Monument Avenue will never be graced with a statue of Allen Long. The creative possibilities are enticing: his steed a DC-3 cargo plane instead of a stallion, his marble pedestal wreathed with carved cannabis leaves.
And he may be one of Richmond's most notable native sons a former student at Benedictine High School from a prominent family who became a self-made millionaire.
But few would name as a hometown hero the man who says he was, for a time, the most successful marijuana smuggler in America, the man who moved 972,000 pounds of pot between Colombia and the United States in his decade-long career. Not even Long.
"I saw myself as sort of a Robin Hood," Long says with a chuckle, "although I didn't give the money back." That was back in the '70s, when Long's burgeoning business seemed an unstoppable wild ride. Now, the millions are gone, along with the limos, the parties and the cocaine. But the stories still exist in Long's new biography, by author Robert Sabbag: "Loaded: A Misadventure on the Marijuana Trail."
The book jacket blurb calls it "a classic American tale, the story of a man who risks everything to pull off one huge deal in a final bid for freedom." True?
"In the sense that I set off on an adventure against difficult odds to make a fortune, and regarded myself not as a criminal in that sense, yes," Long says thoughtfully, then chuckles. "From the general public's point of view, you'd have to ask them."
Long, now 53, lives in Crozet, right outside Charlottesville, with his wife and two children. He's part-owner of a restaurant and several businesses, dabbles in real-estate speculation, and runs a golf-reservation network.
He's a firm believer in American entrepreneurship. "If you are already in some sort of a drug business," he tells people, "then you are buying inventory, managing salespeople, handling financing, running a business, developing a strategy. What that means is you can run any business. For God's sake, do that. Because you get to keep the money, and you can tell people what you really do for a living."
As a young man, Long says, he used marijuana heavily but he wanted to be a filmmaker, never a smuggler. "I went to Mexico to make a movie about the real-life, hilarious misadventures of the drug smugglers that I had met." Now the story's come full circle "the hilarious misadventurer turns out to be me."
In Mexico, everyone wanted to be in Long's movie, growers and shippers alike. But when the dope deal Long was filming fell through, he was left with no story line. Long abandoned the camera equipment and, with the aid of the people he'd met, decided to try his hand at the business.
Long was a natural smuggler, he discovered. His first major effort to bring two tons of marijuana from Colombia in 1976 ended abruptly when his DC-3 crashed into a line of palm trees. After that, however, the deals went down as neatly as dominoes. Long made millions and spent most of it on women, cars and coke. Crippled by his drug habit, spending every day cloistered in luxurious limos and hotel rooms, Long "did not, as they say, get out much," Sabbag writes.
After associates began pressing guns to his head after a few botched deals, he decided to leave the business in 1981. The feds caught up with him a decade later and sent him to prison. The only treasure Long kept, he says, the most important of all, was his wife Simone and their two sons, Sean and Matthew. He nearly lost them once, when Simone wanted to divorce Long after his release.
Now his older son is of an age when kids yearn fiercely for the forbidden. And how do you tell your 14-year-old son not to light up a joint, when on every page of your own biography you're stoned out of your mind?
"Karma came back and kicked me in the ass," Long says wryly. As a parent, he says, he advocates simply being a responsible role model. Of course young people will experiment, he says, but he condemns substance abuse.
To his kids and their wide-eyed friends, he says, "It's cool to be successful in something. It's not cool to be involved in criminal enterprises. It's not cool to be an outsider. You know, when you're a criminal, you become someone who is outside society. You may be in a small society of your own, but it's populated by people you really don't want to be with. It's not cool to be a crook."
It is cool to be an ex-crook, when you get paid to share your life story. In a few years, the film version of "Loaded" will likely come out, Long says; he's already met with Quentin Tarantino and Brad Pitt, among other Hollywood luminaries, to discuss it.
Long first met author Robert Sabbag in New York City in the late 1970s. Long was so taken with Sabbag's "Snowblind," a cocaine-smuggling epic, that he visited Sabbag and offered to buy the movie rights on the spot for $200,000 cash. Long was too late. The rights had already been purchased but Sabbag, true to his journalistic instincts, was curious about where Long had gotten a briefcase crammed with bills.
Long proudly announced that he was a marijuana smuggler, and he and Sabbag began talking about doing a book together. His associates, however, told him no book would ever be published unless Long were dead or in jail. And, they added, either could easily be arranged.
So the book was put on hold until 1992, when Long was arrested. The second call he made from prison, he says, was to Bob Sabbag. The two began working in earnest upon Long's release in 1997.
Sabbag's exhaustive two-year investigation filled the gaps in Long's detailed memories. The author's only promise was to be brutally honest, Long says, and he fulfilled it. "Let's face it. Allen Long was not the nicest or most attractive character. I didn't hurt anybody. And I never carried a gun. And I never approached this as a gangster. But look at what I did to my personal life."
Intense regret sears him, he says, when he thinks about the years lost while he was evading the feds and subsisting on chemical cocktails. "When I read the book, it almost makes me want to cry at the wasted time," Long says.
He knows some people will read it and think "Cool!" And still a few will say to him, "Hey man, do you know where I can score a pound of Colombian gold?"
Long laughs. His answer: "I say no. But if you do, call me. 'Cause I haven't seen any in 20 years."
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