Public records say that Steve Lamb is a convicted drug smuggler who has done three stints and nine years in federal and state prisons, including a term for his role in the 1973 "Steinhatchee Seven" bust.
Public lore has it that Lamb, who grew up in St. Pete Beach, eluded authorities while he was a fugitive through much of the late 1970s and '80s.
But that's only part of the story, according to Lamb's self-published memoir, The Smuggler's Ghost.
There were wild parties, road trips and sea adventures to the Caribbean while he should have been in high school. There was selling cheap "funk" pot for good money at Woodstock, and partnerships with Jamaicans and South Americans who cut the young American smuggler into their markets. There were so many millions in cash it was weighed on scales. Loose weed was scooped out of boat holds with shovels and flung overboard. Back home, the wealth was spread around, Robin Hood-style.
In 1973, Lamb was 20 when he and six other men (five of whom were from Pinellas County) were busted in the small town of Steinhatchee in Dixie County in what was then the biggest marijuana bust in the nation. They were taken in by sheriff's deputies not far from the shrimp boat they'd returned from Jamaica in with nine tons of weed in 450 burlap bags. Lamb says in the book that four more tons were thrown overboard near Clearwater.
After serving 20 months for that, Lamb was back home. In 1977, he was back into trouble on drug charges, but skipped town, beginning a disappearing act that lasted 11 years and took him into even larger marijuana deals, exile in South American jungles and collaborations with guerrillas, he says in the book.
The present-day Steve Lamb is not the swashbuckling, cowboy hat-wearing youngster on the book jacket. He is 56, and for the first time in his life, he is not a prisoner or on the run. He has been out of jail for six years, and free of parole, alcohol and drug addictions since February. Lamb says he is ready to begin a new chapter in his life.
For a book party, Lamb arrived at the Sloppy Pelican bar in St. Pete Beach on a 23-foot skiff loaded with hay-stuffed burlap bags, a reference to the days when marijuana smuggling was just that easy. He is scheduled to appear at Haslam's Book Store in St. Petersburg on Saturday for a book signing. He says he's writing a sequel and a screenplay.
Lamb may be reformed, but he has not lost his entrepreneurial sense. He wastes no time shuttling from beach bar to bookstore promoting the 288-page book that he says took him five years to write. He finished it with the help of a local ghostwriter and coach, Diane Marcou.
Today, the millions are gone. Lamb does not own a car, sleeps on a couch or a mattress in his buddy's home, and gets around Treasure Island on a bicycle. He fishes for snook or crabs to bring in cash.
He calls the book his "testimonial."
"Everything changes when you change," said Lamb. "A lot of people are just scared of their past. I'm not proud of it, but I'm not going to hide from it."
His buddy and business partner is Trevor Hanson, 37, a Madeira Beach boat builder and entrepreneur. Hanson also happens to be the son-in-law of Everett Rice, the former Pinellas County sheriff who once investigated the former fugitive. From Rice, Lamb rented a waterfront bungalow on Treasure Island where he fished for snook and wrote the book.
Lamb is now reconnecting with his family. He met the mother of his children, now his ex-wife, in South America. They started a home in California, and had twin girls. In 1989, DEA agents caught up with Lamb in San Diego. After another short prison term, he returned to St. Petersburg. In 1994, he had a son. In 1999, in what Lamb says was a misunderstanding, he pleaded guilty to accepting an 82-pound shipment of marijuana and served another five years.
Lamb is unapologetic about marijuana. He likes to quote from Genesis to point out that God gave man herb-yielding seed and saw that it was good. At the same time, he worries aloud that some will accuse him of glorifying what is called a gateway drug. He points out that his children have taken different paths.
"I don't blame him for what he did. Back in the day, pot was totally different from where it is now," said one of his twin daughters, Windy Tortosa Lamb, 24, who studies criminology at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
"It definitely caused the family pain and stuff, but now, the outcome of that is that he's trying to make it better,'' said Tortosa Lamb, who was raised in part by her grandparents. "He's trying to get something out of it. He's telling his story."
Back then, marijuana deals were not violent, said Rice, the former sheriff who wrote the foreword in the book.
"They were just a bunch of cowboys smoking pot," said Rice, now a criminal defense lawyer. "He's such a kind person. He's never been arrested for any crime of moral turpitude.
"I think he's turned a corner in his life,'' Rice added. "Only time will tell, but I think we're going to see an old pot smuggler who's is back to fishing and enjoying life."
Researcher Will Gorham contributed to this story. Luis Perez can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2271.