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Jackpot: High Times, High Seas, And The Sting That Launched The War On Drugs Paperback – August 7, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ryan writes a thoroughly researched account of Operation Jackpot, the drug investigation that ended the reign of South Carolina's "gentlemen smugglers," marijuana kingpins who kick-started Reagan's war on drugs. As a result of Operation Jackpot, more than 100 men were charged with smuggling, racketeering, tax evasion, and conspiracy, relatively tame charges, as Ryan stresses, compared with the violence surrounding contemporary drug trafficking. Ryan draws on extensive interviews, grand jury and trial transcripts, personal correspondence, news articles, and police reports. Still, rather than a comprehensive survey of marijuana and hashish smuggling in the 1970s and '80s, his book profiles personalities, focusing on "a few talented smugglers" and their wild exploits, such as a 1976 incident in the Florida Keys when the approach of police caused smugglers to scatter, sending a 65-foot sport fishing yacht with 15,000 pounds of marijuana on autopilot toward Cuba "never to be seen by the smugglers again." The last member of the crew to go to prison, having evaded the law for 25 years, pleaded guilty in 2008. Ryan recreates the era with a vivid, sun-drenched intensity. (Apr. 20)
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Review

Endorsement of The Day: A Great Book About the Early Years of the War on Weed…. Before Juarez was a war zone, before coke-rich Colombia was the hostage capital of the world, and before an ex-B-movie actor with a good haircut declared War on Drugs, a group of wayward Southern gentlemen yachted the globe with unseen amounts of marijuana and hashish, and did it with style. The adventures, the long-gone economy, and the sting that ultimately brought them down and changed US drug policy are meticulously documented and lucidly spun by reporter Jason Ryan in Jackpot…. Part New Yorker feature-part Jimmy Buffett song. . . . The result is adventuresome, lavish, informative fun. Try it. You’ll like it.” —GQ

 

“Over the course of Jackpot’s rollicking story, Ryan manages to pack in one amusing tale after another: the day after a shipment, the crew stumbles upon a bale of marijuana accidentally left on the side of the road; they pilot a pot-filled sailboat that is taking on water all the way back from Jamaica; … they help U.S. forces during the invasion of Grenada, earning one trafficker, Bob ‘The Boss’ Byers, the nickname rocket launcher.... Jackpot is a rip-roaring good read.” —Charleston City Paper

“High times on the high seas: Investigative reporter Ryan recounts the glory days of dope smuggling and their terrible denouement.... The protagonists are, in the main, decent and hardworking guys who just happen to be engaged in something very illegal—a trade that, as Ryan notes, is an ancient one along the South Carolina coast, where contraband smuggling is a big intergenerational business, whether of cigarettes, booze or pot. The principals of the story long enjoyed a place at the top of the smuggling pyramid, landing, in one year, more than 30,000 pounds of marijuana in three moves alone.... A well-told tale of true crime that provides a few good arguments for why it should not be a crime at all.” —Kirkus Reviews 

“[A] thoroughly researched account of Operation Jackpot, the drug investigation that ended the reign of South Carolina’s ‘gentlemen smugglers,’ marijuana kingpins who kick-started Reagan's war on drugs.... Ryan recreates the era with a vivid, sun-drenched intensity.” —Publishers Weekly

 
“Mr. Ryan has hit the jackpot with this tale of drug smuggling on the high seas. . . . [Jackpot] reads like an international thriller. . . . chock-a-block with hilarious and hair-raising anecdotes of fast times.” —Sam Millar, New York Journal of Books
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Lyons Press; Reprint edition (August 7, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762780304
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762780303
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #115,194 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Though born in Connecticut and educated at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., Jason Ryan has made his home in the South. He lives in Charleston, South Carolina and was formerly a reporter for The State newspaper.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By R. D Thomason on June 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
First, I'm from the general area this story took place and like many people in SC, knew one of the families of one of the smugglers. That creates a connection that enhances the impact of the book. That said, I think any baby-boomer will recognize someone they knew, or knew of, in this book. These smugglers were upper middle class college kids in the late 60's and early '70's. On probably every major college campus, there was a small group of people who went from smoking pot to supplying it. The guys in the book just happened to live in a state that was a smuggler's paradise, allowing them to more fully pursue their careers.

