When I first picked up Angels Gate, I was not at all sure of what to make of the subtitle, Based on a True Story of: The Greatest Heist-Never Told. The idea that this caper has remained a secret for 30 years would certainly make sense, considering the details. Then again, it could just be an elaborate indemnification for authors Andrew J. Rafkin and Louis Pagano. I must say that in the end, I really did not care either way. Angels Gate is one of the most entertaining tales I have come across in some time, whatever the reality of the case may be.
Ever since Robert Sabbag’s classic Snowblind, I have been a sucker for a good dope-smuggler’s story. As Sabbag himself has stated, times have changed, and a book with a smuggler as the hero cannot be written any more. Thankfully, Rafkin and Pagano did not get that particular memo though.
Angels Gate takes place in the early ‘80s, during what would prove to be the last days of the big-time marijuana smuggling industry. Cocaine was coming, and along with it came the extreme violence of groups like the Medellin cartel. Pot smuggler August Taracina is presented as a sympathetic character right off the bat, as he is described as being one of the last of his kind. He is from the old school, sort of a hip entrepreneur more than anything else. Many of the ‘70s-era smugglers saw the trade as more of a calling than a business, and while gun-play existed, it was frowned upon.
The story is highly intriguing. The authors describe August's operation, and how he winds up going into business with four aging surfers, who happen to work at the LAX airport. They come up with a method for moving pot through the airport that involves transferring suitcases between domestic and international flights. This was back in the days when airport security was relatively lax. The scam was good while it lasted, but security was soon beefed-up, and that was the end of that.
The surfers have a dream of cashing out with the proverbial “grand caper,” and heading south to Costa Rica. Since moving drugs through the airport is now off the table, they begin to look at other options. One has to do with the Brinks loads that come on the planes regularly. If they could hit one of these, they could walk away rich. It is a tempting thought, and they begin to look deeper into the possibility of pulling it off.