A fugitive member of the 1970s drug smuggling racket known as Black Tuna was arrested yesterday in his West Palm Beach retirement village after 30 years on the lam.
Mark Steven Phillips, who is now 62, fled during his 1979 trial. He reportedly lived for years in Santiago, Chile, under a fake name, earning a living as a journalist and a commercial fisherman. He would pop up on the feds’ radar screens from time to time, sometimes in Germany, sometimes in New York or Miami.
Then, last September, he got a Florida driver’s license under his real name and investigators picked up the scent.
A U.S. marshal woke him up yesterday morning at his rented home in a senior living community.
“The judge wants to see you, Mark,” he said.
“The judge wants to see me, from 30 years ago,” he mumbled back.
Phillips was convicted in absentia in 1980 on charges of racketeering and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. Prosecutors said he used his family’s yacht business, Striker Aluminum Yachts, to broker yacht sales to the Black Tuna gang. He modified them, adding maximum cargo space and painting false water lines to trick authorities into thinking that the yachts, packed to the brim with marijuana, weren’t riding lower than normal.
According to the Miami Herald, the Black Tunas smuggled an estimated 500 tons of marijuana into the country in 16 months.
Phillips was arrested in 1979 and attended several weeks of his trial. Then he fled, in November 1979.
When marshals picked him up this morning, 31 years later, they said he kept all of his belongings in a single travel bag. He was always ready, it seems, to keep fleeing.