By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
In June of this year, Roberts sold his repair business and made enough cash to buy a used 48-foot Soverel sailboat named Barefoot. It was nimble and quick and perfect for Roberts' retirement cruise to the Caribbean. He planned to spend a year there before island-hopping to the South Pacific. He just needed a bit of spending money, so Roberts set sail for Jamaica. It didn't take long for him to find a load of dope to run.
At the marina in Port Antonio, Roberts came in a bit too fast and struck the bow into a concrete dock. The marina recommended a repairman Richard "Rasta" Hudson who Roberts said became his supplier.
Reached on his cell phone in Jamaica, Hudson says he did nothing more for Roberts than repair his boat. "Me? Not me, man," Hudson says, when asked if he is part of the smuggling ring. "Mike Roberts, that man came to the marina, and I do some work for him. That is it."
Roberts claims Hudson gave him 75 pounds of weed in June. Just like the time he got busted in August, he was told to take it to West Palm Beach, where he was to wait for instructions.
It's no surprise the Jamaicans have been using West Palm as their main destination, says David Rasmussen, dean of the Florida State University College of Social Sciences and an expert on the drug trade, who refers to federal drug agents as warriors. "In the war on drugs, the warriors have assumed that drug traders will continue to do what they've always done and use big ports," Rasmussen says. "The smugglers do what any entrepreneur would do and find a more profitable place." Rasmussen says drug smugglers have learned that big ports like Miami are too controlled, while smaller cities have fewer Coast Guard patrols. "You start shutting down Miami and nearby smaller ports become popular." There's no way to track just how much drug smugglers are using West Palm, but it's clear federal drug agents concentrate their efforts on Miami. Since January, the U.S. Attorney's Office has announced 14 drug busts for South Florida. Of them, only one was in Palm Beach County.
As soon as he had sailed into West Palm back in June, Roberts says he called the Jamaican cartel ringleader, a man who identified himself only as "Big Man." Using a New York City cell phone number, Big Man told Roberts to wait at the Days Inn on 45th Street. There, Roberts says he met up with 40-year-old Donovan Brooks, who Roberts says was the Jamaicans' distribution man.
Brooks is a Jamaican-born chef who had immigrated to Toronto a decade earlier. He made a living catering weddings and parties by roasting fish and ribs on open charcoal pits. Brooks was well-known for the brand names like Gucci or Fubu that always crossed his chest. He wore bleached-white running shoes and gold watches that hung luxuriantly on his wrist. Roberts says Brooks paid him by pulling from his pants a heat-sealed package of $100 bills. The cash totaled $26,000 for a couple of days of sailing.
Roberts says he used the money on debts and to get his sailboat ready for his trip with his son. By the time he needed money for a bribe to get Michael Jr. out of jail, he had only a few thousand left. Roberts says he found Hudson at the same marina in Jamaica. This time, Hudson had a lot more dope for Roberts. Once again, Roberts says, he was instructed to take the weed to West Palm, where he'd wait for orders from the Big Man himself.
So when the Coast Guard busted Roberts back in August, he knew exactly who to finger. He named Hudson, Brooks, and the mysterious Big Man. With a few phone calls, Roberts set a trap for them.
The Customs agents wanted the deal to go down with some authenticity, so when Roberts called Brooks on August 4 and told him he had arrived, he immediately demanded more money, a frequent gambit employed by drug smugglers. He complained that the packages weighed more than the 400 pounds he had agreed to ship.
"I work on commission," Roberts said on his cell phone at the Customs office. "I want more money."
Brooks had the Big Man call to settle it. "I will get you a bigger boat next time," the ringleader promised.
Roberts capitulated, and they set up the transfer for that night at the Days Inn. Brooks was heading down from New Jersey with the money supposedly hidden in a rental car.
Driving Brooks that night was 23-year-old Mickey Miles, a truck driver who had met Brooks at a barbecue a couple of years ago. Miles has eyes underlined by dark lines and a shadow of a mustache above his lip. Miles speaks in near-whispers with a grin that makes you want to believe his story that he had nothing to do with the drug deal. Miles says he was headed to his uncle's house in Miramar when Brooks called him up and asked him for a ride. He says he agreed to drop Brooks off at the Days Inn. Miles, who spoke to New Times while at the Palm Beach County Jail, says Brooks brought along a pair of empty duffle bags that he explained were for souvenirs. He admits now that the bags seemed suspicious, but at the time, he says, he didn't ask about them. "I didn't know anything about any drug deal," Miles claims.