The Barker Family story continues. Click here to read Chapter 6.
There Is a Load on the Way
In late February of 1993, a USCS special agent received information from a confidential informant that Robert “Bobby” Lee Geans and Richard Barker were planning to smuggle narcotics from the Bahamas to the West Palm Beach area. The confidential informant supplied a description of two possible suspect motor vessels and the two suspects along with a possible offloading site at Barker’s rental house on a canal on Ocean Inlet Drive just southwest of the Boynton Inlet.
The Boynton Inlet is approximately 67 miles west of Grand Bahama Island and its busy seaside towns of West End and Freeport. Grand Bahama was popular for tourists, fishermen, and general relaxation. The Abacos, just east of Grand Bahama, were a popular area for smugglers to reside, operate, and store their motor vessels, aliens, and contraband. This continued the tradition from Prohibition days. In the early 1990s, there were many marinas with more dock spaces than hotel rooms on the growing Abaco islands. It was said to be the boating capital of the Bahamas. Great Abaco is the second largest Bahamian island after Andros Island to the south, another popular location for smugglers and tourists alike for its proximity to the Florida Keys and Miami. From the islands of Grand Bahama and Great Abaco, the smuggling groups had a straight shot to Florida.
The Boynton Inlet, also known as the South Lake Worth Inlet, is renowned for its challenging passageway to and from the ocean with its strong currents. The inlet conditions can significantly change with little or no warning causing peril to the transiting motor vessels. With the inlet’s dogleg turn to the south at the ocean, waves, winds, and currents can greatly affect the operations of even the largest boats with experienced captains. A sandbar on the south side of the main entry channel to the inlet only further restricts the entry and departure routes at the inlet according to the tide. In November 2019, an experienced dive boat captain was photographed being thrown from his motor vessel’s bridge into the turbulent inlet, leaving his surprised passengers left on board.
The inlet is also well-known for its use for smuggling due to its easy and immediate access to the vast Lake Worth Lagoon containing the Intracoastal Waterway leading to numerous canals and marinas. The inlet provides instantaneous access to the boat ramps at the 8-acre Harvey E. Oyer Jr. Park, commonly known as the Boynton ramps. The Boynton ramps are directly west of the inlet and can be reached within minutes for a quick offloading to a waiting vehicle or loading of a motor vessel on a trailer with Interstate 95 only one mile away. In addition to the four boat ramps, the park provided ample vehicle and trailer parking, docks, bathrooms, and picnic areas. Because of this, the ramps were the subject of regular and drive-by surveillance by law enforcement.
The Boynton Inlet provided a more advantageous entry point as compared to the Palm Beach Inlet to the north to evade federal law enforcement facilities. The Palm Beach Inlet, also known as the Lake Worth Inlet, divides Palm Beach Island from Singer Island. Inside the inlet, there was a USCG station on Peanut Island in the 1990s that could observe maritime traffic for possible inspection. There was a private vessel reporting station (a designated dock and telephone to call USCS) at the Sailfish Marina that could be manned by USCS personnel for an entry inspection or boarding. There was also the Port of Palm Beach where USCS uniformed inspectors were stationed to conduct their duties, primarily involving inbound and outbound cargo on container ships.
The Funeral Day Load
While USCS investigators were conducting surveillance for the returning Barker Family suspects, tragically a Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office (PBSO) deputy was killed in the line of duty while trying to stop a robbery at a bank automated teller machine. The funeral was scheduled for the morning of March 2, 1993. The large majority of the law enforcement community in the county was expected to attend the funeral. As a result, a skeleton USCS surveillance crew was not able to attend Sergeant James “Rocky” Hunt’s funeral for concerns that the Barker Family would take advantage of the tragedy – and they did.
USCS marine enforcement officers maintained surveillance at the Boynton Inlet and Ocean Inlet Drive residence in Boynton Beach early on the morning of March 2, 1993. Previous information and intelligence indicated that Richard Barker was renting the residence and its valuable backyard canal dock. In the late morning, a 22-foot motor vessel was observed with two suspects on board entering the inlet from approximately three miles off-shore and traveling to the dock at the suspect address located on Ocean Inlet Drive.
The two suspects on the motor vessel, later identified as Geans and Ronald Barker, were observed offloading approximately 170 pounds of marijuana concealed in white coolers from a compartment in the floor of the single-engine motor vessel at the suspect residence. The two smuggling suspects were being assisted by five other suspects at the residence including Cecil Barker (78 at the time) and Angela Sizemore.
USCS marine enforcement officers, USCS special agents, and Boynton Beach Police Department officers responded to the residence to interdict the narcotic smuggling venture and secured the crime scene. The seven suspects were arrested and the narcotics and motor vessel were seized at the dock and in the house.
After receiving consent from the legal renter of the property, the law enforcement officers searched the residence. The search resulted in additional information and intelligence that would assist in enforcement action as well as future investigations to include Bahamian, Jamaican, Panamanian, and other international telephone numbers, addresses, and names. Subsequent investigation confirmed that Richard Barker had been staying in the residence and contacting known targets and organizations.
Unfortunately, the United States Attorney’s Office in West Palm Beach declined federal prosecution of the suspects due to the perceived small size of the marijuana seizure, even though it was a confirmed international importation by a prolific smuggling group. The federal threshold for marijuana prosecution was reportedly 5,000 pounds at the time, but that minimum amount seemed to vary with each prosecutor’s personal interest and specific suspect considerations. After impassioned discussions, it was determined that these suspects did not merit federal prosecution.
The seven suspects, marijuana, and motor vessel were turned over to the Boynton Beach Police Department for prosecution by the State of Florida. The United States Attorney’s Office missed an opportunity to hold the well-known smuggling group members accountable and possibly discourage future smuggling ventures, especially with the previous criminal histories of several of the defendants.
Regrettably, the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office decided to prosecute only Ronald Barker and Geans for the narcotic smuggling and offloading at the residence. Sizemore, Cecil Barker, and three other suspects were not formally charged for their involvement in the offloading of the marijuana and overall conspiracy.
According to a confidential informant, law enforcement missed a quantity of hashish oil that was reportedly concealed within a white 5-gallon bucket of marine lubrication grease. The Barkers had hidden the ball of hashish oil container under several inches of grease in one of two white buckets left on the dock. The bucket was reportedly retrieved the next day by other members of the smuggling group before law enforcement realized the error and returned to the dock. Part of the load made it to offset the future legal costs.
Ronald Barker entered a plea of guilty in late 1993 to the Florida state charge of possession of marijuana. He was sentenced to only four months of incarceration in the local jail to begin in early 1994. If he failed to appear for his sentence, he would be sentenced to 42 months in state prison. After an authorized delay, he did later appear as required for the very modest county jail sentence.
In the next chapter, read more about Bobby Geans and the Barker Family’s continued smuggling activities.
Robert C. Hutchinson
Robert C. Hutchinson was a former police chief and deputy special agent in charge with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Homeland Security Investigations in Miami, Florida. He retired in 2016 after more than 28 years as a special agent with DHS and the legacy U.S. Customs Service. He was previously the deputy director of the agency’s national emergency preparedness division and assistant director for its national firearms and tactical training division. His numerous writings and presentations often address the critical need for cooperation, coordination, and collaboration between public health, emergency management, and law enforcement, especially in the area of pandemic preparedness. He received his graduate degrees at the University of Delaware in public administration and Naval Postgraduate School in homeland security studies. He is a long-time contributor to Domestic Preparedness and serves on the Advisory Board.