The Drug Smuggling Submarine Episode
In 1997, we had started to place ATM machines in locations around the state. The machines we were using had no cash in them. They produced a receipt which the customer presented to the cashier and got money for. We would split the ATM charge with the location owner.
We put them in convenience stores, gas stations, nightclubs and topless bars. These locations seemed to have the most potential for people to use the ATM’s.
The owners of the locations liked the machines since there was no cash in them and we paid for the machines, repairs and supplies. Their customers would have to come up to the register to get paid, and more than likely spend additional money at their location.
It was also a source of income for them because we split the charge with them. The charge varied by location, with topless bars charging the most. The usual charge at a topless bar was $5.00 a swipe, but some charged up to $10.
They could get away with charging so much because:
1. The patrons were often drunk and didn’t pay attention to what the cost was.
2. The patrons were besotted with the girls and the girls would only be with them if they had money. It was hard for the guys to say no to a near naked or naked girl sitting on their lap saying they would have to leave it he had no more money.
Because there was no cash in the ATM’s, there was less likelihood of someone stealing one. In fact we would put a sign on the machine specifying that there was no cash in the machine.
Never the less, occasionally some idiot would steal the machine and quickly abandon it when they realized their mistake.
Since topless bars were a great source of revenue for us, we tried very hard to place machines there.
One day I got a phone call from Porky’s, a topless bar near the Miami Airport. They asked me to come down the next morning to meet with them.
I arrived at 10AM and waited for the manager to show up.
A man in a Mercedes arrived and got out of the car. He was dressed in a suit and approached my car.
“Are you the ATM guy?” he asked.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Good, good,” he said. “I’m the lawyer for the business”.
“You know about the Federal Indictment, right?”
“Nooo’” I answered, “what Federal Indictment?”
I immediately looked for the FBI surveillance I was sure was photographing me in the parking lot. Visions of me being hauled in for questioning or worse quickly occurred to me.
He explained that the owner, a guy who went by the name “Tarzan”, had been caught trying to sell a decommissioned Russian Submarine to undercover DEA agents. The idea was they could use the submarine to smuggle in drugs underwater. The lawyer also implied Russian Mafia connections were involved.
“But don’t worry, this won’t really effect you,” he said reassuringly.
“Really, how could it not,” I asked?
“You will still own the equipment, right? You’re just placing the equipment in the location, so the Feds can’t confiscate it. The worst that would happen is the Feds close the place down, confiscate everything and you just show them your contract with the business and they release your equipment. Ok?”
“Sounds ok, can you draw me up something that says we are the owners of the equipment and not part of the corporation running the bar?”
“Sure, sure,” he answered. “Here’s the manager now, let’s go inside”.
A pretty young woman got out of a car and opened the back door to the bar. We followed her in.
Russian music was playing and there were 2 men speaking in Russian cleaning up the place. A couple of girls came in and were going to the dressing area.
We went into the manager’s office and sat down.
There were photo’s all around of various girls in and “out of costume”. As I looked around at the pictures one picture looked familiar to me. Turns out it was the manager sitting in front of me who I saw in the picture.
I quickly found out she used to be one of the dancers. She became the owner’s girlfriend and now was in charge of the bar as well as taking care of the owner’s child while he was in Federal custody awaiting trial .
We got down to business.
The manager, her name was Tanya and spoke with a Russian accent, liked the idea of the cashless ATM. It seems they had had a Cash ATM machine and thieves had broken in and stolen it. She felt this cashless ATM would preclude anyone being stupid enough to steal it.
Turns out she was wrong.
A year later some genius broke into the bar and stole the machine. He abandoned it outside in the parking lot after seeing no cash inside. He obviously didn’t believe the “NO CASH IN THE MACHINE” sign prominently displayed and taped to the machine. Since the machine had no back all he had to do was turn it around to see it was empty of cash.
Maybe he was too stupid to read.
Tanya showed me around the bar and we picked out a location where the machine could go. We discussed the split of the ATM swipe fees and the lawyer and manager signed the placement agreement. I was to return the next day and setup the machine.
The next day, I arrived at 10:30 AM and set up the machine. I showed them how the machine operated.
I installed a neon light over the machine advertising the ATM, and left.
The next day I got a call from Tanya.
“Take the light out,” she said.
“”How come,” I asked?
“It’s too bright. The men can see what the girls really look like,” she answered.
What could I say to that?
I agreed to come down that afternoon and take back the ATM sign.
I arrived about 2 PM and went inside. I took back the sign and looked around.
Tanya was right, the girls looked much better in the dark.