Commentary

A Family Tradition – Old School Florida Smuggling, Chapter 5

by Robert C. Hutchinson

Chapter 5

The Barker Family story continues. Click here to read Chapter 4.

The Belize Load That Never Was

During the early 1980s while Ronald Barker was dealing with several pressing issues and inconveniently unavailable (in state and federal prisons), other members of the Barker Family continued smuggling conspiracies and suspicious activities.

Cecil Barker, 69 at the time, and Joseph Arnett were convicted in 1983 for a 1981 plot to smuggle marijuana from Belize to Florida. The two defendants conspired with Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) confidential informants to plan an importation. The pair arranged and paid for the delivery and offloading of the marijuana from Belize to an airstrip near Tampa, Florida. Cecil Barker and Arnett were arrested before the first smuggling trip actually occurred since FDLE did not have authority to operate outside of the United States to execute it. It was unknown why FDLE did not involve USCS and/or DEA for the federal and international nexus.

Ronald Barker had been previously sentenced in 1983 for the same Belize conspiracy to five years in prison by a state court judge. He had also been convicted in federal court for separate narcotic violations, which overlapped with this prosecution and sentencing. Courts can order defendants to serve their sentences while already in another institution, giving them credit for two concurrent sentences at the same time. Ronald Barker’s prison schedule was overbooked.

Apparently, due to no located criminal history for Cecil Barker, he and Arnett were sentenced to 364 days in jail and ten years of probation by the state court judge in 1984. They were both fined $2,500 for the conspiracy. It is unknown why Cecil Barker’s previous arrests and 30-month sentence in state prison in 1965 were not considered during this state sentencing. The judge acknowledged the lenient sentence, but noted that they were arrested prior to the State of Florida enhancing its drug laws. This pattern of luck and leniency continued for the Barkers. The judge permitted the pair to remain free on bail pending their appeal of the convictions. Nevertheless, Cecil Barker would be identified in other suspicious activities in 1983.

Mortgage Fraud and Other Scams

Cecil and Richard Barker were identified in a $108,000 mortgage fraud scheme involving the sale of a Fort Lauderdale condominium in the spring of 1983. Through fraudulent documents, the property transfer was completed with the involvement of John Joseph Longo and his mortgage company. The Barkers were agents or intermediaries between Longo and a never actually observed buyer named Albert Surano Urkina in the real estate transaction. This was the second property purchased by the unidentified Surano Urkina with Longo’s assistance.

Longo issued a $115,000 mortgage loan to Surano Urkina for the condominium and then sold the loan to a third-party investor for $97,500. When the real estate sale was filed with the county records office, a forged document was submitted concealing an active second mortgage held by the original property owners. When the fraudulent document was identified, the property was returned to the original owners, leaving the investor with a worthless mortgage and Longo retaining $97,500. The investor later filed a claim with Attorney’s Title Insurance Fund and received $108,000 for his losses. The title insurer, which was not terribly pleased with having to pay off the dubious transaction claim, was never able to locate or confirm the existence of Surano Urkina. The Barkers were not much help in the search. The title insurance firm requested the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office to investigate the forgery and fraud, but that did not appear to go anywhere.

In a later deposition, Longo admitted to never meeting Surano Urkina, but described him as an influential man with possibly hundreds of millions of dollars. Surano was believed to be a foreign government official illegally bringing money into the United States at the time. Longo stated that he transmitted all property sales documents through the Barkers to Surano.

Longo stated that he first met Cecil Barker in 1977 or 1978 through Peter S. Penrose, an attorney and drug trafficker who was convicted in 1980 of attempting to extort $42,000 from Longo. Cecil Barker had reportedly borrowed $25,000 from Longo, leveraging a north Florida property for the loan. Cecil Barker needed the money in a hurry to visit his son who was in a Costa Rican prison at the time. The amount of money was definitely more than needed for the trip and indicated that it might be utilized to facilitate the release of Richard Barker from the Central American jail. By 1985 and the depositions, Richard Barker was back in the United States and dealing with a 1977 federal drug trafficking charge.

This was not the first time Longo was involved in suspicious and criminal activities with his businesses ranging from gemstones to real estate mortgages. He had been accused of defrauding and stealing several million dollars from several people. Longo’s first criminal conviction was in 1975 for federal attempted robbery and drug charges for which he received probation. This was the first arrest that he apparently forgot about in the 1985 deposition for the mortgage fraud when he swore he did not have a criminal record.

Longo’s work history included experience in private waste sanitation, restaurants, jewelry, and the Teamsters Union. During a reported fraud and theft of gemstones in 1980, Longo allegedly brandished a handgun and stated that he was with the mafia. Longo had received gems on consignment from the owner with no intention of selling or returning them. The owner contacted FDLE to report the theft and threats, but no charges were filed against Longo. The owner later sued Longo for the stolen gemstones and received a court award of over $3,000,000 in 1982. The owner never recovered a cent and reportedly committed suicide in 1983.

