The drudgery of drug smuggling

| 10/08/2020 | 88 Comments

Book review by Wendy Ledger: When the news broke last weekend that the infamous drug smuggler Leigh Ritch had finally published a book about his life as one of the youngest ever ganja traders in the region, expectations were high. But $16.99 and 137 pages later, who knew that life in the drug business was so dull?

Well, either that or Ritch decided he wasn’t going to reveal everything, after all, when he picked up his pen and began writing his autobiography, In Too Deep: How an American Teen Became a Pioneer Boss of the International Drug Trade.

So the much-anticipated, ‘shocking’ revelation about Cayman’s underbelly of vice and corruption, where local business leaders and politicians fought to get in on Ritch’s deals, turned out to be less than a stellar read. The one-time notorious smuggler even manages to make life hanging with rock stars, such as the Bon Jovi band members and Ringo Starr, sound something short of fun.

Aside from learning that the current tourism minister allegedly had a liking for the Peruvian marching powder when he was in his twenties and didn’t mind whom he sold the family ships to — for a price — and the oh-so surprising revelation that a certain suspended speaker had allegedly tapped him up for cash, this is less a tell-all autobiography than a technical manual on how to move gargantuan loads of marijuana without getting caught too often.

Ritch, who is the grandson of Captain Theophilus Ritch from Cayman Brac, grew up largely in Tampa with very close ties to the Cayman Islands. He began getting involved in drug dealing when he was around 17 or 18 years old in high school and his story here is well known.

He was convicted of criminal conspiracy in 1986 and later testified in front of the US Senate Foreign Relations sub-committee, where he told much of his story about smuggling ganja from Colombia to the US, including his links with Panama’s infamous dictator, Manuel Noriega. Ritch was initially sentenced to 30 years in prison, which was reduced on appeal following his cooperation with the US authorities to 14 years.

But in this telling of his life of crime, from selling bags of ganja in school to moving tonnes of the drug on shrimp boats and Learjets, with the help of his friend in Panama and various other gangs, Ritch gives away little about any connections here in Cayman.

He does, however, treat the reader to details of the vessels he used and how long it would take to load and unload his contraband at various ports and how it was then distributed around the US. Stevedores and logistics managers are bound to find the book riveting, but for those looking for a full revelation on the who’s who in the Ritch-Cayman connection, not so much, regardless of the hype.

Living a playboy lifestyle when he was in Cayman, hiding from the US Drug Enforcement Agency with help of an RCIPS staffer who was one of his girlfriends, he occupied his time running a daiquiri beach bar and a nightclub.

Ritch also speaks about laundering millions of dollars through banks in the Cayman Islands, though that was hardly exceptional in the early 1980s. He did, however, move the cash side of his lucrative enterprise to Panama, as the local banks here did begin to start asking questions.

It was while on a trip to Montego Bay in Jamaica with Tommy Lee, the drummer of Mötley Crüe, and his new wife, actor Heather Locklear, that Ritch was arrested at the airport by US agents, driven to Kingston and forced on a plane in what he claimed was a kidnapping.

He was tried and convicted, largely on the testimony of his former gang members.

In his memoir, despite being knee-deep in drug smuggling for years, Ritch claims he was never involved in any violence. He wrote that no one in his drug enterprise ever carried a gun, something that, to be honest, seems a little hard to believe. He also denies being directly involved in smuggling cocaine, even though some of his associates trafficked the narcotic.

Ritch, who is now 71 years old, maintains that he has been on the straight and narrow for many years. After returning to Cayman he became involved in construction and ‘export’ businesses. He moved back to Florida in 2005, where he was diagnosed with, and continues to battle, non-Hodgkin’s follicular lymphoma.

In too Deep is available from Amazon, currently listed as free.

