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Shop owner’s conviction shows Miami’s link to global black market in rhino horn

via Miami Herald:

The conviction of a Biscayne Boulevard shop owner this month was the latest crackdown by a federal task force targeting illegal trafficking in a substance that costs more per ounce than cocaine, or even gold.

Black rhino horn.

The horns, prized in some Asian nations as popular but unproven folk remedies, are at the center of an international black market with a hub in South Florida. High prices and demand have triggered a poaching bloodbath in Africa that threatens the survival of black rhinos and fueled a growing illegal trade in old taxidermy mounts from museums or private collections.

It’s a criminal network run like sex, gun and drug trafficking and is often linked to the same players, said Edward Grace, assistant director for the U.S. Department of Justice’s division of Wildlife Law Enforcement, which oversees a multiagency investigative effort called “Operation Crash.” Crash is another name for a herd of rhino.

“It’s like any drug investigation,’’ said Grace. “Take out cocaine or heroin and replace it with rhino horn.’’

Miami, already a nexus for smugglers dealing in an array of protected wildlife, also has figured in the illicit horn trade. There been three rhino-related busts in the last two years alone.

Increasing Concern Over Caribbean Drug Flow

For years, Caribbean governments have voiced concerns that U. S. counter-narcotics efforts in Mexico and Central America would force drug traffickers back into their region to push their products on go-fast boats and cargo ships.

Those fears are being realized as a top State Department official said the U.S. is concerned about disturbing increases in drugs flowing through the Caribbean over the past there years.

Historically, there are three routes by which traffickers over the last 30 years have moved products through the Caribbean. There is the western route, which either parallels the Central American mainland or works its way into or through Jamaica en route normally, but not always to the United States and the U.S. market; a central route, which process through Hispaniola, and that means either Haiti or the Dominican Republic. And that route has represented, at least over the last two years in our opinion, the lion share, an absolute and overwhelming majority of the amount of product that we believe is transiting the Caribbean on the way to market. The third and at this point, a small but growing percentage, is the eastern Caribbean route.

via Miami Herald

Miami’s media studio rakontur steps up their game with two new movies

via Miami Herald:

R.I.P. Dr. Joseph Davis


Dr. Joseph Davis passed away yesterday. He was one of the first interviews we shot for Cocaine Cowboys.

We didn’t have much funding when we started making the documentary in 2003, so we decided to shoot just enough to cut a reel. In that first production round, we interviewed Jon Roberts, Mickey Munday, Detectives Al Singleton and Raul Diaz, attorney Sam Burstyn and Joe Davis.

Joe Davis made the first cut after we saw an interview he gave to Al Sunshine at the height of the Mariel violence that plagued Miami in 1981:

Dr. Davis was a legend among the tight-knit community who examine dead bodies for a living. He was hired to review the results of Elvis’s autopsy. When the House Select Committee on Assassinations was investigating the deaths of JFK and Martin Luther King in 1976, they called Joe Davis. He was once able to determine that a homicide victim ate his last meal at Shorty’s because Davis recognized the smell of the BBQ sauce when he opened up the victim’s stomach

The Miami Herald cataloged the breadth of his knowledge: “Davis lectured and wrote on a wide range of topics, including the deadly effects of man-of-war stings, peanut butter as a choking hazard, drowning, self-immolations, carbon monoxide poisoning, auto-erotic asphyxiation, rape and cocaine psychosis.”

Davis retired in 1996 after 10,000 autopsies and 40 years as the chief of the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s office. 

In May 2003, I called Dr. Davis at home to ask for an interview. He agreed to do it at his old office.

None of us had been to the morgue before. It’s just off the 836, around the block from Jackson Memorial Hospital on NW 10th Avenue (curiously co-named Bob Hope Road).

The building was christened The Dr. Joseph H. Davis Center for Forensic Pathology when the county opened the brand new state-of-the-art facility in April 1988 (Edna Buchanan takes some credit for its construction, citing the county’s embarrassment after she reported that the medical examiner’s office rented a refrigerated truck from Burger King to store an overflow of bodies as a result of the Cocaine Wars of the early 80s). 

We were offered the VIP autopsy suite to shoot the interview and while Billy and our DP Armando Salas started working on the shot, Dave went looking for an electric outlet to plug-in a light. He opened a door to an adjoining room and came face-to-face with an assistant medical examiner sitting at a desk, wielding an electric saw, cutting off the crown of the skull of a baby who died a day or two earlier. That really made quite an impression of all of us.

I was looking forward to Dr. Davis’s tales from the trenches of the Cocaine Wars: public machine gunnings and MAC-10 riddled bodies. But when we started rolling, he spent the first twenty minutes of the interview talking about highway guard rails. Turns out Dr. Davis was an early highway safety crusader and saved countless lives because of his lobbying. He was one of the first to use data to make the connection between fatal accidents and alcohol. On issues like swimming pool safety, cigarettes and pesticides, Dr. Davis had a strong opinion and voiced it frequently.

During the two hour interview, he walked us through nearly a half century of Death in Miami.

