When the Coast Guard hailed a Gulf Coast shrimp trawler near Cape Lookout, NC on the 4th of July weekend, 1982, the routine stop set in motion a chain-of-events that ended with the U.S. invasion of Panama, overthrow of dictator Manuel Noriega, and one of the biggest drug busts in America’s history.
Now more than 25 years later, the full story is revealed in a gripping true-life account by the man who brought the drug lord to justice.
J. Douglas McCullough, the U.S. attorney who unraveled the Cayman Island cartel, reveals never-before-known facts of the case that began on the docks of the historic fishing village of Beaufort, NC when authorities found a shrimp boat full of marijuana.
SEA OF GREED The true story of the largest drug bust in the history of the United States
The Story Begins… <ul><li>“ Sea of Greed” is the true story of the largest drug bust in the history of the United States. </li></ul><ul><li>Our story follows drug traffickers whose activities affected the fate of two nations (Panama & US), led to the indictments of over 125 individuals, and ultimately became the catalyst for what has now become known as the “War on Drugs.” </li></ul><ul><li>As we will learn, this war is not merely fought against the drug traffickers – it is fought amongst every level of government and law enforcement. </li></ul>
“Lady Mauricette” <ul><li>July 7th 1982, Beaufort Inlet, Beaufort, North Carolina 10:30PM </li></ul><ul><li>On a routine tour, a US Coast Guard patrol boat stumbles upon a shrimp boat, the "Lady Mauricette," (masquerading as “Bobby M.”) in the small port of Morehead City, NC. Although the boat was abandoned when the Coast Guard boarded, this accidental seizure revealed 29,000 lbs of marijuana. </li></ul><ul><li>An inspection also revealed that the “Lady Mauricette” was no ordinary shrimp boat. The hold was refrigerated, and contained sophisticated detection devices. </li></ul><ul><li>Little did authorities know at that time that the trail left behind from the “Lady Mauricette” would lead to the dismantling of the largest drug operation in United States history. </li></ul>
The Investigation Begins… <ul><li>The investigation is led by FBI agents and Doug McCullough, an Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. Despite discouragement from his superiors, McCullough pursued every lead, convinced that the “Lady Mauricette” was just one piece in a much larger puzzle </li></ul>
… Drugs & Rock’n’Roll <ul><li>The investigation later established that an unlikely trio, Leigh Ritch of Grand Cayman, Stephen Kalish of Houston, & Mike Vogel of Detroit organized a group which would smuggle multi-ton loads into the US. </li></ul><ul><li>Their initial financing was provided by "Doc" McGhee, former manager of rock bands Bon Jovi & Motley Crue. McGhee is still on the music scene, now managing Kiss. </li></ul>
The Main Characters <ul><li>Leigh Ritch, a Grand Cayman playboy, obtained large quantities of marijuana from his Colombian sources. </li></ul><ul><li>Stephen Kalish, a former Houston schoolyard dealer now graduated to the big time, controlled importation logistics with help planning the transportation from an ex-Navy SEAL. </li></ul><ul><li>Mike Vogel, a Detroit street thug, had developed an impressive clientele which could immediately purchase thousands of pounds of marijuana for cash. </li></ul>
Smuggling Continues <ul><li>Despite the initial setback with the “Lady Mauricette,” the trio organized a second load of 39,000 lbs into N.C. and later a 500,000 lb load into Louisiana. </li></ul><ul><li>Along with the proceeds from various airplane loads, the organization had millions of dollars in cash under guard in a house in Tampa. The smugglers had nowhere else to put the cash—no US bank would touch it. There was so much money that counters had to wear gloves to prevent contamination from handling so many bills. </li></ul>Offload site along intra-coastal waterway, North Carolina
Noriega Gets Involved <ul><li>Needing to move the money to a safe haven, Kalish found a Miami contact who introduced him to General Manuel Noriega of Panama. </li></ul><ul><li>In his first meeting with Noriega, Kalish presented the General with a good faith gesture – a suitcase containing $300,000 in U.S. currency. </li></ul>
The “War on Drugs?” <ul><li>Kalish developed a close association with Noriega as he continued to fill his Panamanian banks with cash. </li></ul><ul><li>Noriega was invited to Washington, DC, for a meeting with President Ronald Reagan, where he was to be presented with a DEA commendation for his efforts as an ally to the US in the “War on Drugs.” </li></ul><ul><li>Kalish purchased a Lear jet which he and Noriega flew in for the meeting in Washington. </li></ul><ul><li>Both the DEA and CIA acted as though Noriega were a strong US ally in the War on Drugs, despite his obvious association with Kalish, a known drug dealer who had served time on a previous drug conviction. </li></ul>
