From the Archives: 9 Tons of Pot (1974)

Rod de Remer

Regular newspaper readers will remember last year’s spectacular rupture of a barge laden with 9-ton pots. This was the first in a series of setbacks for the major dealers.

So what happened to the poor bastards with Jamaican ships in their boats and visions of lush green profits in their heads?

A few weeks ago, they were tried in the same court where the Gainesville Eights were acquitted.

Gainesville Eight was an anti-war Vietnam veteran who was federally indicted for conspiracy to commit violence at the Republican convention in Miami.

But this trial was in stark contrast to the Gainesville Eight trial. There was little publicity and even less sympathy for the defendant.

“Steinhatchie Seven” was just a smuggler.

Perhaps four or five years ago people could rally around the pot as a political unifying force. will be the point. “Okay guys,” exclaims the movement’s leader. But it was always the ideal, the freedom to smoke marijuana (unfortunately our short-sighted ancestors weren’t included in the Bill of Rights), not the actual physical substance itself that was championed. . When a group of guys are playing with over nine tons chasing a big cabbage, they’re in business. It’s certainly a high-risk, lucrative business. No, there weren’t many who rallied to the cause and yelled, “Release Steinhutch Seven.”

The Steinhatchie Seven is: Barry Kohn, 23, David Strongowski, 23, Michael J. Knight, 23, Richard Erikas, 22, and Stephen Labo, 20, are all from the St. Petersburg region. Floyd Kapo, 40, from Cross City and James Maslanka, 24, from Gainesville.

They were convicted of what they had done was to bring 9.5 tons of Jamaican bush into a small West Florida waterway called Rocky Creek on a barge owned by Kapo and then attempt to sell it at wholesale Florida prices. That’s what I did. Spring of this year. Of course, no one has ever been convicted of selling nefarious drugs at wholesale prices. A figure often quoted in the press, and not often offered by prosecutors, is that the hard-earned $4.5 million will carry that barge load to your garage, the back door of your warehouse, or wherever. It wasn’t that otherwise you could cram that much bush. Broadly speaking, the breakdown is about $245 per pound. It must be some kind of government subsidized farming program. (Not content with that exaggerated figure, the Independent Florida Alligator, a University of Florida student newspaper, used a $9 million figure reportedly obtained from Steinhatchie drug ties.)

But the difference between the Gainesville Eight and the Steinhatchie Seven wasn’t just that they had no reason to defend. It was the accused, at least some of them, who were well-known figures and even heroes to many Americans in the political hatchet work the government attempted on veterans. The best that was collected was Percy Foreman, the famous lawyer who defended the likes of Candy Mosier and James Earl Ray.

Foreman presented a court observer and, to some extent, a dignified person to the participants. However, one key participant seemed less impressed. U.S. District Judge David L. Middlebrooks has never been tagged as a judge for hanging, but if drug use is prohibited to take the key to the golden gate and ascend to heaven, he will be the eternal judge. Not the sort of person anyone would choose to sentence a soul.

The clash between Foreman and Middlebrooks came when Foreman tried to tell judges how it was done in most federal courts where he practiced. If you don’t like it, Mr. Foreman, you can appeal to New Orleans!” (New Orleans is the seat of the Fifth Court of Justice.)

Percy Foreman just wasn’t enough. He wasn’t good enough, even though none of the defendants were caught in that weed pile at the barge runner ground of the barge Kapo which emerged in the middle of the creek. Not only that, but from the very beginning of the government’s case, the mild-mannered, youthful Assistant U.S. Attorney from Pensacola, Robert Crongayer, acknowledged that the evidence was circumstantial.

That circumstantial evidence, he promised the jury in his opening remarks, “will weave together a series of circumstances that must befall all of these defendants.”

Its “web” of testimony from more than 40 witnesses highlighted strengths such as the statement that the defendant “appeared to be lying in a haystack.” Hay is scarce in the Steinhatchie Cross City area, about 135 miles north of St. Petersburg and about 70 miles from here. No, the people there mainly fish and sell mobile homes. When I was running around with Floyd Capo on March 4th, six young guys with long hair, headbands, and various other oddities were sticking out just like thumbs.

In court, Floyd Capo sat in a row behind the bench facing the jury. He was sitting there with other people, but he wasn’t very fit. Capo is 40 years old, a little stocky, with gray hair on top. Unlike his fellow defendants, he was not bound by legal proceedings, and once gave in to an instinct most people refrained from in such a formal environment, taking off his shoes and giving a good scratch to his big toe. I hurt.

The other part of that “web” that finally loomed over Seven’s head was a Jamaican plane ticket that was in Maslanka’s pocket when the blue Eldorado he was driving near Cross City stopped. There were many more testimonies of the peculiar sound of Kapo’s boats, apparently discernible by everyone in those parts. From 1:00 a.m. until dawn I heard boats sailing offshore to the creek. But Topper had found the barge. And nearby, on the south shore of Rocky Creek Landing, was a campground, with scaly grasses like southern moss hanging from the trees.

What a time the sheriff of that small county was posing in front of marijuana. The next week, all the small weekly newspapers in the surrounding area ran bad polaroids of local heroes under very big headlines. All the defense could throw back to the jury was that the seven had been wrongfully arrested, that they were hoping to appeal, and the testimony of character witness John Carroll. has proven to be no more effective in the courts here than in the old days of the Southwest, when men and women were frightened by wearing masks and carving the letter Z with their swords.

Carroll, the actor who played Zorro on TV, said he was poised to make the two defendants movie stars.

he may have to wait. The strongest contrast between the Gainesville Eight case and the Steinhatchee Seven trial was made by a jury that found all seven guilty of his four counts.

The maximum sentence is five years on each count, but Middlebrooks has shown generous leniency by announcing that none of the seven will be sentenced to more than 15 years. They each got 20 years.

So if things have seemed a little tight and a little dry this summer, you may have taken a look at your own plants and wondered why it took so long to grow them. If so, think for a moment about Steinhatchie Seven facing a very long and dry stretch.

high times magazineSummer 1974

Read the full article here.

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