When Carl Hiaasen reported in 1987 that Miami had become the Car-Trunk Murder Capital of the United States, Dr. Davis was non-plussed: "It’s a bother. Another thing that’s annoying…now you find a car parked at the airport — stinks to high heaven — and for some reason you have to wait six hours while they go find a judge to get a court order to open the thing up! Everybody knows there’s a body inside."

Shortly after he retired, ValuJet flight 592 plunged nose-first into the Everglades minutes after takeoff from Miami International Airport on May 11, 1996, killing 110 people. He told me the task of recovering body parts no bigger than a finger from the fetid, alligator-infested swamp made it the worst crime scene he’d ever seen. As he reminded me, “The human body is 70% water. When it hits the ground traveling that fast (over 507 MPH), the body basically explodes.” 

I never saw Dr. Davis again after the interview. We spoke a few times on the phone and I heard that he liked the documentary. We reached out when we were putting together the Cocaine Cowboys cast reunion last March, but he had already moved upstate to Tallahassee. That’s where he died yesterday, peacefully, in his sleep in his home on Lake Bradford.

In a 1997 Tropic Magazine profile, staff writer Michelle Genz asked him how he viewed death: “With wonderment. How do you reach a point where scientific knowledge and theology blend? You wonder what’s beyond.”


Dr. Joseph Davis, long-time Miami-Dade medical examiner, dies

The Miami Herald’s obituary:

His busiest time was the post-Mariel/ “Cocaine Cowboys’’ era of the 1980s, when homicides regularly topped 600 annually. Davis had to rent refrigerated meat trucks as backup morgues, and railed publicly against the carnage.

He placed the blame squarely on Colombian drug criminals and a certain element of Mariel refugees.

“These guys are spaced out,’’ Davis said in a 1981 television interview. “They are psychologically totally not even human. They’re animals — not even animals. That’s an insult to the animal kingdom.’’

In the first half of the year, his office had already received bodies 2,035 bodies, 374 of them homicides.

“I don’t see any relief in sight unless the federal govenrment comes in and moves out all the undesirable illegal aliens and cracks down on all the Colombian drug homicides,’’ Davis said. “And that would only be temporary.’’

He refused to back down after being called a bigot.

“I will not apologize for feeling very deeply that members of both of those groups have engaged in an orgy of killing the likes of the old roving bands of pirates and corsairs,’’ Davis told a Miami Herald columnist. “…Where is the sense of outrage…? We who deal with what’s happening are seeing the destruction of a community by people who shouldn’t be here in the first place.’’

Jonestown, Cocaine Cowboys, Mariel Boat Lift: One-Of-A-Kind Photo Collection Needs A Home (WLRN)


For the last 40 years, some of the most famous pictures from some of the most famous events in South Florida have come from Miami Herald photographer Tim Chapman. Along the way, he’s obsessively archived photos, negatives, slides.

After 40 years with The Miami Herald, Chapman has finally retired. His legacy is archived in his spare bedroom, in teetering cardboard box towers.

via @RadioMalone

Miami New Times: Cocaine Cowboys Creator Gets Called ‘Tweeting Twit’ By Crotchety, Out Of Touch Columnist:

"[Fabiola Santiago] makes a point of using his legal name, "William Corben," like she was an angry mother reprimanding her son. She calls him "condescending," and a "bad-boy" narcissist, and chides his "stupidity" and "runaway self-promotion." Never mind that Santiago herself comes off as condescending and slightly stupid. Worst of all, not a single bit of Santiago’s painful column is particularly funny, clever or illuminating.”
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Miami New Times: Cocaine Cowboys Creator Gets Called ‘Tweeting Twit’ By Crotchety, Out Of Touch Columnist:

"[Fabiola Santiago] makes a point of using his legal name, "William Corben," like she was an angry mother reprimanding her son. She calls him "condescending," and a "bad-boy" narcissist, and chides his "stupidity" and "runaway self-promotion." Never mind that Santiago herself comes off as condescending and slightly stupid. Worst of all, not a single bit of Santiago’s painful column is particularly funny, clever or illuminating.”

rakontur’s Decade of Decadence

via Rene Rodriguez / Miami Herald:

Here is a most unusual kind of haven in Miami — one where the business of movies, the craft of filmmaking and the love of cinema all intersect. No wonder they want to keep the location quiet.

Here, too, is something you won’t find anywhere else in South Florida: A multimedia company with a decade’s worth of work that has earned national attention; several intriguing projects in the pipeline (including what is likely to be their most commercial film to date); and absolutely no plans to ever relocate.

The bond between Corben, Spellman and Cypkin — who are all 33, became friends at Highland Oaks Middle School, made their first short film in high school and co-founded rakontur in 2001 — has grown stronger with each of their successes.

“Billy and Alfred have a strong Miami sensibility: Their movies are very redolent of that city,” says Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia Pictures, which has distributed several of rakontur’s films theatrically and on DVD. “ Cocaine Cowboys did an amazing job of soaking up the color and culture and details of that era. But their greatest attribute is a nose for an interesting story. Every film they’ve done has had jaw-dropping aspects to it. They make you say ‘Whaaat?’ And they keep getting better as filmmakers. The leap from Raw Deal to Cocaine Cowboys was incredible, and they’ve only improved since then.”

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