Flying at low altitude in a small airplane over the city of Puebla, south of Mexico City, Richard Stratton and his associates spotted their truck. They were smugglers. The truck was loaded with about 1.5 tons of cannabis, and it had disappeared off the street. So Stratton and his team took off in an airplane they owned to find it. “I had this guy named José watching the truck for me,” Stratton recalls. “I told him, ‘Whatever you do, do not leave this truck. Guard this truck.’ So the guy goes home for the Christmas holiday, and when he gets back to Puebla, the truck is gone.”
This story originally appeared in Volume 3 of Road & Track.
Now, from overhead, they spotted it. Which was great. Only problem? It was parked in the impound lot at a police station.
This was the late Seventies, the era of glittering disco balls and the so-called Hippie Mafia. The weed in the truck was hidden in a custom-built stash space, a false wall built into the front of the truck’s cargo area. It was then filled with furniture Stratton had purchased as a decoy, so the vehicle looked like any medium-sized moving truck being put to good use.
“The police knew something was fishy, but they didn’t know what,” Stratton recalls. “We paid them off, got out of there, and we were over the American border the next day.”
Stratton was, at the time, building his smuggling empire. He was also a writer with serious literary chops. He would have plenty of time to look back on his smuggling business, what went right and what went wrong. After he was busted in 1982 at the Sheraton Senator Hotel at LAX, Norman Mailer and Doris Kearns Goodwin testified on his behalf at his trial. Nevertheless, he spent