Longform

The Matrix: Unloaded

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In introducing Asher at DevCon '99, Bruce Barrington, who created the Clarion program and is now a board director for Seisint, claimed that Asher had departed his home state of Indiana because his "efforts were underutilized," according to an article at the time in the trade journal Clarion Magazine. Asher, however, set the record straight at the podium: He was fired from his last job in Indiana on the grounds that he couldn't get along with people and that his ideas didn't work. He paused a beat after the admission. "I think I have proven that my ideas do work," he declared. The audience roared at the droll gloss over, but Asher's thorniness has indeed been as prominent as his innovation.

Henry Edward Asher was born on May 9, 1951, and raised on a farm near Valparaiso, Indiana, which is 60 miles from downtown Chicago. He briefly attended Valparaiso University, a small, private college. Although he didn't graduate, each year the college awards the Hank Asher Scholarship, which is funded each year by a Valparaiso resident who wishes to remain anonymous. The scholarship is intended for students interested in computer science.

He moved to South Florida during the early 1970s and began the first of numerous entrepreneurial ventures. In 1975 he incorporated three companies based in Wilton Manors: Asher Painting; Asher Waterproof Coatings, Roofing and Painting Corp.; and Technological International Inc, which changed its name in 1977 to Asher International Corp. His brother, Charles A. Asher, who graduated from Indiana University School of Law in 1977, served as an officer for the third company.

Through a friend, Asher met Judith Redden in 1977, and the two lived together on and off in Wilton Manors from then through 1982. The couple apparently traveled frequently to the Bahamas and Hawaii. In March 1979, Redden gave birth to the couple's first child, Eliza Asher. Asher was "thrilled" with the arrival of his first-born, according to documents filed in 1993 by the state seeking child support payments from Asher. Caroline Asher was born in July 1982.

Asher's business ventures unraveled that year, and he closed them down.



Sometime during this period, Asher, who was also a pilot, bought a home on Great Harbour, a small island in the Bahamas about 85 miles south of Nassau. There he was to strike up a lifelong friendship with fellow homeowner F. Lee Bailey, one of the nation's premier defense attorneys. Bailey first gained prominence in 1961 by taking on the case of Sam Sheppard, who had been convicted seven years earlier of killing his wife, and he went on to handle a series of high-profile cases.

Great Harbour was separated only by a small channel from Cistern Cay, a tiny isle with a landing strip that gained notoriety as a drug smuggling base in the 1970s. Robert Vesco, a fugitive American financier, bought Cistern Cay in 1978 for $180,000. Vesco, who had been charged in 1976 with stealing $224 million from a mutual fund, became a figure in the Watergate scandal after it was revealed that he had illegally contributed $200,000 to the 1972 Richard Nixon reelection campaign. Vesco is also alleged to have assisted Carlos Lehder, an infamous Colombian drug smuggler, in laundering money through Nassau banks.

Cocaine dealing seemed virtually out of control in those days. By the early 1980s, no less than Bahamian prime minister Lynden Pindling had been caught up in allegations of assisting smugglers on Cistern Cay (he was never charged). In 1983, NBC broadcast a story alleging that Pindling and other government officials were being bribed by a Cistern Cay operative to keep quiet about the island's flourishing drug trade. Bailey called NBC's assertions "wildly inaccurate and recklessly reported," and he offered to sue the network on behalf of the Bahamian government.

The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) torqued up its efforts in the 1980s to stem the flow of drugs into the United States via the Caribbean. Agents in the DEA's Chicago office began investigating Roger W. Nelson, a Chicago-area pilot and professional skydiver who owned a home on Cistern Cay. Aware that the feds were developing a case against him and a handful of his Chicago friends, Nelson moved to mitigate the prosecutor's wrath by striking a deal with agents in the Miami DEA office. Enter F. Lee Bailey.



In 1985, Bailey approached the Miami DEA office and proposed helping the agency capture drug shipments being smuggled from the Bahamas to Florida. Bailey "offered to make available a man he identified as Hank Asher, a pilot and onetime smuggler who lived on Great Harbour, an island near Cistern Cay," according to a Chicago Tribune article that was based on federal court documents. "Asher wanted to sell his home but could not because drug-smuggling activity had depressed market values." Bailey told agents that his own interest was "primarily to make the island a more marketable item and second, to punish those involved in the burning of his house." One former DEA agent recalls that Bailey owned a waterfront condo, which was connected to a boat slip by covered walkway. Someone set the boat on fire, which then followed the walkway roof to the house. Bailey contended that the fire was set because he was trying to clean up the island of drug smuggling. (Bailey declined to be interviewed by New Times.)

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Wyatt Olson
Contact: Wyatt Olson