Too Many Grams
"If you get busted for drugs over there, you're in for the hassle of your life."
-- ominous, 1970s-era
U.S. Public Service Announcement
Last month in Istanbul, two Broward County women made history when they were arrested in what is reportedly Turkey's biggest drug bust ever. The incident has gone unnoticed by the American media, but those who heard the tale were inevitably reminded of Billy Hayes' harrowing experience in the film Midnight Express. In the 1978 movie, the young American tourist is arrested trying to board a plane at the international airport in Istanbul with two kilos of hash taped to his torso. After calling his captors "pigs" during his kangaroo-court trial, Hayes gets hauled off to a hellhole of a prison, where he's brutalized. If memory serves, the picture didn't exactly paint Turkey as a party destination. In fact, those Turks seemed to take a dim view of dope-smuggling. A real dim view. And the xenophobic flick didn't do much to improve U.S.-Turkish relations.
By most accounts, Suzanne Kathleen Lutz and Shelly Ann Lantz have probably seen the movie but tried to copy it anyway. Both Deerfield Beach blonds have been arrested with cocaine -- Lantz in 1995 and 1996 and Lutz in 1999 and 2003 -- and many who know them classify them as classic, dull-witted crack addicts. So the pair surprised many when they turned up at Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul on June 13. Lutz allegedly had 23 packets of the drug, totaling 25.2 kilograms, in her luggage. Lantz, apparently waiting outside the gates, was also nabbed. Newspaper reports indicate the two had traveled from South Florida to Brazil, then Frankfurt, Germany, and then on to Turkey. The coke's street value is $5 million to $8 million.
Back here, both women promoted their escort services in local magazines. Although neither had prostitution-related arrests in Florida, Ralph Teetor, a Pompano Beach gadfly who publishes the Pynk Pages, provided copies of advertisements the pair ran with him in the spring of 2003. He describes Lantz as a "friendly, gregarious girl."
She's the classic heart-of-gold hooker, Teetor says." "She'd take in destitute hookers and let them stay with her. She was just a happy, blond broad who hooked to finance her drug habit." In the Pynk Pages, "Sexy Shelly" billed herself as a five-foot-six, 130-pound 38-year-old, adding, "If you want a lady who will make you feel like you just won the lottery, give me a call."
According to public records, Lantz, born on Tax Day 1962, wasn't 38 but 41 years old in 2003. That three-year fudge is less of a stretch than Lutz's claiming to weigh only a buck-oh-five. When she was arrested in Pembroke Pines last year, Lutz's driver's license said the dishwater-blond 43-year-old tipped the scales at 170.
Of course, it's hard to know what to believe with these two. Perhaps hardest to believe is that a pair of ham-handed, South Florida sex pros are, as reported by Turkish wire services, the biggest dope smugglers in Turkish history.
Lantz owns the more distinguished rap sheet of the pair, albeit with nothing to indicate the intelligence, ingenuity, or craftiness to have taken a role in a sophisticated smuggling operation. In February 1994, according to the Broward County Sheriff's Office, she drew attention to herself while slowly driving a stolen rental car through a residential Pembroke Pines neighborhood after dark with its lights off, smoking crack. Declared indigent and appointed a public defender, Lantz pleaded guilty to cocaine and paraphernalia possession, paid a small fine, spent ten months locked up, and lost her driving privileges for two years. The car-theft charges were dropped when it turned out a male companion had rented the car but didn't return it.
The next year, BSO busted Lantz twice, both times for riding in cars with crack and crack pipes. Having violated her probation and flunked urine tests, she was jailed. She begged Broward Judge William Dimitroulous to allow her to enter a drug rehab "ministry" to "focus on my battle of addiction." After completing a stay at Calvary House, she rejoined society.
But Lantz was arrested again in 2002. After servicing a Spanish-speaking man from Long Island and accepting payment, Lutz and a friend dosed the john with a knockout hit of GHB. They stole his wallet and his new Honda Accord and left him unconscious on the shoulder of Sample Road in Pompano Beach. The man was able to describe the car and the women, who were quickly collared. Lantz later pleaded no contest to a grand theft auto charge.
Lutz's capers aren't as interesting as Lantz's but indicate a tendency toward the same bad judgment. In February 1999, police executed a search warrant on her Deerfield Beach apartment and found "an unspecified amount" of crack. According to court records, she pleaded nolo contendere and spent almost a year in Broward County Jail and another 90 days in a drug program. Following that, she was placed on probation, which she proceeded to violate no fewer than six times, even missing a court appearance as the result of a paperwork mix-up.