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Category: Crime

Comments (88)

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  1. Cayman Acrobat says:

    Any where else in the world a sitting member of parliament would have been sacked but the silence by this sitting government and our dear governor and his UK bosses is deafening. The real truth is that many of our so called men of respect or let me rephrase that too many of our so called would be wanna be Caymanian billionaires are benefactors of drug trade or the money laundering aspect of this criminal enterprise and part of the seed money that funded their legitimate businesses which their families now run was derive from this illicit drug trade. Some may say where is the proof of Mr Ritch’s confessions when all one has to do is go on this wonderful thing called the internet Please take the time and look up the Mercandian supplier II seizure in 1988 in Miami with 12000 lbs yes Cayman the truth maybe an offense to some but it ain’t no Sin.Yes I agree that both Leigh and even CNS have played down the very dangerous and sinister side of this illicit drug trade but that is do to the passage of time which makes it more palatable to us all sometimes. What it does not excuse is the apparent blind eye our ruling power and political hypocrites, inability to even address the matter in these times when others have been removed and sanction for less. A previous poster rightly said in his reference to Cayman’s so called Elites checkered past that letting sleeping dogs lie Is Infact not troubling the snoring Lion to emphasize how deep this corruption of their wealth does run. It does explain one thing though, why we cannot solved this drug smuggling problem, why drug programs and law enforcement initiatives always fail and why some people and their offspring never ever go to jail for crimes or drugs. why some at the very top of our society and our Government are both corrupt and indifferent .

    • Anonymous says:

      “why we cannot solved this drug smuggling problem”

      Smuggling weed to the USA has decreased 99% since those days, due to Americans now being able to legally grow there at much higher quality than South American / Mexican field grown brick weed. I lived in Miami between 2010-2017, consumed regularly so I know what I’m talking about.

      Take a hint, Cayman. You could kill the black market that brings guns with one stone.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sure, we all watched NARCOS. I wouldn’t be so sure you’ve got it all figured out though. Just because you’ve developed what you think is a coherent narrative, doesn’t make it reality. One thing is for sure: drug dealers deal drugs, and smugglers smuggle. They do not care about personal health. They do not follow society’s rules. All they want is for people to need what they’re selling, and dominate market share by whatever means available. In many North American communities, that have coincidentally legalized small amounts of marijuana possession, they have had more people die of opioid overdose than from all the COVID-19 in the same recent months. I’m in favour of decriminalizing small possessions with a ticket, but know that if it’s not one thing, it’s another when dealing with determined entrenched criminals. These people do not just go “aww shucks” and retire to Florida.

        • Anonymous says:

          This is false. Opioid use and mortality has dropped in places where recreational use has been legalized. Who would think offering a safer alternative would reduce deaths?

          You old farts are against weed and that’s ok. The younger generation that didn’t get “The Devil’s Lettuce” propaganda know better.

    • David S. says:

      Cayman Acrobat,
      you are Right On…… car turn over withe elite white kids in the car, the cocaine drugs fall out, car full of white kids with dad big shot in govt, NOBODY GOES TO JAIL. Let a black kid smoke one ganja joint. Hes smeared, tarred and lynched socially and economically, never to rise again.. crime becomes a lifetime career. It is systematic!

  2. Anonymous says:

    If you have read Sea of Greed, which I highly recommend, you might have a different thought process than most of the comments here.

    For example, if you are accumulating so much money from selling drugs that you need a money counting machine at your house, you could smell the cash, don’t you think you would have guns to protect yourselves in case you ever got ambushed? C’mon!

    Gentlemen Smugglers – until you pee them off.

    I can’t remember what I got for Christmas last year so I feel that a book written by a sick 70 year old would be questionable at the best of times.

    I’ll leave it at that.

    • Flexible says:

      I agree, “Sea of Greed” was a much better book. It was well written and full of details which were left out in “In Too Deep”. Thankfully Mr. Ritch did write this book because the one thing “In Too Deep” did expose was the caring and compassion of one of Caymans beloved elders, Cleveland Dilbert. He took a broken Caymanian and gave him a “hand up” to help him dig his way out of the hole he put himself in. I am considering a Go Fund Me to erect a statue of Mr. Cleveland in Hero’s Square. Who is with me!!

      • Anonymous says:

        Not a fan of the pond debacle in Cayman Brac so I will not be aiding in your tribute. The pond was there first.

        • Flexible says:

          But it smells terribly. Also, there was dirt/sand/marl where you built your house or condo. It was there first too. I ask that you reconsider your contribution to the Cleveland Dilbert hero fund.

