April 2017


From The Pages of
"The Last Gentleman Smuggler":
A Book By Steven M. Kalish and Nikki Palomino

July 1984

The clouds had cleared, the sun bright and hot when we arrived at the FBO. Everything appeared quiet as we drove around looking for any surveillance but saw none. We parked about a hundred yards from the FBO in a remote parking lot. Richard and Leigh stepped out of the Bronco as I watched them go into the FBO. I kept a close eye on what went on around me. Nothing out of the ordinary. I kept looking at my watch as a second turned to a minute and after fifteen minutes down, I didn’t see Leigh or Richard come back out. I stepped from the Bronco and started toward the main road outside of the airport. I’d only walked twenty feet when several men and one woman all dressed in slacks, dress shirts and wearing sport coats approached me from several sides. Once I saw them, I knew who they were. What the Feds expected I refused to give; a reaction. Not usual but the Supervisory Agent in Charge of the task force Jerry Coughlin, standing six-feet one, lanky, thinning brown hair approached me. “Are you Steven Kalish?”

Special FBI agents Stan Jacobson, tall, about one-hundred and seventy-five pounds with black hair and balding, heavy-set Marty Borland, U.S. Customs agent Laura Sherman, with brown curly hair, brown eyes and cute slowly walked up to me. No one drew any guns.

“No sir, my name is Frank Brown,” I said as I provided them with my Florida driver’s license.

Jerry glanced at my ID, then looked straight in my eyes. “You are under arrest for a fugitive warrant from Texas.”

He pulled out the handcuffs.

“Turn around. We need to cuff you.”

They were all so polite like we were attending an Alice in Wonderland tea party.

No big deal. They were acting like catching a federal fugitive was nothing special. They walked me to the Crown Victoria, helped me into the back seat and brought me to their downtown Tampa Headquarters. When we arrived, they escorted me into a large open room. I committed everything I saw to memory, the fifteen or so agents from multiple agencies working at their desks, the drone of voices, central air, clicking keyboards and ringing phones constant in my ears. Then I noticed what made my stomach shoot up my throat. I remained calm and catalogued what I saw. I recognized the graffiti of names, Chic Fortna written at the top of one board and the list of his crew members stacked below. Some I knew, some I didn’t. I searched the board for my name, but I didn’t see Frank Brown or Steven Kalish or any of my other aliases.

My first impression was they were running surveillance on Chic and his crew and tracking down leads. I could have been just a lead, but they’d nabbed a federal fugitive. The agents acted with total indifference until I was lead into the (SAC) Supervisory Agent in Charge’s office. This was the kind of moment someone with less fortitude would shit himself.

The cuffs were removed.

“Sit down,” said Jerry Coughlin and stared sternly. Stanley Jacobson, Marty Boland, Laura Sherman and a DEA agent surrounded me. But Jerry did all the talking for the Feds. “You were arrested on the fugitive warrant, but we’re more interested in what you’re up to now.”

I remained quiet as if I was considering what he said and why I should play with the big boys and do myself a favor.

Jerry looked me straight-on. “How do you know Leigh Ritch?”

“He’s just a friend,” I said, knowing less is more, gentle persuasion better than hostile confrontation, no different than dealing with the Colombians.

“And Abraham ‘Chic’ Fortna?” Jerry began to realize I was not the kind of man who liked the feel of air blowing through my lips for the sake of it. Frustrated but not yet defeated, Jerry walked around his desk and sat on the corner to be closer, to be able to really look me in the eyes as if he could read my mind because he knew how. I also knew how to consider what he said and what I should answer and when. A quick trigger I was not.

Jerry started barking the typical speech. “You know you can help yourself if you tell me what’s going down.”

He continued his speech right out of the Feds manifesto as I sat quietly observing anything that might tell me what they knew about our operations. His questions were empty of any actual substance. He continued talking as the other agents backed him with their presence.

Confidence is quiet. Insecurity is loud.

After about ten minutes, Jerry shut-up.

“I really can’t say anything to any of you in this room,” I said. “What I have to say is above your pay grade. I’d like to contact someone in the U.S. State Department.”

My words took them by surprise and upset them.

“Who? Why do you need to talk to the State Department?” Jerry bit his lip.

“My activities are classified. Therefore, I’m not at liberty to discuss anything with you.”

Jerry lost control. “You think you’re so important just because you’ve managed to evade the law for a couple years? We can put you away for life.” He pounded his fist on his desk like a kid throwing a temper tantrum. He didn’t like to lose, not in front of the other agents, not with his track record upholding U.S. drug laws.

I smiled, allowing him to voice reason where there existed none, at least not for Steven Kalish. He repeated his mantra and would not stop until I stopped him.

