There was something in the water, black and bobbing.
The package adrift in the Atlantic caught the eye of a family enjoying a day of mahi-mahi fishing off the Florida Keys on a Sunday in late July.
“Hey, look at that,” said Kelly Castor, a 61-year-old boating enthusiast.
“Cocaine,” replied his older sister, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, as the package came closer, speaking with the assurance of someone who spent three decades in the Tampa Police Department, including about eight years in narcotics and six as police chief.
Yes, U.S. Border Patrol would later confirm: 70 pounds of cocaine, with an estimated street value of $1.1 million.
The family hauled the package, wrapped in layers of fraying plastic and about the size of a microwave, onto Mayor Castor’s boat, bloodied from hours of fishing. A split in the wrapping revealed tightly packed bricks individually packaged.
Castor saved the location of their discovery on her watch, off the Middle Keys city of Marathon, and they headed back to their vacation rental, she later recollected in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.
She’s been taking this trip for almost a decade, she said, traveling south to search for spiny lobster during the annual two-day recreational harvest locally dubbed “mini season,” held in late July. Also onboard were Castor’s son and his girlfriend.
Once they reached a no-wake zone, Castor dialed the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. Back at the rental, they lugged the package to the dock and a local officer arrived.
“I used to be a police officer in Tampa,” she told him.
They were soon joined by two federal agents, she said, who whisked the package away.
“Yet another load of drugs found floating off the Keys, feds say. Fifth this month,” read a headline in the Miami Herald published the next day, describing the discovery by a “recreational boater,” not mentioning the mayor of Florida’s third-largest city.
Walter Slosar, chief patrol agent with the Border Patrol’s Miami sector, posted a picture of the haul on Twitter, revealing 25 bricks of cocaine, each decorated with a blue and purple butterfly.
Castor’s discovery came on the heels of a busy narcotics July in the waters surrounding the island chain. The weekend before, a boater found a 3-pound bale of marijuana off Islamorada in the Upper Keys.
Earlier that month, boaters discovered 87 pounds of hashish offshore of Marathon, a city nestled in the middle of the Keys, population about 10,000. The same day, another spotted 62 pounds of cocaine, the bricks packaged with pictures of the Eiffel Tower, according to the Border Patrol.
Spend your days with Hayes
Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
And the day before, someone found an 8-pound bale of marijuana floating about 13 miles northwest of Big Pine Key in the Lower Keys, according to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. A week after Castor’s discovery, someone else found a brick of cocaine weighing 2.7 pound.
The mayor’s family spent the rest of their vacation diving and fishing, catching no more drugs but about 60 lobsters.