from Colombia to the New
England without having to refuel along the way.
After completing this part of our operation, we returned to Boston with the
$40,000 in front money and the involvement of the subjects of this investigation
Controlled Delivery Book I 103
well documented. The good news was, even if we never picked up their cocaine
shipment, the Boston agents had enough evidence to prosecute the Colombians
on conspiracy charges.
Every day before we launched, Jimmy, Dick and I prepared for the departure
of our UC aircraft and crew. While the undercover plane was being prepared
for the mission in Miami, the Boston CI made some last minute delivery
arrangements with the Colombians. Once I drafted the op (operational) plan,
copies were distributed through the chain of command to U.S. Customs Air
Operations. This was done because U.S. Customs surveillance aircraft, along with
other government assets, would be providing direct support to this headquarters
approved UC operation.
After working this case for eleven weeks, it was hard to believe that we were
within a few days of making history. By mid December final arrangements were
made with our Colombian clients to have the cocaine shipment ready for us to
pick up. Once we received country clearance, we were cleared to execute the
flying stage of the operation. While Jimmy S. and Dick O’C. went to Florida to
see our crew take off, I remained behind to set up the command post and plan
Despite the fact that we had $40,000 dollars in front money, we came up
short when it came time to pay certain expenses, which including giving The
Gamble a deposit for his plane. While Jimmy S. paced back and forth in our
undercover office in Miami, we had no hope of proceeding any further, unless we
104 Nick Jacobellis
raised the capital to proceed. Fortunately, for us, The Gambler saw the potential
in our operation and accepted an IOU for $10,000 dollars. Doing so, allowed
our contract pilots and a contract pilot from the Boston Office, to use his plane
to fly our first covert air operation. All I could do was shake my head and be
grateful that The Gambler was on our side.
In my opinion, there was something very seriously wrong with our Uncle
Sam, for not adopting the attitude that money was no object when it came to
funding undercover operations. If I were king, I would have given the poor slob
I put in charge of an undercover air unit, a hangar or two filled with suitable
aircraft, as well as some help and a reasonable amount of expense money, when
additional funds were needed to further a worthwhile investigation. Obviously,
that was asking for too much.
I should also mention, that some of the aircraft that I seized from smugglers
were perfect for our mission. Sadly, when Special Agent in Charge Pat O’B. asked
the powers to be to assign ONE of the planes that I seized to our undercover
operation, his request was denied. I guess only time would tell if my idea had
merit. In the meantime, we had a mission to fly.