Burned at Both Ends

A background in hauling pot gives you the skills and chutzpah to become a Medicaid mogul

Detectives squinted at the abandoned station wagon they found in a remote patch of the Everglades. It had been shot up from both inside and out. Blood was splattered all over the doors. But there was no body as evidence — not so much as a bone or a dismembered toe. Investigators refused to believe that the vehicle's driver had been killed in a shootout and dragged off by alligators. No way. John Darrell Boyd had obviously faked his own death.

That was October 1980. It took two and a half years to track down the fugitive.

c. Stiles
John Darrell and Tracy Boyd in the 1970s — just your everyday friendly international drug traffickers!
Courtesy of john darrell boyd
John Darrell and Tracy Boyd in the 1970s — just your everyday friendly international drug traffickers!

Back then, John Darrell Boyd was one of the most brazen drug traffickers on the East Coast. He and his brother Tracy were proud, long-haired, Irish-American daredevils, known collectively as "The Smith Brothers" because their wiry beards reminded people of the guys on the box of Smith Brothers cough drops. Their blue eyes twinkled mischievously as they moved hundreds of tons of marijuana from the tribal villages of Colombia through the swamps of South Florida and up the East Coast as far as Rhode Island. John Darrell Boyd was a Florida original, an outlaw with flair who made beaucoup bucks by pulling off elegant scores.

Marijuana trafficking? What harm did it do? It was, in Boyd's view, a victimless crime.

Both brothers were caught eventually and served time in prison. Upon his release, John Darrell transformed himself into a seemingly upstanding businessman, operating multiple medical companies between Miami and Delray Beach. His experience as a brash marijuana entrepreneur had apparently prepared him with the skills and chutzpah to become a service provider in the wide-open field of government-funded medical services.

These days, Boyd is pretty easy to find. Now 64, his once-famous beard as white as Kenny Rogers', he spends his days in his middle-class Hollywood home, firing off letters, e-mails, and public records requests to senators, investigators, attorneys general — anyone in power, really, who might have some influence over his latest dilemma.

In the evening, the feisty ex-con chills out beneath the thatched roof of the tiki bar in his backyard. Beside him: his constant companion, a fluffy white dog named after Arnold Schwarzenegger. In his hand: his invention, a tasty frozen concoction called a Mango Fandango, made of ice, fresh fruit, and rum. Lately, Boyd has been teaching Schwartz how to run the blender.

After 25 years without so much as a traffic infraction, Boyd finds himself wanted again. This time, he's accused of defrauding Medicaid, billing the government insurance program for some $400,000 worth of medical services he allegedly never provided. He's not guilty, he insists. But if he's going down, he's going down swinging. In efforts to exonerate himself, Boyd has already exposed — and helped to disbar — one unethical attorney who was stealing funds from his clients. Now, Boyd believes he's uncovered corruption within the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, the arm of the Attorney General's Office that busts white-collar health-care scams to save taxpayer money.

But why would anyone listen to — much less believe — such a stubborn, antagonistic old outlaw? Two things get in the way when Boyd tries to make his case to authorities: his past and his personality.

"Put it this way," he sighs. "If I could show them the shooter on the grassy knoll, they would say, 'Yeah, Boyd, whatever.' Why? Because I'm arrogant, I'm smarter than them, I'm not a pussy, and I don't back down. It's worked both to my detriment and my favor over the years."


Jerry's Kids had no idea what was coming in September 1977.

Comedian Jerry Lewis had brought fundraising to new heights with his Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. His televised money-raising marathon, held every year on Labor Day weekend, was perhaps the world's most recognizable charity effort.

John Darrell and Tracy Boyd owned a fire-extinguisher business based in Pembroke Park. But it was their side job — the drug trade — that made them well-to-do. That September, they decided they'd spread the wealth.

According to Darrell, he and younger brother Tracy went over to the Miami TV station, where an old friend was hosting the local segment of the telethon. The brothers motioned for the host to come to the side of the stage. They handed him a stack of cash — $10,000 — to which they'd attached a note: "To the kids, from the blockade runners." They didn't intend for the host to read it aloud on the air.

The next day, the story about the scandalous donation ran on the front page of the Miami Herald. Overnight, the brothers had become notorious.

Pete Nagurny is a now-retired U.S. marshal who won a prestigious law enforcement award for nabbing both Boyd brothers in 1983. "It was their blatant display of generosity that got them in trouble," Nagurny remembers now. "Had it not been for their donation, they probably would not have been flagged by anybody."

Back in those days, Nagurny explains, Miami's drug trade was overwhelming and often violent. Think Scarface or Miami Vice. "You had the cocaine cowboys, the Jamaican posses, the Colombian rings. The Boyds were more of the good-old-boy, take-care-of-the-family type. They were not the type of drug dealer that we normally looked for. They both were just so personable."

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