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Don Henry Ford: A Smuggler's Story, Part 1
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Don Henry Ford: A Smuggler's Story, Part 1

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Don Henry Ford: A Smuggler's Story, Part 1

Don Henry Ford: A Smuggler's Story, Part 1
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Producer Scott Carrier begins a three-part profile of Don Henry Ford, a convicted drug smuggler who made millions smuggling marijuana across the Texas border in the 1970s and 80s. He had run-ins with police and drug lords, was jailed and nearly executed, lied, cheated and stole — and still continued to smuggle, even when nearly all his fellow criminals were either dead or in prison.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

And today we begin a personal story we'll tell over the next three days. It's about crime, punishment and possibly redemption. The storyteller is radio producer Scott Carrier; the subject of the story, a man named Don Henry Ford.

Mr. DON HENRY FORD (Convicted Drug Smuggler): I wasn't trying to hurt anybody. I didn't want to hurt anybody. And it might've been crazy thinking, but I actually thought I was helping people, you know? I knew the law said it was illegal and bad, but I didn't share that sentiment.

SCOTT CARRIER reporting:

He's like an old, sad wolf, blue eyes that burn yellow around the pupils, deep lines of sorrow furrowed in his brow. He looks at you without moving, perfectly still. And there's this feeling of gravity, the stab of a broken heart followed by the thought, `This man would be very hard to kill.'

Mr. FORD: I looked at the world and looked at people that had legitimate jobs and all the trappings of society, and it looked like a bunch of rats trapped in a maze to me. You know, everybody owed the bank, and they had to go to work to do this stuff, and they had that, and this constant--so, for me, my goal for having money was just to be free from all that.

CARRIER: During the '70s and '80s, Don Henry Ford smuggled thousands of pounds of Mexican marijuana into the United States. He started out small, carrying loads on his back across the Rio Grande River and crawling through bushes to avoid the cops. Then he bought a van and installed enough hidden compartments to carry 200 pounds of pot he'd buy from guerrilla growers in the mountains, small villages without electricity or running water.

Mr. FORD: You could go down with $20,000 to Durango, pay all your expenses, kind of make a vacation out of it and come back and turn that into about $120,000.

CARRIER: Huh. What'd you do with the money?

Mr. FORD: I blew a lot of it. I was pretty generous with whores and friends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: I can remember sticking $3,000 in a girl's pocket when she walked by just because she looked good.

(Soundbite of music)

CARRIER: Some of these facts can't be checked, but I do know the DEA records on Don Henry match his story. And I can say that when Don Henry tells me he was a good outlaw, I believe him. He says he never carried a gun, never threatened anyone. When people pointed guns at him, he found a way to become their friend. When the Mexican authorities stopped him, he told them in fluent Spanish that, yes, he was smuggling marijuana, but surely there must be a way to take care of this without anyone going to jail. And when the American cops stopped him, he played the good ol' boy Texas redneck because that's what he is.

Mr. FORD: I was very confident around cops. I felt like I could manipulate and play with most of them. I was almost belligerent about it. I just didn't think I had anything to hide, and I was pretty confident about it. And, I don't know, I was able to look them right in the face and say, `Yeah, I smoke it. So what?' You know?

CARRIER: By the mid-'80s, Don Henry says he was grossing over $1 million a year and partially supporting the economy of a small, very remote Mexican village named Piedritas in the mountains of northern Coahuila, where he bought most of his merchandise. He had a partner there named Oscar. And Oscar was like the godfather of the village, organizing the farmers and distributing the money.

For a while things were good. The people in the village had purchasing power for the first time in their lives. Don Henry was their hero. Then Oscar decided it would be a smart thing to go into business with a druglord. He said that druglords had huge plantations, thousands of acres that produced a higher-quality marijuana, packaged in a uniform manner, and there was no end to it. So they arranged a meeting with a druglord in Torreon, Coahuila. Oscar and Don Henry checked into a motel on the outskirts of town.

Mr. FORD: And we waited, and we waited some more--couple of days. And I told Oscar I was becoming uncomfortable with it. Well, he invited me to a bar. And there were all these big, fat men sitting around with .45s on their belts and whooping and hollering. And they were introduced to me as the Mexican police. And there was back-slapping going on and everything is OK. And, of course, you know, I smiled and agreed, `Yeah, if it's OK with you, then it must be OK.' And I actually expressed concern. `Don't worry. Who's going to bust you? We're the cops. We run things down here. You have nothing to fear.'

About 3 or 4 in the morning--I don't know exactly when--there was a real loud bang at the door. And one guy just stepped right into the door and went down to his knee and pointed an automatic rifle of some sort directly at my chest. I was totally naked. And I said, `Have you talked to Oscar?' And he said, `Which Oscar?' And I said, `You know, Oscar.' And he said, `Well, follow me.' So we walked down to the room where Oscar was staying, and I opened the door. And there was a little man with an Uzi in hand standing on Oscar's back. And he had been kicking him in the side repeatedly, apparently, with these riding boots, the heel of the boots in the rib, to the point where he had a welt about the size of a half of a softball or grapefruit--blue and red and ugly.

Well, they continued to beat and torture Oscar in front of me for a while. For some reason, though, they didn't beat me. They beat up Oscar in front of me instead.

CARRIER: It took Oscar three weeks to recover from the beating they gave him. And you'd think this would have maybe made Don Henry realize it was time to get out of the business, but it didn't.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Band: (Singing) And who by a fire, who by our watches, who in sunshine, who in the nighttime, who by high ordeals, who by common trust, who in your merry, merry month of May, who by a very slow decay, and who shall I say is calling?

BRAND: The story of Don Henry Ford as told by Scott Carrier continues tomorrow when Don Henry learns an important lesson in drug smuggling that no amount of pot is worth dying for.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Band: (Singing) And who by a fire, who by our watches and who shall I say is calling?

BRAND: Stay with us as DAY TO DAY continues.

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