Miami, c. 1980

     By 1980 it was estimated that eighty planes per night were air-dropping drugs on to the Florida mainland and it was widely accepted that trafficking was the largest single source of income for the state. Marijuana alone generated considerably more than the tourist industry. So much grass was confiscated that authorities stopped destroying it in incinerators and gave it to the Florida Power and Light Company to burn in their ovens to generate electricity. In 1978 alone, cocaine entering the state was estimated at $7 billion.

     It wasn't only Miami's crime statistics that were doing somersaults. As illicit cash poured in, the state's finances went haywire: in 1979 the Miami Federal Reserve Bank reported a mysterious cash surplus of $5.5
billion—more than that of all the other twelve Federal Reserve banks in the country put together. The Miami state bank, built to supply a city with a population of under 350,000, began supplying cash to the other twelve federal banks. It soon became obvious where all this money was coming from: in the banks, traffickers and their assistants showed up regularly with boxes, sports bags and even supermarket trolleys full of cash to deposit.

     When there were finally rumbled and the Bank Secrecy Act was invoked (instructing banks to report cash deposits of more than $10,000 at a time) a new industry emerged. Traffickers employed runners to drive around the city's banks, making repeated deposits of just under ten grand. On occasions DEA agents would follow them—only to discover that they were being driven around in buses from bank to bank like tour groups, queues of them shuffling out with shoulder bags full of cash at each stop before re-embarking and moving on to the next one. So comedic was their appearance, all permanently queuing to get off the bus or into the bank, that the DEA named them after cartoon characters, the Smurfs.

     Of course, once in the banks, the money had to be transferred and laundered before it could be moved back to Colombia. The easiest way to do this was to invest it in real estate. The result was that Florida property prices went through the roof. One economist estimated that 40 per cent of all properties valued over $300,000 were owned by offshore corporations and that, were they to pull out, a real-estate recession would ensue.

Streatfeild, Dominic. Cocaine : an unauthorized biography. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Picador, 2001. pp.237–238. Print.

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