Lutz stayed out of trouble until November of 2003, when she was busted in a Pembroke Pines parking lot for attempting to buy an ounce of coke from an undercover cop. Cops found -- surprise! -- a small rock of crack in her purse.
Still, in March 2004, attorney Jason Kreiss asked Judge Cynthia Imperato to let his client travel to St. Maarten for a week's vacation after she was released on $15,000 bond. Imperato granted the motion. Three months later, Kreiss again asked Imperato to let Lutz travel "out of the country" for another week, from June 7 until June 14. "Prior to this case, my client had no involvement with the criminal justice system," he claimed. No itinerary or destinations were provided to the court.
"I'm not commenting," Kreiss said blithely when contacted by phone at his Fort Lauderdale office. "My client asked if she could travel, and I filed a motion."
Lutz missed a July 2 calendar call at the Broward County Courthouse in connection with that case. As a result, her bond has been forfeited and a warrant for her arrest has been issued. Lutz's detention in Istanbul put a major dent in her return plans, and at the moment, the capias warrant on file in Broward County would appear to represent the least of her worries. Kreiss, who says he tried a fruitless conversation with her court-appointed counsel in Istanbul, croaks, "I can only imagine what she's going through."
On June 17, following a probable cause hearing, Lantz and Lutz were charged in a Turkish state security court with drug smuggling and export and sent to the Pasakapisi Women's Jail in Istanbul. They will stand trial later this year.
The American consulate general publishes a special document advising citizens about drug offenses in the former Ottoman Empire. "Penalties for violating Turkish laws, even unknowingly, can be quite severe," it states. "Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are particularly strict, and convicted offenders should expect jail sentences with heavy fines."
As serious as that sounds, it's a massive understatement.
According to the Turkish Penal Code, the pair face terms that mean they could well live out their days in Istanbul. Importing narcotics without a license is good for ten to 20 years. Transferring or keeping narcotics in one's possession is worth another four to ten years of imprisonment.
Then it gets hard-core: Each gram of the substance confiscated tacks on six to 12 years to the sentence. Lutz and Lantz were popped with 25.2 kilograms, which amounts to 25,200 grams.
"If the narcotics referenced are heroin, cocaine, or morphine," the Turkish Penal Code continues, "the punishment given to the perpetrator is doubled."
The code goes on to insist that members of an "organization" committing the crime will see their sentences "increased by one-half." And, unfortunately for Lantz and Lutz, "the conspiracy of two or more people to commit such offenses is considered an organization."
Do the math: Even if an Istanbul judge lets them off easy, Shelly and Suzanne are looking at 453,657 years in a Turkish prison.
The best spot for news and updates on Lantz and Lutz is the general discussion forum on a local escort-service message board, independentgirls.com. The site's patrons have even posted Turkish television images showing Lutz in an airport wearing a business suit with several men leading her away and another of her, wearing a sweatshirt, being directed into a building by a mustachioed official using a cigarette as a pointer. A man claiming to be an acquaintance of the women posted a message on the message board earlier this month. "Shelly was telling me some babble about making money and going to Brazil and Europe, but it sounded kinda bogus," he wrote.
A man using the initials KRS tried to send word to Lutz through the U.S. consulate general in Istanbul. He received a letter (which he posted on the site) that stated, "Unfortunately, the Turkish prison system does not permit prisoners to receive phone calls."
When a New Times reporter e-mailed a message to KRS, a man with a Texas accent called back almost immediately. "I was living with Suzanne, paying rent at her house in Delray from April until two days before she left for Brazil," he said. That's where Lutz was, he claims, when they spoke via Nex-Tel two-way radios on June 12. He describes Lutz as a naive, trusting, single mom prone to making bad decisions.
Lutz "knew there was some smuggling going on," KRS confirms. "But she was told it was only paper -- bank securities -- that were gonna be stuffed in the lining of an extra suitcase, identical to the one she'd be using." Says KRS, "Unknowingly, she got set up and busted."
Neither Lutz nor Lantz has so far provided a "Privacy Act Waiver" releasing more details to U.S. officials, and no word has come out of Turkey regarding their case since late June. In the pages of South Florida's voluminous crack-whore history, Lantz and Lutz constituted standard-issue, stereotypical fare. But now their story will probably make Charlize Theron and Courtney Love pack on the pounds so they can play Lantz and Lutz in Midnight Express II -- The Reckoning.
Coming soon to theaters near you.
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