      • Anonymous says:

        What’s with this obsession with Cleveland Dilbert? It’s just weird. He’s barely mentioned in the book. Are you Cleveland himself, a family member, you work for him? Or are you a random stalker?

        People are losing their livelihood and their homes and you want to do a fundraiser for a statue in Hero’s Square! You’re out of your mind!

  3. Anonymous says:

    One has to wonder: Why now?

    Why wait a quarter of a century plus to write a quasi exposé about who you dealt with in the 80s?

    If you had so many inside secrets, about such questionable people, who have all risen up today, why seek to destroy now?

    Leigh, you didn’t speak up so you are part of the bigger problem in Cayman. Perhaps you hoped for kick back rewards for your silence and loyalty. That is thug life.

    Personally, if I wrote the book, I would be worried about someone telling their side of their truth of their dealings with me.

    I encourage people to keep speaking up on the problems that we face in the present. There is so much going on in the world.

    If you see something, today, say something!

    If you want to discuss small minded events of the 80s, direct the stories at the writer of the book.

    Share your stories about Mr Leigh Ritch. Ask him questions directly, we know he’s reading and responding here. It’s obvious.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Anonymous says:
    10/08/2020 at 2:19 pm
    Apparently there’s a court injunction in the pipeline blocking the media here from reporting the names of all those Ritch ‘outed’ in the book. I wonder why?

    If this comes to fruition…they should be placed under suspension and carried to court for their involvement.

    • Anonymous says:

      No, not true. Statute of limitations would apply.

      • Anonymous says:

        Apart from the fact that we don’t have a statute of limitations. Just because you saw it on a US TV show doesn’t mean it’s the law here. Next you will be saying they can plead the fifth amendment.

        • Anonymous says:

          What do you call the Limitation Law?

          • Anonymous says:

            Oh dear. University of Liverpool law degree?

            • Anonymous says:

              Liverpool is a highly rated Russel Group university aka Red Brick.
              It’s the English Ivy League.

            • Anonymous says:

              Even a Liverpool law degree requires hard work and tact. There have been other Caymanians who have graduated from lower ranking universities. But Liverpool still gets the heat. Shush you little hater.

            • Anonymous says:

              No, thank you. The original comment is a nonsense, so I am not claiming that a Cayman ‘statute of limitations’ has any application. I was merely wondering what one would call the Limitation Law if not a ‘statute (law) of limitations’.

        • Anonymous says:

          Use your brain before you type dummy

      • Anonymous says:

        No statue on criminal acts and conspiracy.

    • Anonymous says:

      9:08 I posted that comment and have since learned it’s ‘fake news’, probably a promo stunt.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I am really feeling annoyed and sick that Leigh Ritch is making HIMSELF out to sound like some kind of Caymanian Robin Hood.

    He is a criminal. Cut and dried.

    If he made his money respectfully and then SHARED it with others less fortunate than him, that would be a whole separate issue. This was not the case.

    Leigh is thinks people have short memories. We do not.

    You wronged a lot of people, Leigh and did illegal things that brought tarnish and shame to your family name and the Cayman Islands. This self written book only makes you look worse.

    • Little John says:

      I agree and Robin Hood had ethics and would not have lent money to the speaker of the house. Moreover he would have not been involved in laundering.

  6. Flexible says:

    tsk, tsk, tsk. You are all missing the point, this is not the story of a drug smuggler and his exploits. This is a story of the strength of the Cayman character. The bonds that held Caymanians together, from swatting mosquitoes to long journeys on National Bulk Carriers. These are the tenants that held Cayman together and are highlighted in this book in the way Cleveland Dilbert forgave his cousin for his past indiscretions and welcomed him back into the Cayman fold. We can all learn something from the integrity and probity of Cleveland Dilbert.

    • Anonymous says:

      THAT’S what you got from the book???

      • Flexible says:

        Yes, you have to read between the lines and yet look at this book from a macro point of view. There were a lot of Caymanians named in this book for doing bad things, but ONLY ONE, Cleveland Dilbert, was named for doing the RIGHT thing. Why is this so hard for you guys to grasp?