“I would like to call my attorney,” I said as I reached for the phone on his desk.

He started to grab my hand, but thought better. “You better think about what you’re doing, Kalish.”

Now I needed to be stern or I’d be sitting here for hours. “I am aware of my rights. You refused my request to talk to someone at the State Department. Therefore, our conversation is over.” Jerry glanced at his perplexed agents as he pushed the phone toward me. Jerry saw what the psychiatrist later reported. I was an atypical lawbreaker, not like any other criminal who’d come through. I did not fit the sociopathic or psychopathic definitions found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Law Enforcement found me puzzling, so much so they’d later tag me as the last gentleman smuggler.

I knew my Texas criminal defense attorney Dick DeGuerin’s office number by heart. His secretary answered. She recognized my voice, and put me straight through.

His first words were, “I knew I would be hearing from you one day. How are you?” He never acted perplexed by my difference from others he had represented.

“I’m in Tampa. I’m under arrest for the Texas warrant.” I glanced up at Jerry, eyes slit like a snake’s.

“I’ll fly in tonight. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The pissed Feds knew of Dick DeGuerin’s reputation, made famous working for the legendary Texas criminal defense attorney Percy Foreman and their handling of high-profile cases. I had first gone to Percy, but he turned me over to Dick who I liked immediately. When Percy asked for a million dollars, he also told me trials are expensive. He advised me to get my ass back out there and smuggle more pot. So I had contacted Roland Miles to bring in more loads to pay for my attorneys.

What hit like a stake to the hearts of the agents was the idea I might have been telling the truth. Groucho Marx said once, “Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

When I hung up the phone, I knew this time they’d listen. “I’m sorry I am unable to talk with you. I appreciate your courteous treatment.”

What they’d thought was just another smuggling case however high the price tag turned bewildering. There were hundreds of smugglers challenging the very laws the under-staffed, under-paid agents fought to uphold. The imperious War on Drugs couldn’t stop the momentum already in place. All of us in the SAC’s office knew what the other was thinking.

They wasted no time escorting me to the Hillsborough County Jail. I was booked on my fugitive warrant. I did not see any of the agents for at least eighteen months. Once placed in a cell, I went to the payphone and started making calls. I called my drop-dead-gorgeous closest girlfriend Denise Barbuto and told her I was in jail.

“I’m not Frank Brown. My real name is Steven Kalish. I have been arrested for a federal warrant out of Texas for marijuana. Come see me tomorrow.” She cried and told me how much she loved me, and nothing mattered except being together. My next call went to Leigh. I told him everything I needed to, no wasted words.

“Leave for the Caymans immediately. Cancel everything. We won’t be talking for a while. I’m done,” I said as Leigh remained mute. “Please listen and follow what I’m telling you.”

But Leigh didn’t take my advice as I would learn later. The call from the payphone would be the last time I’d talk to Leigh until eighteen months later when we’d meet again in the Hillsborough County Jail.

That night in the caged darkness I had nothing to do but think.

There is no such thing as time. Man gives time a past, a future and now. My brain memorizes what I see in the infinite string of mirrors looking back at Steven Kalish, the man who at one time owned a chunk of the world.


THE TRUTH ABOUT THE LARGEST DRUG SMUGGLING RING EVER DISCOVERED IN THE UNITED STATES...... COMING 2017-2018 the non-fiction crime epic about one of the most compelling stories in the twentieth century "The Last Gentleman Smuggler" by former Texans Steven M. Kalish, a fifteen-year-old hippie drop-out becoming one of the largest pot smugglers and money-laundering masters in US history, and Nikki Palomino, award-winning author/filmmaker DAZED Novel Trilogy, rock journalist, former grunge rock musician/radio personality. The book/film/TV series "The Last Gentleman Smuggler" will be a thrill-ride about the rogue American white boy who at fifteen dropped out of a Houston High School to enter the US War on Drugs laundering money equaled to the drug kingpins. Unforgettable!!!!!!

July 1984

“I have been involved in marijuana smuggling for most of my adult life....I am Steven Michael Kalish, convicted narcotics smuggler.”

Photos AP Press, Tammy, Oaxaca Smuggler, Roxy


Steven's crew

Steven's crew

Steven's crew

Steven's crew

Dick DeGuerin,
Steven's Defense Attorney

Dick DeGuerin, Steven's Defense Attorney

Max Wade Top crew leader

Max Wade Top crew leader

Steven Kalish

Steven Kalish

Graffiti on Los Angeles wall

Graffiti on Los Angeles wall

Book Cover

Book Cover

Steven and crew member in Oaxaca

Steven and crew member in Oaxaca