Welcome back. With the legalization of the use of marijuana in Colorado this week, it seems like a good time to continue a story I promised you readers several years ago. I first became interested in this story after reading several front page accounts of the bust in a New Mexico paper eight years ago. Subsequent interviews with a wife, children and several former Bartlesville residents who were involved and later jailed have added more details to the story and my thanks goes to them. I hope you enjoy it. Please note that the names of the people in this story have been changed to spare their family members from embarrassment.
His days are spent staring at the concrete cell block walls that surround him, often counting each brick one by one. There is a wall on either side, one in the back and a large metal door in front of him. The cell is 8’ x 12’ with 12’ ceilings. It has been 8 years, going on 9, and with good behavior there’s a chance he’ll be out in 7 or 8 more. By then he’ll be in his late ‘70s. Although he tries not to, he thinks constantly of his ex-wife and their two children, wondering how everything had gone so terribly wrong. In the background he hears the sounds of the other inmates, many of whom are nut jobs and others who are hardened criminals with long rap sheets. Some are smart and quite cunning but none of them come from his background or have his education. How could this have happened to him?
The end of the road had come quickly. All of his business associates assumed he was successful based on his many legitimate investments including land in New Mexico, Arizona and New York along with homes in gated communities on both coasts. Fancy cars and motorcycles were hobbies supported by his aviation business and trucking company. He was also involved in buying and selling steel and had yards in several states. Yes, Jimmy MacDonald was certainly wealthy by anyone’s standards.
It was well known that he had been born in New York City to a banker’s daughter and a money manager father. Jimmy was their only child and was expected to take over management of the family fortune. He was driven to excel in both academics and sports both in private school and at the Ivy League college where he graduated with honors. After graduation, he quickly became a successful businessman in his own right. Between his earnings and the trust funds his parents had established, by the time he was twenty-five Jimmy was worth well over 10 million dollars. He had safe deposit boxes full of cash and jewels, employees who catered to his every whim and plenty of women.
As a handsome member of New York society with wealthy and prominent parents, Jimmy’s success in life was virtually guaranteed. But that was in the 1960s, before his move to New Mexico. His parents were still alive then. After their deaths life changed for him. A business trip to Arizona led him to buy a house there which was followed by several land purchases. Soon he was spending more time in Arizona than in New York. He loved the high desert country and the change it provided from the hustle of the big city. He had lots of money, so much in fact that earning more money just seemed effortless.
Everything started with one of his new friends in Arizona who threw out the idea of Jim becoming the money man in a pot smuggling business. Nogales, Mexico just 70 miles from Tucson was perfect with all the open country side and as the two talked the plan just sounded like fun. The investment his friend needed was pocket change to Jim but he quickly found the thrill of being a smuggler was highly addictive.
This past life seemed closer late at night when the prison guards turned off the lights in his cell block. He could close his eyes and dream of the things he’d owned, the business deals he’d made with his father and the mother who had adored him. He could still feel the thrill of dropping off a dozen human mules loaded with weed. He had even made the 17 mile trip across the desert himself a few times, traveling at night to the meeting spot where waiting cars would take the tired men and their contraband to safe houses to rest before the return trip. Over the course of 15 years there was no telling just how many tons of pot had been moved across the border by his crew of planes, semi trucks and human smugglers. If by chance a group would get caught, Jim’s lawyers would usually get them released within a day or two.
His lawyers had hoped that he would get out of jail following an appeal but after all these years Jim realized that wasn’t likely. At the time of his arrest, the U.S. Attorney’s office had been conducting a secret two year investigation of his activities, even infiltrating his organization with a mole. On top of that when twenty one of his top associates were all arrested on the same day, several of them immediately began cooperating with investigators. They had revealed a huge multi state operation, extending from coast to coast. The government had confiscated all of property, including his planes, but keeping his eyes closed he could remember his favorite one. He had gotten his pilot’s license at a young age and had always liked this particular plane..
The Beechcraft King Air C-90 turbo prop was fast and Jim loved fast things. Years before he had asked his lawyer to use money from his trust fund to store and maintain the plane but he didn’t know if that was being done. He had owned other planes that were used for hauling weed across the border but the King Air had been the best. Now it was probably in government storage somewhere waiting for auction. Even though the U.S. Attorney had seized over 49 million dollars in cash and assets they had not been able to touch his family money. Jim is still worth millions although it doesn’t do him much good in his present situation.
A good life filled with good restaurants, high dollar wines and nice soft beds. He is at peace as the jailer hits the lights to wake everyone for breakfast and his day starts just like the day before, and the day before that.
Till next week I’ll see ya down the road……………….