I found the book extremely well written. The author, being a reporter, keeps it factual and not overly dramatic. I thought he was very even-handed, carefully presenting both the smuggler's and law enforcement sides of the case. In spite of this factual style of writing, the book was riveting.

There are a lot of characters involved and it's a challenge to keep them straight. While there are some very short interviews, statements and quotes from the smugglers themselves - I wish there were more. I'd be particularly interested in how they view their lives now, looking back on them now after lengthy prison sentences. The author states that most of them would choose the same path again if they could. I found myself wanting to hear more about that.

Finally, these guys were lucky. Unlike today's smugglers, they eschewed violence, did not carry guns and only smuggled marijuana and hash. But in the same time period, in my hometown, two "gentlemen smugglers" - both sons of prominent doctors - wound up murdered, one shot and one found in his burned down house.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Dan Denton on August 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am a voracious reader of non-fiction books, including true crime, famous legal cases and courtroom dramas. I just finished reading Jackpot and would rate it among the top 5 books that I have enjoyed over the past few years.

Having lived in Beaufort, SC, since 1977, I was familiar with Operation Jackpot from the occasional newspaper stories, and I knew of some of the people from the Beaufort and Hilton Head area that were ensnared in the pot smuggling investigation. However, until I read Jason Ryan's book, I had no idea of the breadth and scope of the smuggling operations and the law enforcement investigations that reached along the entire Eastern Seacoast and involved hundreds of people over an entire decade. Ryan did an incredible job in writing a fascinating story that was obviously well researched and written in a style and prose that matches or exceeds that of most seasoned and successful authors that I have read.

It is just unbelievable how Ryan was able to take mountains of information and organize and reduce it to a compelling and very readable story of pot smuggling activities (and related investigations) along the Eastern coastal areas and around the world from the mid-1970's to mid 1980's - including the inner-workings and novel investigation and prosecution techniques of the Jackpot drug task force, the means and methods used by the so-called "gentlemen smugglers," the courtroom drama in the trials of those unwilling to plead guilty, and the background stories of the major participates in what has come to be known as one of the most successful operations (smuggling and law enforcement) in the history of the war on drugs.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By J. PIEROG on May 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed how the author intertwined History with this story about "Operation Jackpot"
Very well researched!! All the stories left to tell would make a great "Mini Series" on HBO or NETFLIX
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By lydonkey on July 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
A true crime story made truly interesting and highly entertaining. Mr. Ryan has successfully mixed the activities of both the dope smugglers and their law enforcement adversaries in an even handed, back-and-forth story line that tends to test your loyalties to both groups as you read along. With meticulous research and fascinating insights provided by extensive interviews with the actual participants from both sides, court records, and contemporary news coverage he provides a revealing inside look at the free-wheeling days of big time marijuana smuggling before the intrusion of crack-cocaine changed the face of dope dealing. These fun-loving, high-living, free-spending and non-violent "Gentlemen Smugglers" seem eminently likable with their catchy nicknames, love of big money and good times. Simultaneously you watch the admirably persistent, innovative and hard-working Federal investigators painstakingly identify, unravel and tirelessly accumulate an inescapable volume of testimony and documentation and a solid chain of other evidence to try to bring an end to the good times for "Flash", "Rolex", "The Hog", "Doc", "Smiley" and "Ice Cream". Their aim being not only to prosecute them for the drug violations but to use the then newly available Federal forfeiture laws to strip them of their illegally acquired wealth and property. It was the "good guys" versus the "bad guys", a fascinating true story that reads like a novel.
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