        • Anonymous says:

          We’ve read between the lines. Most Caymanians know the story. Leigh left bits out.

    • Anonymous says:

      You’re sounding a little desperate there, Flex. Is something wrong? You can tell us.

  7. Anonymous says:

    So what if Leigh is “reliving his glory days”? At least he lived them, lived to tell about them and still has the integrity to not really “call names”, as he could. He paid his debt.

    • Anonymous says:

      The key is “not really call names” which is, in itself, lacking integrity.

      He said just enough, didn’t he?

      Just enough to start new rumors and leave old rumors at the forefront and still swirling.

      Integrity my bunkie,

  8. Anonymous says:

    things have not changed that much…a little more red-tape but cayman’s ‘financial services’ are still going strong….

  9. Anonymous says:

    Leigh has purposely omitted many details to accomplish two things. One, to protect the innocent people in the community and save face for the many who knowingly and unknowingly benefitted from his enterprise both locally and abroad. Two, to deter anyone from fantasizing and attempting to replicate his previous activities as he as stated over and over he is not proud of what he has done but he paid his dues. Notwithstanding, It was a pretty wild period during the 1970s and 1980s in South Florida.

    • Anon says:

      8 53. You seem to be giving this criminal a pass. You cannot dress up criminals. They have to want to change.
      This has nothing to do with the islanders. Leigh lived overseas and do leave islanders out of this. It is just trashy and low down for anyone to be trying to pin on negativity to the Caymanians living here in these islands now. Someone is paying Leigh to resurrect this old story. Politics in the wood pile out there.
      Follow the money. Does not sound like Leigh is penitent. Sounds bitter and broken. These criminals need to see professional help with counsellors.

      • Anonymous says:

        But he did live here… and whilst he did, financed a lot of people. Just because you would prefer the 80’s didn’t exist doesn’t mean that they didn’t or that Caymans reputation as a laundering and asset concealment centre wasn’t well deserved.

  10. Debbie does Dullards says:

    Leigh Ritch is a rat. A groupie like Monica Lewinski. They go around famous people with their sleaze and to this day they are expecting to make money off of old worn out has been stories! Won’t be buying the book. Boring!!! Yawn!!!

  11. Anonymous says:

    All of this explains so much about Mr Ritch.

    Imagine having all that wealth and extreme lifestyle only to have it ripped away from you, go to jail, and come out an ordinary man.

    I know him personally, and the way he speaks and carries himself is quite indicative of someone who is always reliving and chasing his past, hoping to have a similar streak again in a business venture…. selling lighters.

  12. Anonymous says:

    It was actually the US DEA that named them the last of the “Gentlemen Smugglers”. They would have plastered him with accusations of violence during his smuggling career if it wasn’t true. As they do with the Columbian and Mexican cartels today, widely known for the sadistic and violent practices.

    • Anonymous says:


    • Anonymous says:

      So you don’t think the DEA would ever cover up or omit information about one of their informants??? Because they didn’t come out and say it, it didn’t happen? Wow. Just wow.

      Read some books. It’s never good kids just sitting at home selling just a baggie of weed. Never.

      Ritch was involved with Noriega. Do some research and report back.

  13. Anonymous says:

    He did end it by saying, I’ll leave it at that. Every Caymanian knows what that statement means. And now all the hostility towards the Caymanian side of this saga. Do recall he named Barclays Bank as the first choice to launder the funds and they readily accepted the cash. Also the Bank of Nova Scotia (Scotiabank). Remember these were/are British and Canadian banks respectfully. There were set up by expatriates in the Cayman Islands during the 1960s and continue to be managed by expatriates/New Caymanians today. A lot more to this story, many more players benefited from this man than you would ever believe.

    • Chris Johnson says:

      Correction needed here. Barclays was the first bank to open which was in 1953 not in the 60s.RBC was the second bank which opened in the 60s. I believe one, Neil Cruickshank was the first manager. BNS and CIBC were the next before rogue banks were licensed in the form of Interbank and Sterling Bank. The rest as they say is history.