Longo was stopped for speeding in 1982. When Longo opened his glove compartment to retrieve registration and insurance documents, the officer observed a firearm. He was arrested for speeding, possession of marijuana, carrying a concealed firearm, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. While the criminal case was pending adjudication, Longo was introduced to a Broward County judge at a bar by a third person. The third person later stated that Longo’s case could be fixed by the judge for $50,000 in cash. Longo contacted the Broward State Attorney’s Office to report the information. After weeks of surveillance and investigation, it was determined that the third person made up the story about the judge and was charged with grand theft for receiving the $50,000. The criminal charges were later dropped against Longo for his cooperation with the false allegations against the judge.

Longo was involved in a dispute with David Allen Pandorf, a former member of what was believed to be Florida’s largest marijuana smuggling organization in the late 1970s. Pandorf purchased freighters and planned marijuana deliveries for the Steinberg narcotic smuggling organization, also known as “The Business” or “The Company.” The prolific organization used freighters to smuggle the drugs from Colombia to Florida, Virginia, and Massachusetts. According to federal prosecutors, the smuggling organization was responsible for one-sixth of all marijuana coming into the United States between 1977 and 1979.

From federal prison for a drug conspiracy conviction, Pandorf filed a lawsuit in 1985 claiming that Longo cheated him out of his vehicle, house, and $250,000 in diamonds. Pandorf claimed that he was forced to sign a false receipt for a $20,000 payment for the gems by Longo and several armed men in 1983. Several days later, Pandorf claimed that more men returned to his residence and used an electronic stun gun on him when he opened the front door. He was informed that he had now deeded his property over to Longo and was thrown out of his house with a warning to never come back. Longo’s father moved into the house and was the deeded owner after the incident.

Attorney Penrose had been arrested in 1980 for attempting to extort $42,000 from Longo. Four other suspects from the northeast were arrested along with Penrose as part of the extortion conspiracy. Longo, who was on probation for the 1975 conviction for conspiracy to smuggle marijuana, told law enforcement that he loaned Penrose $25,000 for a land deal. Longo further admitted that Penrose had previously approached him to finance a $20,000 drug deal. Penrose reportedly repaid Longo $40,000 for a loan then demanded the money back, threatening to send hit men if he did not comply. Additionally, it was alleged that the $40,000 was given to Longo for a load of marijuana that was never delivered to the men associated with Penrose.

Prior to the arrests, Penrose and the men met with Longo at his residence twice in one day to resolve the dispute over the money. Longo had verbally fought and physically struggled with the men at his residence during the second visit, resulting in the subjects shooting several shots through Longo’s window as they fled his house. One of the rounds caused a minor wound on his leg. Penrose later instructed Longo to pay an extra $2,000 for medical bills since Longo had reportedly broken the arm of one of the men, with his chrome-plated shotgun, during the second visit struggle.

When the Fort Lauderdale Police Department responded to the shooting call, Longo asked them for help with an extortion plot against him. Law enforcement monitored a meeting that was set up between Longo and the men that resulted in the probable cause for the arrest of the suspects. During the investigation, law enforcement had reason to believe that the furnished $40,000 came from a Teamster’s local pension fund, causing the four other suspects to travel down from New England to Florida to assist in the recovery. Penrose and five other men were indicted in 1980 for the attempted extortion of Longo.

During the extortion investigation, law enforcement discovered that attorney Penrose possessed a criminal record as an active member of the bar. He had been indicted in 1977 for conspiracy and importation of marijuana. Later in 1977, he pleaded to a lesser charge and was sentenced to six months in federal prison. Surprising many, The Florida Bar took no disciplinary actions against Penrose for the federal drug conviction and prison sentence. The Florida Bar reportedly did not have a record of it until the investigation and media inquiries surfaced. Peter S. Penrose was finally disbarred in 1982 and remains no longer eligible to practice law in Florida.

The relationships and interactions between Cecil Barker, Richard Barker, Longo, Penrose, and others provide an extraordinarily interesting story, especially with the drug smuggling, extortion, financial crimes, and possible money laundering violations. Everyone appeared to be associated with narcotic smuggling at one time or another in these linked stories. This would not be the only suspicious incident involving money, extortion, and shots fired at a residence. It was south Florida in the 1970s and 1980s after all.

In the next chapter, read about the Barker Family’s guns, ludes, and continued close encounters.

Robert C. Hutchinson was the chief of police for the Broward County Public Schools, Special Investigative Unit from 2016 to 2019. He was the former deputy special agent in charge and acting special agent in charge with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Homeland Security Investigations in Miami, Florida. He retired in 2016 after more than 28 years as a special agent with DHS and the legacy U.S. Customs Service. He was previously the deputy director and acting director for the agency’s national emergency preparedness division and assistant director for its national firearms and tactical training division. His writings and presentations often address the important need for cooperation, coordination and collaboration between the fields of public health, emergency management and law enforcement. He received his graduate degrees at the University of Delaware in public administration and Naval Postgraduate School in homeland security studies.