Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

SMUGGLER: Barry Seal


In the spring of 1983, Barry Seal was a multimillionaire. By his own estimate, he'd flown anywhere from 50 to 100 trips to Central and South America to smuggle drugs back to the United States and had made $50 million. For a skilled pilot like Barry Seal, smuggling was easy. Sometimes he didn't even have to do the flying himself.

"I brought 20,000 pounds of cocaine into Louisiana, and I never left my house," Seal once bragged to The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge. "I did it all by phone."

Then he got caught.

In the spring of 1983, Seal was one of 80 people netted in an FBI and DEA undercover sting called "Operation Screamer." In two separate indictments in south Florida, the federal government charged Seal with smuggling 200,000 Quaaludes.

Barry took a gamble and went to trial. He lost and wound up facing more than 50 years in prison.

Then Barry made a pitch to federal agents and prosecutors involved in his two south Florida cases: He would become an informant and help them take down other drug dealers. The feds in south Florida turned him down.

Seal made the same pitch to his old high school friend Stanford Bardwell, the U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge. Bardwell turned him downtwice.

Never one to give up, Seal flew his Lear jet to Washington, D.C. on March 24, 1983 and banged on the door of former CIA director and now Vice President George Bush's drug task force. He met with two members of the VP's staff. Later, Seal testified about what he told them.

"I had an upcoming smuggling trip. I had been asked to bring in approximately 3,000 kilos of cocaine from the Jorge Ochoa smuggling group, and I would be willing to cooperate with them for their assistance in helping me out with my sentences in south Florida."

That information got him a hurried meeting with two DEA agents in Miami. Barry Seal, one of the biggest drug smugglers in the country, had just enlisted as a foot soldier in the U.S. government's war on drugs.

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