Burned at Both Ends

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

After attending high school in North Miami, both Boyds served in the military — Darrell as a typist in the Air Force (his skills would later come in handy) and Tracy as an Army Green Beret. "That told me a lot about Tracy Boyd," Nagurny says. "I learned in Vietnam to respect [the Special Forces] very much."

Nagurny recalls that Tracy, while evading drug charges, would call to say, "I understand you're looking for me?" He would defend innocent associates, telling Nagurny that certain individuals were being wrongly targeted. "I would come home from work," Nagurny says, "and my wife would be on the phone — 'Hold on, Tracy, he's coming right now.' This is a federal drug fugitive, and she's calling him by his first name!"

According to old news clippings, federal agents alleged that the "Smith Brothers" were running a drug-smuggling network that employed 200 workers in 48 states and three countries, using planes, boats, and trucks to haul tons of Colombian pot. Former Hallandale Beach mayor John Steele was allegedly part of their ring; the duo was even linked to mobster Meyer Lansky.

John Darrell Boyd, now sitting at his tiki bar petting Schwartz (whom he has just bathed and blow-dried), smiles at the memories. He does not want to divulge too much — partly because he is saving the good parts for a book and partly because he does not want to get off the topic of corrupt Medicaid fraud investigators.

But he recalls getting into the drug trade through a firefighter who'd loaned him money to open his business. To work off the debt, the Boyds met boats anchored offshore, unloading the sweet-smelling, green leafy cargo. Once they saw how much money they could make, they decided to become their own bosses. Soon, Tracy was driving a Cadillac. Darrell was wearing alligator boots and sporting a diamond ring on his pinky.

For months at a time, John Darrell set off for Colombia, where he did business with growers from an indigenous tribe, keeping their trust, he says, by paying well and on time. "I walked around with a bandanna on my head, a gun slung across my chest, cutoff Levis, and work boots," he remembers. While Darrell was responsible for loading planes in the middle of the night, Tracy would handle the receiving end of the business. "My brother's more quiet and ornery," Darrell says. "I'm outgoing and friendly. We complement each other."

A Marine Corps sergeant once testified that the Boyds hired him to refit DC-3 planes to transport and drop drugs. Darrell says Eastern Airlines pilots moonlighted for him. Not every mission was successful: A flight done by coked-up pilots once mistakenly landed on Highway 27. Darrell has photos of a Coast Guard officer atop an intercepted boat, bales of pot bobbing in the water.

"We knew we would get caught eventually," Boyd says. But drug laws at the time were weak, and the profit margin was worth it.

In April 1980, after several close calls with the law and overturned convictions, the brothers were charged in connection with smuggling 50,000 pounds of weed that former mayor Steele had stashed on a trawler off the Bahamas. John Darrell allegedly offered two men more than $50,000 to kill three people scheduled to testify against him and was charged with conspiracy to commit murder. Two weeks before his October 1980 trial was to begin, he jumped his $550,000 bond. Last anyone knew, he'd driven off in that station wagon.

Boyd had been gone for years, his trail long cold, when U.S. marshal Nagurny decided to knock on doors in search of fresh leads. Interviews led him to the local office of an offshore bank, where he intercepted a giant check destined for a suspicious account.

Nagurny stared at the check for clues. "It was signed 'Robert Burke,' " he remembers. "I said to my partner, 'Get me John Darrell's folder!' I looked at something he had signed for us in the past, and the B in Boyd and the B in Burke matched identically. I said, 'My God — it's John Darrell!' "

Bank records led authorities to a suburb of Buffalo, New York, where "Robert Burke" had been raising his kids, coaching little league baseball, and ostensibly selling knife sharpeners for a living.

An officer lured him out of his house by calling to say his son was sick and needed to be picked up from school. "They put a roadblock up at the bottom of the hill," Nagurny says, "with another moving roadblock behind him."

Trapped and surrounded by 20 U.S. marshals with their guns drawn, Boyd surrendered. He says he rolled down the window and laughed, "How'd you guys find me?"

The headline of the local newspaper on April 20, 1983, read "Drug Smuggling Suspect Called 'Great Guy' by Fellow Ball Coach." In Buffalo, two good friends of "Robert Burke" — an FBI agent and a former Army intelligence officer — were shocked to learn of his real identity. Nagurny wasn't surprised at Boyd's ability to breeze his way through suburbia. "No one would ever think of him as being anything but a good family man, a loving father, a businessman — and I don't think that's something he was pretending."

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