Brent Batten: Reunion of former drug smugglers heads uptown

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If one location draws unwanted attention, find another location.

It’s a rule of thumb that might have served Tim McBride well back in the 1980s and is serving equally well now.

McBride, a self-described former marijuana smuggler, has moved the site of a reunion with his fellow reformed outlaws to Naples after hearing criticism from folks in Everglades City, where it was originally set.

“Some of the older residents expressed their concern with what we were doing. They were focused on the drug smuggling. They said they didn’t want to be brought into that light again,” McBride said.

Instead, the informal reunion will be this Saturday at Fred’s Diner in the Uptown Plaza near Sam’s Club at the intersection of Immokalee and Airport-Pulling roads.

The light McBride speaks of is that of Operation Everglades and subsequent smuggling busts carried out by federal, state and local authorities in the mid 1980s. Dozens of Everglades City residents, McBride included, were sent to prison.

Before his arrest, McBride says he shepherded tons of marijuana through the 10,000 Islands with his crew, dubbed the Saltwater Cowboys.

As fascinating as the stories those veterans of the drugs wars can tell, they’re not what this event is about, McBride said.

“A bunch of pot haulers getting together to celebrate their dirty deeds, that’s not what it is at all. It’s a bunch of pot haulers celebrating what they’ve done after that.”

McBride has a web site,, where he promotes a message of drug education and awareness, in his words, “to educate this generation and the next on how to resist the voice inside them saying “hey I’ll give it a try, once can’t hurt me.”

Since his release from prison nearly 20 years ago, McBride says he’s most proud of the children he’s raised as a single father and of the construction work he did as Southwest Florida grew. “I’ve done my time in prison. I’m a loving, caring, giving father. My mark’s been left all over this town. Once a criminal, not always a criminal,” he said.

Kathy Newton, owner of Fred’s Diner, said she is happy have the event come to her venue. A musician who performs regularly at Fred’s, Tim McGreary, has a song titled, “Saltwater Cowboys.” Newton said she read of McBride’s exploits in a recent newspaper article, made the Saltwater Cowboys connection, and contacted McBride.

Once she found out he was looking for a location, she was happy to oblige.

“We support Tim’s new mission in life 100 percent,” Newton said. She said she’s heard no negative feedback about hosting the reunion.

The event is to begin at 5 p.m. and The Tim McGreary Band will play later, Newton said. There’s no formal program or agenda, just old friends meeting to catch up. The public is welcome to attend, Newton said. More information is available at the restaurant web site,

McBride doesn’t want to glamorize the smuggling aspect but at the same time, he expects a film crew to be on hand gathering documentary footage.

He’s also working on a book.

He believes it’s important for the former smugglers to let the world know who they’ve become in the years since Operation Everglades. He tells how he recently advised a friend from those days to do an internet search on his name. The first thing that came up was a story about his drug arrest. “I asked him, ‘Are you willing to allow that to be the period on the end of your life’s sentence?’ Sure we were that, but here’s who we are now.”

McBride said the Naples location will be more convenient for attendees, since they now mostly live in the Naples area.

As for Everglades City, McBride says he didn’t mean to dredge up bad memories. “I love that town. I love those people. I would never do anything to harm them.”

Contact Brent Batten at

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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