June 14, 2017

To say Peter Conti is multi-talented is an understatement. He is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter and producer who has collaborated with Joe Pesci on the hit plays “House Arrest” and “Murderers Anonymous.” He also produced and directed the best-selling video “A Boxer’s Workout” with Mickey Rourke and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini. He has written short stories and worked on feature films with Martin Scorsese. His latest effort, “Gringo: My Life On The Edge As An International Fugitive,” is a collaboratiion with convicted drug smuggler Tito Davis to tell Davis’ fascinating story. 

Dan “Tito” Davis is a native of a one-horse town in South Dakota. His horizons were destined to expand, however, well beyond the Black Hills country. His life began to change dramatically in 1974 when he headed for the bright lights of Las Vegas. While a student at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Davis began to manufacture a speed pill known as white crosses. He hit the big-time when the Banditos Motorcycle Club began distributing 10 million pills a week for him. After he was arrested and served out a five-year sentence, Davis changed his focus to marijuana, but then he got set up to take a fall for one of his childhood friends. As he was facing a 30-year sentence, Davis, not knowing one word of Spanish, skipped bail and slipped into Mexico. This was the beginning of a 13-year odyssey life as an exile which would take him from Mexico to Colombia, Venezuela and Cuba, as well as Europe, Africa and Asia. Davis falsified his identity and stayed on the move going from city to city to avoid arousing suspicion. As Davis puts it, “I was a fugitive with a stolen fake passport. … I was trying to con a con.” His exploits would include some of the elite of the drug world.

Conti tells Davis’ story equally well no matter where Davis is running. He discusses with authority the post-Escobar Medellin, the jungles of Panama’s mostly uncharted Darien Gap and the swarm of humanity and squalid conditions in Mumbai, India. He introduces the reader to a wide variety of colorful characters, which include a bandito named Fonzie, a chemistry nerd, a hit woman who moonlights as a Spanish tutor and the heads of Latin America’s most powerful cartels. By the time Davis hits 40, he has lived three or four lifetimes as he tries to stay one step ahead of the federales. As with all stories, Davis’ life-on-the-run comes to an end after a close friend’s spiteful soon-to-be ex-wife tips off American authorities where to find him.

The book is a fast-paced, thrilling work that taught me a lot about the dangerous drug trade. The writing is sharp, insightful and well edited. The story made me feel I was walking through another man’s reality as I experienced Davis’ highs and lows as an international fugitive. This gripping tale of larceny was a page-turner that I had a hard time putting down. It is still difficult to imagine a world where money was so easily made and then so easily lost.  

– David Beckwith is author of the Will and Betsy Black adventure series.