Longform

Finding Gary, Part 2

Page 5 of 8

What the FBI wouldn't learn until much later was that Sandini and Mitrione stole 42 kilos for themselves before handing over the cocaine to the bureau, a skim that netted the agent and his informant about $1 million each.

The seized shipment, however, wasn't enough to save Airlift. On April 20, 1983, the FBI terminated the operation. Two months later, Mitrione resigned to become a business partner with Sandini, who kept the drug-smuggling operation going.

Soon, Mitrione was buying property, boats, and cars. He also took his wife, Janet, on long vacations to Yellowstone Park, Maine, Rio de Janeiro, and London. Sandini stashed millions in offshore bank accounts in the Cayman Islands.

And the greatest law enforcement agency in the world still apparently had no clue that its agent had gone astray.


Before Gary disappeared, Donna Weaver had several brushes with Airlift. She just didn't know it.

Donna was close to Krugh, her husband's boss and buddy. She regularly attended barbecues at Krugh's house and went to Tupperware parties thrown by his wife at the time, Liz. But Donna says it never occurred to her that Randy Krugh might be a drug smuggler; she just thought he ran a successful excavation company.

Krugh had invited Donna and Gary to his sister's birthday party on the Zaca. Two months pregnant with the twins at the time, she stayed home while her husband boarded the yacht, she recalls. Gary came home, happily drunk, she remembers, and told her the people on the boat were great -- rich but down-to-earth at the same time.

Donna also recalls a Colombian named Hernando, who she believes is the Colombian Air Force major named in FBI reports. Hernando accompanied Krugh around town, even bringing him to her daughter's christening. She recalls that her husband's boss treated Hernando like royalty. It was the same Hernando who would later meet her at the Hollywood Amtrak station and tell her to quit speaking with police about Gary's disappearance.

But she says she was completely clueless about Gary's involvement -- whatever it may have been -- in the drug trade. When Krugh sent Gary to the Bahamas in fall 1983, it never occurred to Donna that he might be working on the fringes of a Colombian cocaine cartel. "I was so dumb," says Donna, who was a 23-year-old mother of 6-month-old twin daughters when her husband vanished.

Krugh didn't seem the criminal type to Donna. She remembers him as a goofy bald guy, always joking and playing pranks. She agonizes over what Gary might have known when he went on those three trips. She's certain, however, that he couldn't have understood the kind of trouble Krugh was in or how dangerous that made it for Gary.

Gary's best man would later tell federal investigators that the biggest mistake he ever made was getting his pilot's license. But Krugh seemed born for the cockpit. His father, a livestock broker in Ohio, flew the family on vacations all over the country, from Maine to Florida to the Grand Canyon. Randy soloed for the first time while still in high school.

Then he attended Ohio State University and began working in the excavation business. When the economy dried up in the late 1970s, he moved to South Florida and started his own company, Terra Movers. It didn't take long for Krugh, who liked to hang out at the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, to fall in with omnipresent smugglers. He first flew loads of pot for a mysterious man named Pat Hagerman and was arrested for it by the Drug Enforcement Agency in 1980. After he was convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, authorities allowed him to roam free for three years before serving his time. It isn't clear why he wasn't immediately imprisoned, but one thing is certain: He continued to smuggle drugs at a dizzying pace.

By March 1983, Krugh's hazardous life began crashing down, quite literally. He wrecked a plane during a marijuana run near the Black River in Jamaica. The cause: a cow on the isolated airstrip. Compounding the problem, he'd taken the Cessna from Sandini and Mitrione without permission. An incensed Sandini forced Krugh to pay $40,000 cash for the wrecked plane. With a need to make more money, Krugh began trying to sell cocaine on the street, and the following month, he tried to peddle two kilos of cocaine to Broward Sheriff's Office Detective Joe Damiano. Then-Sgt. Thomas Brennan, who today is a colonel and one of Sheriff Ken Jenne's top deputies, recruited Krugh as a confidential informant.

As he awaited his prison sentence and worked for BSO, Krugh continued to criss-cross the southern skies, smuggling copious amounts of illegal drugs. On top of that, Mitrione and others began to notice that Krugh was freebasing cocaine. While trying to satisfy his bosses at BSO, the pilot went after a big fish in the smuggling world: Combs, a raw-boned Louisianan who ran drug boats to and from the Bahamas. Together, the two men would eventually take Airlift down.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman