6. The Doctor Is In | Crooked Media
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June 15, 2020
Wind of Change
6. The Doctor Is In

In This Episode

CAYMAN ISLANDS, 1982: The Scorpions’ manager Doc McGhee has a secret past: he played a role in one of the largest drug busts in U.S. history, working with a smuggling ring that included CIA asset (and Panamanian dictator) Manuel Noriega. Everyone else went to prison. But Doc didn’t serve a day. Patrick heads to Naples, Florida, to find out why Doc threw a rock festival in Moscow instead of going to prison.

 

Transcript:

EPISODE 6: THE DOCTOR IS IN

Patrick: A quick note before we begin: This series contains some language and topics that may not be suitable for young children. 

Patrick: In 1867 a dentist from New Hampshire named David Burbank, bought some real estate in Southern California. It was mostly empty ranchland back then, and he bought about nine thousand acres. When he sold the land to a development company two decades later, he got a quarter of a million dollars on his initial investment of nine grand. Not bad for 1886. Plus, they named the town after him. Burbank. Today Burbank looks like any other Southern California suburb but there’s one fascinating trace of the ranchland origins of the place: horses. Drive around and you’ll often see people on horseback. You might notice some of the crosswalk buttons are a little higher than normal, so people riding horses can reach them. And because of this weird peculiarity in the zoning, even today private residents are allowed to keep horses in the backyards of their suburban homes. 

Howard Johnson: Yeah this is all grandfathered in for horses because you know used to be the polo fields for Warner Brothers when they kept all the horses John Wayne and all of that stuff all of all of this was grandfathered in. 

Patrick: This is Howard Johnson. 

Howard Johnson: That’s why we’re able to have actual horses. That’s why we moved here. 

Patrick: That’s his actual name, Howard Johnson. His friends call him HoJo.

Howard Johnson: Yeah she’ll nip you gotta watch out…

Patrick: We’re behind his house, two minutes off the Ventura freeway, and HoJo’s introducing me to Scout, the thousand pound Appaloosa he keeps in the backyard. 

[Audio Clip: HoJo speaking French to Scout] 

Patrick: HoJo speaks french. Apparently Scout does too. You can see the affection HoJo has for his horse, which is a little surprising, because a few years ago another horse almost killed him. 

Howard Johnson: It literally happened less than a mile from where we’re sitting right now. A trail that I rode every single day. 

Patrick: He was out riding one day and tried to do a trick, showing off for some other riders. 

Howard Johnson: It was three girls on a horse about a quarter mile down and I always carried my rope. And my horse is going full speed and then I throw this rope, and the way a rope horse is trained as a rope comes by its eye it’ll stop right. So when this rope went by,  she slid, it was it was a beautiful thing, right?

Patrick: The horse reared back, but on that particular day, the edge of the trail happened to be lined with manure.

Howard Johnson: So she start backing and up and this stuff start building up behind her legs and all I can remember was her going up up up and the next thing I saw was that. 

Patrick: The horse toppled backward. Onto HoJo.

Howard Johnson: In my face. And I heard it. I heard it I heard 

Patrick: He heard something break. The horse was incredibly heavy.

Howard Johnson: Twelve hundred pounds. Twelve hundred pounds. So as I’m lying there I knew something was wrong in my pelvis. I knew I could just feel it. But she still on top of me. And a horse is kind of like a turtle when they’re on their back. And I’m still splayed in the saddle. So I know sensitive spots on a horse, like you can, you know, tweak their ear. So I caught her ear, and bit her ear. She turned to the left, and she turned real hard to the right to get up and that’s what broke my back. 

Patrick: HoJo would never walk again or so his doctors told him. But these days he’s not just walking, and doing yoga and working out with kettlebells. He’s back on the horse. HoJo’s a survivor. Next to where Scout lives is another stable that HoJo converted into a home recording studio. We tend to think of the music business as an industry where you either make it big or you don’t make it at all. But the truth is, there are lots of folks who aren’t household names but who enjoy decades of moderate, mostly anonymous success. Songwriters, backup singers. the journeymen of the business. Howard Johnson is one of those journeymen. His studio is full of mementos from people he’s worked with. There’s a big picture of Jermaine Jackson. He tells me Jermaine is his best friend and I’m not sure quite how seriously to take this until his phone rings during the interview and he asks me to pass it to him and the caller ID says Jermaine Jackson. 

[Audio Clip: HoJo’s phone ringing]

Howard Johnson: What’s up… Jermaine I’m smoking. You know me I’m I’m always doing good. I just got off the phone with Ray Parker Junior about an hour ago. 

Patrick: Hojo helped produce Tupac Shakur’s breakout single, “I get around,” in 1993. 

[Audio Clip: Tupac Shakur: “I Get Around”]

Patrick: That’s him on the chorus. But his closest brush with fame was in the late 1970s, when he joined an R&B group in Miami. 

Howard Johnson: My first hit was in 1979 with the Niteflyte. 

Patrick: Remember Niteflyte? Yeah, me neither. But they had a modest hit with “If You Want It.”

[Audio Clip: Niteflyte: “IF You Want It”]

Patrick: The music scene in Miami was colorful in those days and a little seedy. HoJo was working at a tourist nightclub, singing covers from eight to three in the morning for forty-five dollars a week when he was recruited to join Niteflyte.

HoJo: And then that’s when I met Doc. 

Patrick: That’s Doc as in Doc Mcghee. 

Doc was originally from chicago. He was born Harold Millard McGhee, and legally changed his name to Doc. He was a working class kid. His dad was a welder. Doc did a stint in the Army, stationed in West Berlin, then drifted down to Miami, and he was  doing odd jobs. Selling cars and construction equipment when he met a guy who managed bands. Doc was a people person, he had an effortless charisma, so the manager brought him into the business. Doc became HoJo’s manager, and his job, basically, was just to keep the band happy. 

Howard Johnson: We used to have a saying that if Doc’s got dollars, you’ve got dollars, and it was, just – wow.

Patrick: Doc lavished HoJo and his bandmates with perks.

Howard Johnson: We always ate at the finest restaurants, finest cars, girls. 

Patrick: There are amazing stories about Doc in those early years in Miami about how he would walk into a restaurant and order a hundred bottles of Cristal. About how he had limos on call 24-hours a day, and in New York he would book five contiguous suites  in the Plaza Hotel. Once, he gave HoJo a big stack of cash and told him to go buy himself a BMW.

Howard Johnson: I was in heaven, it was, I was in heaven.

Patrick: In retrospect HoJo allows that it was a little strange Doc was such a lavish spender. I mean, it’s not like he was managing Fleetwood mMac. This was Niteflyte. That song “If You Want It,” their biggest hit? It peaked at #37 on the charts. 

Howard Johnson: I never knew where the money came from. I never asked where the money came from.

Patrick: But there was one incident which even at the time struck him as a little strange. 

Howard Johnson: This story is gonna get me in trouble. But everybody was out of town and I’m in Coconut Grove and some guy comes by. Allegedly a cartel guy. A big wig comes by. So you know Doc and Bobby here? No no. “Ojo” didn’t know how to say HoJo. I leave something for Doc you know. OK. OK. Whatever they’re gone for like a month or something so they come back. I say, oh, such as such came by and he brought this thing and it’s a bag about this big. Put it on the table. He says whats that? I say they dropped it off. Opens it up it’s pure Peruvian flake. 

Patrick: It was a big bag of cocaine. 

Howard Johnson: Minimum five pounds. 

Patrick: According to HoJo, Doc said he didn’t know anything about the cocaine. He told HoJo he could do whatever he wanted with it. For a while, HoJo entertained the notion of selling it himself, but he hesitated.

Howard Johnson: So what am I gonna do with this? How am I going to sell this and so I called my dad. I said dad I got something here that’s making me think twice. Says you don’t need my advice then you’ve already made the decision. I sat there and I sweated for a few minutes and just went to the toilet, flushed it. Probably best thing I ever did in my life 

Patrick: HoJo knew one thing for certain. His manager Doc McGhee wasn’t just in the music business.

From Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media, and Spotify, This is Wind Of Change. I’m Patrick Radden Keefe. Episode 6: The Doctor Is In. 

When Doc Mcghee showed up in Moscow with the Scorpions and a bunch of other rock bands in the summer of 1989, few people realized that until fairly recently, he’d had a sideline as a big time drug smuggler. In this episode, we’re going to investigate the secret past of the Scorpions’ manager, Doc McGhee — a past that includes one of the biggest drug smuggling schemes in U.S. history and the CIA and a mysterious deal in which Doc managed to dodge a decades-long prison sentence and throw a rock concert in Russia instead. 

Fred Goodman: Somebody says you know back then if you were you know everybody in Coral Gables was in the drug business right. It’s a glib remark but you know it’s sort of that Miami Vice feel of the time.

Patrick: This is Fred Goodman. He’s a longtime music journalist, and back in 1991, he profiled Doc for GQ.

Patrick: Well what was the story? 

Fred Goodman: The story was the Doc McGhee had been a drug smuggler that the guy who managed Bon Jovi had been a drug smuggler. 

Patrick: And how old was he at the time? 

Fred Goodman: You know I can’t really say. Doc is kind of ageless when you see him. 

Fred Goodman: You know he’s older than his bands and younger than your dad. 

Allen Jacobi: Doc McGhee came into my office. I can’t give you the day I think I want to say ‘78, ‘79.

Patrick: This is Allen Jacobi, an entertainment lawyer in Miami. They met when Doc was running  around town, shopping his new band, in search of a record deal.

Allen Jacobi: He wasn’t even in the business really. He was just financing a record. And he brought the album with him, you know, on cassette. 

Patrick: This was the band that would become Howard Johnson’s group Niteflyte. According to Allen, Doc was pretty open about the fact that he was looking to leverage his success in the drug business to break into the music business. 

Allen Jacobi: He said, I’m a smuggler. I’ve done this, that and the other. He never hid it. He would tell stories of things that would happen. And they were hysterical stories. 

Fred Goodman: My like my favorite is with the one with Doc says that he parachuted into the Everglades one night. 

Patrick: This is Fred Goodman again.

Fred Goodman: He goes, “What was your target?” He sees two cars with their headlights on facing each other. 

Allen Jacobi: We’re at dinner one time in New York. And he says to me, Alan, you ever see a million dollars? 

Fred Goodman: He was making so much money that they burn out three cash counters. And they get sick of it and they just start counting their money by weighing it in suitcases. 

Allen Jacobi: He walks into one of the bedrooms and pulls open the bottom drawer and it’s filled with hundred dollar bills neatly stacked. He said, that’s a million dollars. And we went back to dinner as if nothing happened. 

Patrick: I realize at a certain point, he’s has these bands that are doing really well, but like some of that is like money from his old career. Right. 

Allen Jacobi: In retrospect, of course. I introduced him as an entrepreneur from Chicago that was in heavy equipment who now was turning his resources to music. 

Patrick: Heavy equipment? 

Allen Jacobi: You know like construction equipment. 

Patrick: If you want to break in as a music manager, it helps to have an unlimited supply of drug money and if at first you don’t succeed, well, just keep spending. Eventually Doc got his big break. 

David: Doc was interested in the music business. He had been involved with one or two acts that didn’t really go anywhere. 

Patrick: David Rudich is another industry lawyer, in LA:

David: Doc was exceptionally bright. He had an amazing sense of humor 

Patrick: In 1982, Rudich was representing this young band in LA and…

David: And Motley Crue was in need of a manager. So I had them booked into the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. 

Patrick: Rudich had an eye for spectacle, so he deliberately distributed more tickets than there were seats, like several thousand more, so it would be a mob scene with people fighting to get in to see Motley Crue. 

David: And an assistant of mine filled the trashcans all over the parking lot with crumpled up newspaper…

Patrick: And somebody set them on fire, so before the band takes the stage and starts thrashing out songs like “Shout At the Devil,” the venue was literally surrounded by flaming trash cans.

David: And Motley Crue came on stage dressed in their wild outfits and with their wild makeup and at some point they had squirted themselves with a combination of cigarette lighter fluid and alcohol and they lit themselves on fire and they were running around on stage playing on fire and the audience was going crazy and Doc ran over to me and yelled at me if I don’t get this band you fucked me. 

[Audio Clip: “Shout at the Devil]

David: But anyway he got the band and that’s how that started. 

Patrick: So that’s how Doc McGhee singed his first big band, Motley Crue. But here’s the thing that’s interesting. The people we talked to say he got into the narcotics trade in the 1970s, when he moved to Miami. He made a bunch of money in the drug business then transitioned into music, first with smaller acts, like Niteflyte, and ultimately with big ones, like Motley Crue. By the mid-eighties, he reinvented himself. He’s a successful music manager. And you might think at that point, he would be able to leave the drug business behind. But it didn’t quite work that way.

Patrick: Do you remember when you first met Doc? 

Steven Khalish: January 1982. In the Cayman Islands.

Patrick: This is Steven Khalish. As a young man, he was a big time drug smuggler, whose specialty was colossal shipments of marijuana.

Steven Khalish: We had just brought in 25,000 plus pounds of pot in Florida and um we were down there just partying and celebrating and planning our next operation. And Doc was down there partying as well. 

Patrick: Khalish is super laid back. He’s done some time in federal prison but these days he lives in Hawaii. We spoke by phone and there’s a sound you’ll hear as we’re talking which I’m pretty sure is him chewing tobacco and spitting in a bottle.

Steven Khalish: The Cayman Islands and Georgetown was very small back then, in the late 70s, early 80s. 

Patrick: And Doc seemed like a successful guy, with one foot in the music business and the other in the drug trade. 

Steven Khalish: He was managing some hot bands and he had been really successful in, you know, previous smuggling ventures. And you know to the Caymans, he brought Tommy Lee and Heather Locklear and Ringo Star 

Patrick: Oh wow. Ringo Star!

Steven Khalish: Ringo Starr and a bunch of others.

Steven Khalish: Oh, yeah. Yeah. Back then he liked to party a lot. You know, everybody’s cleaned up their ways. But back in the early 80s, you know, when it was time to party, we liked to party hard. Lots of good champagne and lots of good cocaine and lots of beautiful women. 

Patrick: And in the middle of all this, Khalish and Doc got down to business.

Steven Khalish: Doc had some connections down in Colombia, in Barranquilla. And um, you know, we just, we partied for a few days and then sat down and planned an operation to bring some pot into North Carolina.

Patrick: Khalish arranged to meet Doc’s Colombian supplier on the island of Curacao, in the Dutch Antilles.  

Steven Khalish: I flew down on a private jet from the Cayman Islands 

Patrick: He liked Doc’s Colombian associate. 

Steven Khalish: I mean, all the Colombians I ever dealt with were pretty laid back. With the exception of some of the Medellín cartel guys. 

Patrick: But Doc didn’t just hook them up with the Colobian connection. He wanted to invest in the operation as well. 

Steven Khalish: The marijuana importation business was, generated large sums of cash and with relatively low exposure. 

Patrick: So when you say he invested, I mean, what does that look like? If I have money, I want to invest in one of your operations. 

Steven Khalish: So Doc would invest 100 grand and he would receive a 4 to 1 return on his investment. 

Patrick: 4 to 1? 

Steven Khalish: Yeah. So he’d put up 100 grand and make 400.

Patrick: That’s a good investment. 

Steven Khalish: Oh yeah. 

Patrick: Khalish obtained a shrimp boat, Lady Mauricette and the Colombians loaded it with thirty thousand pounds of marijuana. They sailed right up to North Carolina but in Morehead City, the ship got busted.

Steven Khalish: Yeah, so after the shrimp boat was seized, you know, we all met back down in the Cayman Islands. 

Patrick: Khalish had to fly back to Curacao to explain to the Colombians what’d happened. 

Steven Khalish: It’s always a precarious situation when you’re going back to the Colombians and telling them you lost 30 thousand pounds of their pot. 

Patrick: But the Colombians were understanding, and proposed that they make up the money they’d lost by arranging for another load… a bigger one. 

Steven Khalish: He said, Let’s double up. 

Patrick: Gift thousand pounds. 

Patrick: Doc wasn’t spooked? I would just think that if the last operation gets busted, y — you might hesitate before going in on the next one.

Steven Khalish: No 

Patrick: What does it even mean? Logistically, I’m just thinking about how, how do you offload 30 thousand pounds of pot? 

Steven Khalish: Well, it depends on where your offload site is. Typically what we would do is bring the shrimp boat up against the bank or to dock, and then we would um set up conveyor systems that would run from the boat into the back of a refrigerated 40 foot tractor trailer. And then we would have anywhere from, depending on the size of the operation, anywhere from 30 to 150 fifty men that would unload the bales from the hold of the shrimp boat, put them on the conveyor systems of within, take them into the refrigerated 40 foot container. 

Patrick: But this is like an industrial operation. You guys are doing this at night? 

Steven Khalish: Always at night. Yeah. We had it pretty down. I mean, we knew what we were doing. 

Patrick: So you guys then decide you are going to go in on this, on this next load, in — including Doc. 

Steven Khalish: Oh yeah, especially Doc. Hell, it’s his connection. And he’d lost money on the first load and he was anxious to make it back. You know 

Patrick: And what happens with that second load? 

Steven Khalish: Well, we bring into the exact same port, Morehead City, North Carolina. Then take it up to our off load site, offload the 50 thousand pounds and then take it up to a warehouse in Detroit, Michigan. And then sell the pot and then ship all the money back down to the Cayman Islands. 

So we were throwing a big party down in the Cayman Islands and Doc was there and a bunch of our other investors and some of our crew. And from that, you know, after our big New Year’s Eve party, we um planned our next stop, which was a 300 thousand pound importation into um Louisiana. So I don’t know, Doc put up a few hundred grand. We bring that into, into south Louisiana. And we unload 270 thousand pounds in one night into six tractor trailers. 

Patrick: Unreal 

Steven Khalish: I mean, we netted tens of millions of dollars. Made a whole lot of money. 

Patrick: In the summer of 1984, they were planning yet another operation — this time, a million pounds — when… Khalish’s luck changed. 

Steven Khalish: Everybody was investing, Doc and, and everybody I know. Anyway, I got arrested on a fluke in Tampa, Florida.

Patrick: It was an old warrant, and Khalish was shipped to Texas to serve four years on an old charge. But some members of his crew continued to operate while he was inside – and now law enforcement was onto them. 

Steven Khalish: The feds had em surveillance. Wiretaps, transponders on cars

Patrick: So Khalish ended up with new charges, and dozens of members of the organization would ultimately be indicted in Florida, North Carolina, and Louisiana… including Doc McGhee.

Steven Khalish: They indicted Doc out in North Carolina… And the first assistant U.S. attorney out of North Carolina was Doug McCullough. 

Patrick: Doug Mccullough was a say-no-to-drugs prosecutor with a hard ass reputation. He went on to become a judge. 

Doug: I’m judge Doug McCullough, I’m retired from the North Carolina court of appeals. Earlier in my career, I was an assistant U.S. attorney. When we seize this first load in July 1982, there was a lot of investigation that was done but we really didn’t have a single person identified.

Patrick: One thing was clear, though. This was a major operation.

Doug: That’s one of the biggest individual loads I’ve ever heard of. 

Patrick: The first big break came when authorities approached Clinton Anderson, a member of the crew who lived in Detroit and went by the name “Shine.”

Doug: Shine, was a bit of a blowhard. 

Patrick: He had clashed with some other members of the organization, and one of them, this guy named Larry Garcia, went looking for Shine one day, to kill him.

Doug: And so Larry Garcia picks up a shotgun and goes over at Shine’s house. 

Patrick: Shine was at home. He’d been drinking.

Doug: Garcia shot him, getting to the left side of his gut and blew him up against the back wall. Garcia looked at Shine laying there like that, thought he was dead and left. Well Shine wasn’t dead. He was blown apart, pretty badly hurt, but he wasn’t quite dead. 

Patrick: So Shine lived. And became a federal witness.

Doug: Once we had Shine as a witness. We knew everything about everybody pretty much. We could put it all together.

Steven Khalish: And he laid out the whole story about Doc McGhee and myself and. It was a number of events that all came together that eventually brought the whole organization down. 

Patrick: Suddenly everything Doc McGhee had been working for hung in the balance and then Steve Khalish flipped, and started cooperating with the authorities, too. 

[Break]

Patrick: At around the time of Kalish’s arrest in 1984, while Doc was busy touring with Motley Crue and, according to Khalish, investing in drug shipments, Khalish had been living in Panama, where he befriended the Panamanian dictator General Manuel Noriega. Noriega had turned Panama into a money laundering haven for drug cartels. The first time Khalish met the general, he brought him a little gift. A suitcase with three hundred thousand dollars in it. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Steven Khalish: So I’m sitting at his desk watching a ship pass through the Panama Canal. Literally, while I’m making lines of cocaine on his desk and snorting them. Ah, God, it was like, you know.

Patrick: On Noriega’s desk. 

Steven Khalish: And I’m thinking, Okay, well I think I’ve found a home. 

Patrick: Khalish used to lend Noriega his plane. 

Steven Khalish: He used my jet to fly to D.C. to meet with uh John Poindexter and Oliver North and Bush and the head of the DEA. 

Patrick: You see, Noriega may have been running Panama and laundering drug money. but he was also a longtime asset for the CIA. 

Patrick: When did you figure out that Noriega was working with the CIA 

Steven Khalish: Early on.

Patrick: As long as the CIA had other interests in the region, like keeping tabs on Castro in Cuba or helping the contras in Nicaragua, it was useful to have this rogue who was running Panama on the payroll. In fact – and I’m not making this up – Noriega flew into Washington on Kalish’s Learjet so that he could have a meeting with Bill Casey, who was the director of the CIA. 

Doug:…for his cooperation with him and the Cold War and the war on drugs.

Patrick: That’s Doug Mccullough, the prosecutor. Who was, understandably, a little frustrated by all this. 

Patrick: So at the time that you’re investigating this ring that he’s involved in… It’s just amazing to think about that. That he’s he’s he’s being flown in on the Learjet of a guy who is a known drug dealer to meet with the director of the CIA on U.S. soil. 

Doug: And it would it would be obvious if he landed at Andrews Air Force Base. The Air Force Base had to know the tail number and everything about the airplane that came in. 

Patrick: But eventually Noriega outlived his utility, and in January 1988, Khalish, who had already been arrested himself,  put on a suit and went to Capitol Hill to testify against him. 

[Audio Clip: Tom Browka from NBC: “The dealer, Stephen Kalish, testified that he paid Noriega several million dollars for his help in laundering drug money and smuggling marijuana and cocaine from Colombia into the United States.”]

Patrick: This is Kalish, testifying against Noriega. 

[Audio Clip: Khalish: “I arranged the transshipment through Panama…For a fixed fee, Noriega personally approved of this operation.”]

Steven Khalish: I felt bad. Noriega treated me well. I mean, I was a pawn. I got caught up in the War on Drugs. 

Patrick: An interesting way to frame being the country’s most prolific drug runner, but fair enough. In december 1989, U.S. forces invaded Panama. Noriega holed up in the Vatican embassy and refused to come out. So U.S. troops surrounded the building. When Noriega wouldn’t leave, a fleet of humvees with huge mounted speakers arrived. Then they started blasting rock n roll at the embassy, songs like “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns n Roses and “Wanted: Dead or Alive” by Doc McGhee client Bon Jovi. This was a different way to use music as a weapon. 

[Audio Clip: British guy: “The US Army bombarded the building with Heavy Metal music at unbearable levels.”]

[Audio Clip: Guns n Roses “Welcome to the Jungle]

Patrick: They were playing these songs to try and torture him into submission. Day and night, the assault continued, until on January 3, 1990, when an exhausted Noriega staggered out and surrendered to the U.S. authorities. So the CIA’s man in Panama ended up living out his days in a U.S. prison. Steve Khalish ended up doing 8 years. Doug Mccullough, the prosecutor, said that pretty much everyone he indicted served time. Except for Doc McGhee. You see, Doc was facing a severe sentence, decades in lockup, potentially. But at the last minute, he got an extraordinary deal, and he never served a day. 

Doug: They came up with a plan that if Doc agreed to fund and hold some rock concerts that had an anti-drug message that he should be placed on probation. 

Patrick: Doug Mccullough was not happy.

Fred Goodman: I mean the prosecutors were livid over this deal. You know they had a truck driver who got five years.

Patrick: That’s Fred Goodman, the GQ journalist.

Fred Goodman: And they threw the book at everybody else as far as I can tell. 

Doug: Well, he was the only one that got probation I think. Everybody else, even the guy who had the gate keys and opened up the roads for the truck, hauled the marijuana out, got three years. 

Patrick: That guy went to prison? 

Doug: Oh, yeah. 

Patrick: And Doc Mcgee didn’t serve a day. 

Doug: Mmhmm.

Patrick: After the North Carolina deal, Doc was charged in a separate indictment in Louisiana. But they gave him a deal there, too. As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to set up a foundation. The Make a Difference Foundation and in 1989, the foundation put on a rock concert in Moscow. 

Snake Sabo: I get a phone call from Jon, saying ‘Did you hear about Doc?’ He’s like, ‘Doc just got indicted.’

Patrick: This is Snake Sabo, the guitarist from Skid Row who we met at the park with all those ducks on Long Island? It was Jon Bon Jovi who told Snake that their manager had been indicted. 

Snake Sabo: And it has to do some shit with Manuel Noriega.’ I’m like ‘What? I’m like you’ve got to be fuck – I’m 20 years old my career, my life, my future is right in front of me and it’s all great. And then the guy who is guiding our career is somehow involved in with Manuel Noriega. 

Snake Sabo: But I, uh, I called Doc, and I said ‘Doc can you tell me what’s going on here.’ And he explained to me, he said ‘look I introduced a person to another person and they got in trouble together.’

Patrick: Were you aware that he had had this other career before? 

Snake Sabo: None of it. And then it turned out that part of his plea deal for his involvement was to put on this concert, and Make a Difference Foundation for drug and alcohol abuse and there’s a lot of irony in that. 

Patrick: So there’s like a plea of some sort for Doc but like why Russia? Like that’s the thing I don’t get. 

Snake Sabo: It was an opportunity to bring Western culture there.

Patrick: The more I thought about this, the more it just didn’t add up. Doc McGhee gets involved in this major drug conspiracy. And whatever he told Snake Sabo, he didn’t have some minor role, he didn’t just make an introduction, the Colombian connection was his connection, and he helped finance the whole thing. So he’s right in the middle of this international trafficking ring, where the guy who’s laundering the money is CIA asset Manuel Noriega and all these people, including Noriega, end up doing hard time. But this guy, Doc McGhee, gets off with a slap on the wrist, and an agreement that he’s going to set up a foundation and throw a concert. In Moscow. And just the fact that it’s a foundation. Remember when the CIA sent Nina Simone to nigeria? How did they do it? They used a foundation. And the rock festival Doc puts on in Russia turns out to be exactly the sort of program the State Department and the CIA have been engineering for decades, pushing American popular music into the USSR and the Scorpions are there, and they’re so inspired by the whole experience that they write a little song called Wind of Change. I just sorta don’t buy it. And you know who definitely isn’t buying it? My friend Michael, the guy who put me onto this whole Scorpions story in the first place. Every time we talk about Doc McGhee he gets worked up and starts pounding the table.

Michael: Dude. The whole premise is like this guy who should be in jail for a hundred and fifty years for the largest drug bust in the history that was- 

Patrick: Doc McGhee.

Michael: running Noriega’s shit the only agency that could get somebody out of jail for a hundred and fifty years. 

Patrick: You’re going to break the table. 

Michael: Is the CIA. Right? So you’ve got you’ve got Doc McGhee out of jail. But you got to go like do some stupid concert in Moscow? Does that make any sense? With the Make A Wish Foundation or whatever the fuck it’s called? That’s like a it’s a Shell company.

Patrick: To Michael, there’s a fairly clean explanation for all this: the CIA intervenes to help spring Doc from prison. Then they send him to Russia on a mission with the Scorpions, and voila. Goodbye communism, hello Wind of Change. I should say, Michael’s grasp on the particulars is a little shaky in places. 

Michael: This is the largest drug bust in the history of the United States and Doc McGhee’s on the boat.

Patrick: He wasn’t on the boat. 

Michael: It’s his drug boat. Like it’s his. 

Patrick: He helped facilitate the whole thing but he wasn’t on the boat. 

Michael: But he’s the guy. 

Patrick: Yeah. 

Michael: Like there’s like three guys. Right. He’s one of the three guys. 

Patrick: Well there was like there were like 200 people indicted in this thing. He’s one of them. 

Michael: Can we just agree Doc McGhee did not play a minor role like Doc McGhee’s a drug dealer. 

Patrick: Yes. 

Michael: He’s a shady guy. Right. Anyway the guy should be in jail like it was something like in today’s money like 12, 15 billion dollars worth of cocaine. Like something crazy. 

Patrick: It was marijuana. 

Michael: No there was two boats. There was a marijuana and it was a large. It was. 

Patrick: I don’t think there was a cocaine boat. 

Michael: See you’re not even prepared.

Patrick: So here it’s my facts that are shaky, because Michael’s right. There was a cocaine shipment. But Doc was never charged with anything related to that operation and we won’t dwell on the irony that pot is mostly legal now, and Michael has made a fortune on it. But Michael’s not the only person to be mystified and a bit suspicious about the deal Doc got. We tried to interview the judge in North Carolina, but he wouldn’t talk to us. A number of people suggested to me that doc was helped by “political connections,” powerful people who intervened behind the scenes.

Michael: Who can get somebody out of jail? Who can get a case essentially dismissed? Which agency can do it? 

Patrick: There was only one way to sort all this out. It was time to make a visit to the doctor. 

[Audio Clip: Flight attendant on an airplane]

Henry: All right. It’s  Doc Day! 

Patrick: It’s Doc day. 

Patrick: So we’re in Naples, Florida. We just drove by a big funeral home. Sun is shining and uh we’re driving to Doc McGhee’s house. 

Patrick: These days, Doc is back where he started: in Florida. He lives with his wife Wendy in a rental mcmansion in a subdivision full of similar homes. The whole area looks very much like the sort of development that sunk the US economy during the mortgage crisis. There’s a dusty vacant lot a few doors down with a sign stuck in the ground that just says “pending”. The house next door to Doc has a Trump sign that says “Keep America Great” and a garage full of ferraris. 

Doc is now the manager of the band Kiss. He’s never spoken publicly at any length about his criminal past, or about the connection between his drug conviction and the Moscow festival. I was a little surprised, to be honest, that he’d agreed to talk to us at all. But we’d told him we just wanted to speak generally about his experience at the festival. As Henry and I pulled into Doc’s driveway, I was nervous-talking…

Patrick: The weirdness of this interaction, I think, is going to be that. I’ll ask Doc, I’ll ask Doc, you know, did the CIA put on the Moscow Music Peace Festival and he’ll be indignant and incredulous and tell me they didn’t. And then I’ll be like, OK, just one more question. Did the CIA at Wind of change? Um. 