      • Anonymous says:

        picky picky it doesn’t change anything of what 6:32pm said!

        • SJames says:

          Chris is spot on here.Facts are facts and people need know the history as it was not how it is often told. For 6.32 to say the banks were set up by expats is plain daft. All banks on the island were set up by expats except perhaps CNB which involved Caymanian investors but with an expat manager.
          I agree with 6.32 insomuch that many others benefitted from the actions of Ritch.

        • Brutus says:

          You should always start a sentence with a capital letter. I do hope I am not being picky.

  14. Anonymous says:

    There was not much in this book that was not already known to most Caymanians.   It appears to me that Leigh is trying to grasp at his long lost “glory days”. Sad. 

    • Anon says:

      “Know” to Caymanians yes.
      But how many have the balls to put it in print with their name next to it? Different story all together.

      I appreciate him confirming what the original old time marl road whispered. However I do suspect there are many more he could have named.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like he sold a bunch of $17 bags of weed that got wet during shipment and wasn’t any good.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Apparently there’s a court injunction in the pipeline blocking the media here from reporting the names of all those Ritch ‘outed’ in the book. I wonder why?

    • Anonymous says:

      That would be news if there was any actual outing in the book. Still, if they don’t want anyone to read it, that’s reason enough for me to encourage everyone I know to do that.

    • Anonymous says:

      What’s the point now when it’s already been in all the media? It would just put it in the news again and encourage even more people to read the book. Idiots.

  17. Flexible says:

    I don’t understand why everyone is focusing on the politicians and their misdeeds when this book is really about a true Caymanian hero, Cleveland Dilbert. After his Cayman brother served his time, Cleveland offered to help get Leigh back on the straight and narrow. Why does this go unreported, do we only want to chastise the bad in Cayman or should we celebrate the heros, like Cleveland. I am in favour of placing a statue of Cleveland right next to Jim Bodden.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for the belly laugh!

    • Anonymous says:


    • Flexible says:

      @1:51 and @2:48, Clearly you two are foreigners who don’t understand the hardships true Caymanians went through in the early days, Cleveland used to wear shoes made out of old truck tires, ya know. It wasn’t easy in the old days. Caymanians stuck together and when one fell down, the others helped him up. That is what Cleveland did with Leigh. A true Caymanian Hero!!

      • Anonymous says:

        We know exactly how certain Caymanians stuck together.

      • Anonymous says:

        Whompers?? BFD. I had a pair in the 70’s and loved them! Biggest fad back in the day. Best ones came from Mexico.
        What does that have to do with the price of weed in Tampa? (or anywhere for that matter!)

  18. Anonymous says:

    Plenty of rumours about who he left his money in the Cayman Islands with when he went to jail and how it was laundered through “legit’ businesses. Explains his post-jail bounce back better than the fuzzy story he tells in the book.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Hi Wendy. Thanks for the heads up on the freebie download from Amazon. Just grabbed it myself!

  20. Anonymous says:

    American made

  21. Anonymous says:

    Leigh is extremely unwell and has come to his senses.
    As a way of paying for his sins, he is trying to warn us of the calibre of criminals we have (s)elected to serve us.
    These thugs have bowed to the almighty dollar all of their lives and consequently they bring us into submission with their political thuggery.
    Go hike!
    I am so glad this is coming to light because up until now a culture of fear has pervaded these islands.

    • Anonymous says:

      Rubbish! If naming names was his goal he failed. Clearly that was not his aim. He warned us about nothing we didn’t already know.

    • Anonymous says:

      Don’t they say confession is good for the soul.

      I too was expecting more and paid the $16.99 for it, and it is self published. What a pity I didn’t wait a few more days to get it free. Reading it however joins up the separate dots and connections and rumours heard from the ‘80s and how certain people gained their start and became wealthy.

      • Anonymous says:

        I came in the beginning of the 90’s. Heard all of the stories about the ‘landing strip’ that was Governor’s Harbor and hearing small planes land in the wee hours… Y’all think you can live down your legacy? Nope. We ALL know where your money came from.
        Not even a need to name names because you can pick out pretty much any old family name.
        Why do you think the lodge exists??? LMAO

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