And now as they say, for something completely different. Onto a very real and very intriguing tale, below Robert Stone tells his story. Thanks so much to Rachel’s Random Resources for allowing me to be part of this blog blitz and Giveaway below
What they say: ROBERT STONE was a serial entrepreneur – an enterprising individual, mostly on the wrong side of the law, who spent twenty-five years operating all over the world, before being arrested in Switzerland as a result of an international manhunt led by an Organised Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. Over the course of his career, Stone earned and lost several lifetimes’ worth of fortunes, went to prison on three continents, used dozens of aliases, saw men die, and masterminded one of the biggest marijuana smuggling operations in criminal history. Fuel smuggling in Africa, trading fuel with generals, rebels and businessman, was both his career high and, ultimately, what brought him down.
The story … He ran away from home at 15 with just $50 in his pocket and ended up building a fortune in the next 25 years through various entrepreneurial ventures, most on the wrong side of the law. But when the law caught up with him, he lost everything. Now approaching his 63rd birthday the father-of-two is settled back in Scotland after having penned his incredibly life story as a lasting tribute to his late wife, Linda. Casting his eyes back to his teen years in the Seventies, Canadian-born Robert recalls of the romantic notions he had of life.
While his own life was far from ideal his imagination had been captured by books on scuba diving and he dreamed of escaping to the Caribbean, living on a beach eating fish and diving for living.
He explains: “I had a turbulent family life with a violent mother and a father who drank far too much.
“He left when I was about 11 and basically our mother was the kind of woman who should not have had children because she always felt we’d basically ruined her life. “I had tried to run away several times but was always caught at the US border control and returned home. But one time I managed to convince officials I was on my way to Florida to meet my uncle and they let me through.
“Eventually I found myself in Bahamas – as far away as I could afford. I was so naïve I thought I could just camp on a beach, eat fish and dive.
“My first day was fantastic but by that night I was sunburned, hungry, being eaten alive by no-see-ums and crying myself to sleep under an upturned boat.”
His luck turned when a diving instructor of a hotel took him under his wing but soon immigration had got hunch of a “white boy working the dive trips” and he was forced to flee.
He ended up being involved in a smuggling ring brining marihuana from Colombia to Florida making his first million before the age of 18.
However, after a couple of near arrests, he decided to go straight and pursue his original dream -a career as a commercial oil field diver. The next 12 years saw him travel the world and he was one of the early pioneer saturation divers in the 70’s in The North Sea. It was in Scotland where he met his future bride who he married in 1985. Several of his friends were killed in diving accidents over the years and after a near miss in an explosion salvaging a drilling rig he retired from diving.
He then bought a couple old oil field supply vessels and converted them to long line fishing. Within two years he had built the company up to 27 ships with 500 employees operating in Brasil and the USA becoming a massive supplier of tuna and swordfish raking in the cash. He hired a few of his old smuggling buddies who had just been released from prison to help him manage the business.
But his success and hiring ex-cons was his downfall with US authorities suspected his operations were not fully legitimate.
Drug Enforcement officials in both countries chopped up several plane loads of fish looking for drugs destroying his cash flow. They then ruined his reputation with TV and newspaper articles on his company being a front and Robert ended up losing his company and fleet of ships when he had done nothing illegal. Extremely angry with the US Government taking away everything he had sweated for, he decided to go back and do massive marijuana smuggle from Thailand to Alaska. He landed in the South China Seas where he bribed the Vietnamese Navy for protection and captained a vessel with 27,000 pounds of marihuana to the USA. The operation was a success and put a few million back in his pocket.
His hunger for replace his riches quickly drove him to make a string of wrong choices. He started an oil field supply company in Nigeria but soon found himself conducting midnight oil deals with armed bandits in the Nigerian swamps.
Within a couple years he had 23 ships, two tankers and a1000 employees. Once again he hired his smuggling buddies to help. Once again the US authorities wrongly suspected drugs as the source of the success.
He muses: “Things would have turned out so differently had my loyalties been rightly placed and I had resisted the temptation for the so called quick fix and easy money of marijuana smuggling.
When his two children were born in the early part of the 1990s he decided to change his ways and sell out. His closest friend, jealous of Robert’s success and family life, decided to turn government informant with an aim to steal the company.
Robert was arrested in Africa but managed to bribe his way out and went into hiding in the French Alps with his family in tow.
His bank accounts were all frozen. When lawyers in Lichtenstein withheld access to his safety deposit boxes he forced them at gunpoint to give him his money. His “house of cards” had well and truly started to crumble.
“Linda was my one constant but even that I put at risk. She knew nothing about the businesses I had been running in one country or another, and absolutely nothing about the marijuana trip. It was perhaps wrong of me but I could have made her a conspirator had I told her the truth. That could have ruined her life.”
He was arrested with his family in Geneva and the sounds of his son screaming for his mummy and he was taken away still haunt him to this day. He was eventually extradited to US, forfeiting all the properties, ships and bank accounts that he had-except $4 million in Lichtenstein- was sentenced and went to prison.
The lawyers in Lichtenstein finally went to the police and the country requested his extradition to face further charges. By this time the money meant nothing to him and he threw himself on the mercy of the Judge surrendering the last few million he had. Surprisingly he was allowed to walk free and return to his family near Aberdeen.
Still, his troubles were not over.
Robert says: “I started with $50 in my pocket and that’s about what I had when I got home. But I had my family. She stood by me as did her father. “My time in prison changed me. You have all that time to think about what you’ve done and get your priorities in order. My priority is my family.
“Unfortunately our time together was cut short. Linda, who was a vegetarian, very active – she ran marathons – and did not drink or smoke died very suddenly of a stroke when she was just 45.
“That was about 15 years ago. It was incredibly tough. I don’t know how we got through it. I had just begun a new international venture in the oil industry but I had to abandon all that to be there for my kids.
“It was the only way.
“Then eight years ago I was diagnosed with bowel cancer. People tell you that diagnosis like that is a wakeup call.
“After going to prison, then losing Linda and now having cancer I looked up at the skies and shouted, ‘Hey God. I’m AWAKE !!!’
“Thankfully I am on remission and I have recently found love again, which I never thought was possible.
“I decided to write my life story because I don’t want my children to every think there was anything romantic in what I had done. I don’t want them to get wrong ideas. “And I wanted to write it for Linda. So many people from my passed have died, places that meant something to me or us have been destroyed.
“There were elements I had chosen not to remember and I found some painful truths during my research. I have tried to be as true to the story as I can and there are bits that still make me cry.
“What it shows you is that past mistakes can come back to hound you and ruin your life. You need solid foundations to build anything and if you don’t have them you will end up with nothing.”
*Chasing Black Gold – The Incredible True Story of a Fuel Smuggler in Africa is published by History Press and is available in paperback at major bookstores or online Amazon in paperback and Kindle,- E- Book format.
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About the author:
Author Robert Stone first came to Aberdeen Scotland in 1973 as a pioneer saturation diver in the early dangerous days of the North Sea. Retiring from diving in the mid 80’s he became a serial entrepreneur –mostly on the wrong side of the law. He spent the next decade operating businesses all over the world from his Aberdeenshire home.
Stone earned and lost several fortunes, went to prison on three continents, used dozens of aliases, and masterminded one of the biggest marijuana smuggling operations in criminal history. Fuel smuggling in Africa, was only one of his many exploits.
His Scottish wife and young children knew nothing of the dark side of his life until the day they were all arrested in Switzerland as a result of an international manhunt led by an Organised Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.
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