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Book Review
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Pegleg of Monroe County Ruled the Smugglers' Waves

"Pot Smugglers: 5 East of the Light" by Howard "Scooter" Alford (Kindle, $9.99)

This is a true story: During the late 1970s, when marijuana smuggling from Columbia to South Florida was at its peak, Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale became the prime entry point for smugglers. Through the early to mid '70s, there'd been an evolution in their organizations from Donald Steinberg to Black Tuna to "Big Ed" Hindelang to Joe Pegg.

Known affectionately to his fellow smugglers as "Pegleg,"Joe Pegg grew his empire into a 50-boat armada with hundreds of employees. The Broward County authorities heard rumors on the street about it but considered such an armada too large to be believable. During one 12-month period in 1979 and 1980, Pegleg and his navy aucceeded in bringing in more than 1.2 million pounds of pot to South Florida, the largest amount ever by any group in a single 12-month period.

Howard "Scooter" Alford was a member of Pegg's navy. "Pot Smugglers" is his story of this man who began at West Point Military Academy, worked at the Miami Dolphins' ticket office and finally became an admiral in the Pegleg Navy. In the beginning, Alford was a reluctant participant, thinking it a temporary job until something permanent came along, a lark for him and his airline stewardess wife. That changed when he saw just how much money there was to be made with a bit of risk but very little effort on their part.

Joe Pegg and his brother, Buck, founder of Chaparral Boats, were part-time residents of the Florida Keys and still own property here. In 1999, three days after being indicted by a federal grand jury in Miami on money laundering and conspiracy charges, Buck Pegg concluded negotiations for a $50 million stay-out-of-jail deal. Half of the money went to Monroe County. After also forfeiting millions of dollars to the government, Ed Hindelang had his 10-year sentence shortened to 30 months and became involved in controversial business deals after his release. Pegleg served time in prison for drug smuggling from 1982 to 1985 and is currently serving a 30-year sentence for the same offense. At the end of "Pot Smugglers," Scooter appears to be on top of the world. He writes that he will discuss his later fortunes in a yet-to-be released sequel.

"Pot Smugglers: 5 East of the Light" is narrative nonfiction that tells the story of just how Pegleg's Navy revolutionized drug smuggling. The marijuana would be brought from Colombia aboard freighters that anchored in international waters, was then transferred by "middle boats" in the Bahamas to a series of Hatteras vessels that would transfer the pot to "scam" boats, (both sail and power recreational boats) that would be brought into Florida to various residences the organization owned or rented to use as unloading points. In many circles, this is called the "mother ship/daughter ship" method of smuggling.

Overall we found the book to be an informative read. Since we have never had an in-depth discussion with a high-ranking member of the drug trade before, Scooter's frank, no-holds-barred recitation is probably as close as we will ever come to seeing a drug organization from the inside. Our only criticism is that we really don't need to know the exact menu of each meal they cooked on the boat or the exact coordinates of every voyage. All in all, however, it was fascinating to see how the largest drug smuggling operation in Florida history built and managed its business. It included setting up offshore banking arrangements to handle the enormous amount of cash as well as numerous corporate entities to shield the actual owners of the boats and real estate.

-- Reviewed by David and Nancy Beckwith, authors of the Will and Betsy Black adventure series

Book News:

"Principles of Navigation"by Peter W. Fong, coming soon from New Rivers Press at Minnesota State University, is a salty love story centered on the fictional Coral Key, somewhere between Marathon and Islamorada in the Florida Keys. In the 1980s, the author worked as the mate on a Marathon charter boat, among other jobs.

His story features a charter captain, Rigger Tavernier, who never imagined he could lose his bearings in the Florida Keys until Jenna came along. A football star's bride from a rich family, Jenna McDowell seemed to be out of his league. But after that first night with her, Rigger would give everything and more to keep her. First, however, he'll have to sift through the wreck of his first marriage and the death of an old friend.

For Jenna, life was supposed to run like clockwork: marry the hunk, settle down and make babies. She never thought she'd pursue someone like Rigger. But sometimes one just has to take desperate measures. In the end, both Rigger and Jenna find their bearings, but not until they learn that the principles of navigation are nothing more than the rules of the road -- and rules are made to be broken.

Much of the book takes place in Florida but other settings range from Havana to a handful of European capitals. Peter Fong and his family have lived in Montana, Vermont, Tokyo, Shanghai and Aruba. He works as a fly-fishing guide and a freelance editor and his stories have appeared in American Fiction, Gray's Sporting Journal and the New York Times Sophisticated Traveler.

This novel of trouble in paradise is "vivid, deft and absorbing from the get-go," says Deirdre McNamer, author of "Red Rover," "My Russian" and "Rima in the Weeds." "The bluest water has its sharks and Fong knows where they lurk."