Partying In Vegas <ul><li>After receiving the commendation from President Reagan, Kalish flew Noriega to Las Vegas for a few days of partying with showgirls. </li></ul>
Timmons Goes Deep Undercover <ul><li>The organization was rolling in money, and even chartered a cruise ship to celebrate the largest importation. However, the organization began to unravel. </li></ul><ul><li>Vogel, ordered Clinton “Shine” Anderson, a key employee and the head of the group’s security, to be shot. "Shine" was subsequently shot in the stomach with a shotgun, but survived. </li></ul><ul><li>Shine then introduced an undercover FBI agent, Ned Timmons, to the organization. Timmons was introduced as a “security expert,” and eventually earned the trust of the group leaders to such an extent that he was named head of security for the entire operation. </li></ul>Doug McCullough & Ned Timmons
Timmons Gains Cartel’s Trust <ul><li>Timmons survived several close calls while working undercover in the Kalish organization. He was entrusted with running the full gamut of security for the organization, which included off-duty airline pilots flying sorties over the routes their smuggling ships were traveling. Timmons also worked with an ex-Navy SEAL employed by Kalish to make sure his equipment was running ahead that of the US Government. </li></ul>Ned Timmons
Stephen Kalish <ul><li>While in Tampa, Kalish met a beautiful woman, Denise, who later became his wife. Although Kalish first convinced her he was an international banker, he later admitted the truth to her about his illegal activities. </li></ul><ul><li>Kalish, a personable and charismatic figure who rose from the streets to travel in international diplomatic circles, was transformed through his relationship with Denise, who stood by him despite learning the truth of his business. </li></ul>Stephen Kalish
Kalish’s Arrest <ul><li>Kalish began to suspect that the organization was going to get caught, and made plans to disappear, but he was arrested in July of 1984 as he was attempting to board a plane. After his arrest, Kalish refused to talk. </li></ul><ul><li>The US Attorney in Tampa, who was in charge of part of the investigation, would not offer Kalish an attractive plea bargain, even though Kalish claimed to have information linking Noriega to the importation of drugs. </li></ul><ul><li>McCullough managed to arrange for an interview with Kalish in North Carolina and Kalish agreed to talk with McCullough, which eventually led to him becoming a leading Government witness both at trial and before Congress. </li></ul>
More Arrests <ul><li>Vogel and Ritch are both ultimately apprehended and serve federal prison sentences. </li></ul>
Noreiga’s Indictment <ul><li>Feb. 5th, 1988: Noriega's indictment on charges of drug trafficking was stimulated by Kalish's cooperation with the investigation. </li></ul><ul><li>The indictment pushed Noriega closer to Castro, and ultimately gave President George Bush, Sr. sufficient provocation to use military force. </li></ul>
“Sea of Greed”, the book <ul><li>The "Sea of Greed" story is fully-documented from the files of McCullough, now a North Carolina Court of Appeals Judge, as well as those of the US State Dept. and federal court. As seen here, the “Sea of Greed” book has already received some local publicity in NC. </li></ul>N.C. press coverage of book (above); Judge McCullough (left)
Questions Remain <ul><li>In terms of the political significance of the story, the Kalish/Noriega relationship demonstrates the failings of our intelligence agencies to cooperate during this time period. Or more ominously, it indicates that they operated on their own agendas. </li></ul><ul><li>A disturbing set of questions were raised during McCullough’s investigation. Were the government agencies (DEA, CIA, etc.) simply incompetent in not discovering that Kalish, a convicted drug dealer, was close to and in business with the head of state of Panama? Or did they ignore or conceal it, and if so, why? </li></ul><ul><li>The facts are, that whether or not these relationships were known to any government agencies, there was a lack of action against Noriega until forced by the ramifications of the investigation. </li></ul>
“Sea of Greed”, the movie <ul><li>This exciting story has many complex characters who highlight the suspenseful nature of the events which unfolded and ultimately brought down Kalish, thereby exposing Noriega and his web of drug connections. </li></ul><ul><li>The story also has political significance for today, as the problems which surfaced in this case foreshadowed those of the terrorist bombings of 9/11. </li></ul><ul><li>The true story, “Sea of Greed”, is an important work in the same vein as a question-raising, fictional film such as Syriana. </li></ul><ul><li>The story incorporates elements from such films as Donnie Brasco , Blow , and Traffic . </li></ul>