Patrick: Doc comes to the door accompanied by a couple of tiny dogs.

Patrick: Hey how are ya 

Doc: Killer dogs.

Patrick: Killer dogs better watch out. Watch Dogs huh? I’m Patrick. 

Doc: Doc McGhee. How are you?

Patrick: Good to meet you. Who are these guys?

Doc: Louis and Jasmine. 

Patrick: He does look strangely ageless, with more hair than he had in the eighties, and blindingly white teeth. He’s dressed casually and seems very relaxed, and he invites us in. The house seems like they have just moved in. There’s a bland luxury to the decor that has the feel of a high end hotel. Doc cracks open a big bottle of Electric Pink iced tea, and starts to reminisce about the Moscow festival.

Doc: It was like doing a show on the moon. Worse because you didn’t have to clean the moon. You just fucking put the stuff up. But Moscow was brutal

Patrick: Yeah. 

Doc: You couldn’t get anything. We couldn’t get ice. You couldn’t even get ice. I had to bring ice in from Sweden. 

Patrick: Really? 

Doc: Yeah. 

Patrick: You’d think that would be one thing they would have, though, maybe not in August. 

Patrick: Doc says that it was when he met the Russian rock impresario and Kremlin princeling Stas Namin – remember Stas? The guy with the ponytail we talked to at the theater in Moscow? – that he got the idea for the concert. 

Doc:  I just was driven to do Lenin Stadium.

Patrick: Why? 

Doc: And light — Because you know if it’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing. You know what I mean? You have to make a statement. Like I always say, if you’re going to run with the big dogs you can’t piss like a puppy.

Patrick: For a year before the show, Doc says, he flew to Moscow every other week for meetings at the Kremlin. He had to do this to get permissions and square away logistics, he explains. But I’m thinking. Twice a month for a year? Really? But Doc wasn’t all that impressed by the Soviets, he says. In fact, his biggest impression, spending all that time in Russia, was that the USSR was a paper tiger. 

Doc: We’re raised getting underneath our desks because the Russians are going to you know bomb us and this huge military force of the Soviet Union and all that kind of stuff that we’re raised, really turns out to be a popcorn fart and they couldn’t shoot a bottle rocket at you. They don’t have any assets and it’s really propaganda. And the Cold War, you find out, was really propaganda.

Patrick: I have definitely been finding that out.

Doc: It became more important to me to do it in Lenin Stadium because I started to understand how important the impact would be to do 300 thousand people in two days. 

Patrick: A brief fact check here, the capacity of the stadium is 75,000, so over 2 days, it wouldn’t be three hundred thousand, closer to a hundred and fifty. But all good managers round up. 

Doc: And get Russian television to put it on their TV for the first time in the history of the world that there was a rock band on television.

Patrick: This whole thing was such a gargantuan operation. I asked Doc what made him think he could pull it off.

Doc: Because I’m just fucking crazy and uh I’ve always been able to get my way. Okay so I wasn’t going to not get my way.

Patrick: To hear Doc tell it, he just told Motley Crue, Bon Jovi and Skid Row that they would all be going to Moscow.

Patrick: So there was no trepidation at all about the idea.

Doc: No I mean I don’t think they really understood it. 

Patrick: So you weren’t saying like come on guys let’s go let’s go end the Cold War. 

Doc: No. Fuck no. They wouldn’t know what the Cold War was. Do we need a coat? You know what I mean. They have no idea. 

Patrick: Only one band understood the stakes, Doc said. The Scorpions. They had played Leningrad the year before and been shut out of Moscow. So they really wanted to play Moscow now. 

Doc: What I love about the Scorpions is they play everywhere, man. They want to play. We played Bucharest like six weeks after Ceausescu was hung in the town square. We stayed at his house. 

Patrick: Wow. 

Doc: His driver was our driver. Just shit like that. We played Sarajevo during the war. 

Patrick: Gotta say, none of this is making them sound less like secret agents. But I was working up the nerve to ask Doc who it was that gave him his get out of jail free card.

Patrick: I just wanna understand the origins of this whole thing and the Make a Difference Foundation. So this grew out of your plea deal?

Doc: Yes. The Make a Difference foundation did. 

Patrick: Uh huh.. 

Doc: But it had no connection or anything with the Moscow Music Peace Festival.

Patrick: Oh really? 

Doc Mcghee: I brought it over. 

Patrick: Up to this point in the interview, Doc had been very relaxed, full of aphorisms and one liners. It was like little tape loops, stories he’d told before. But now suddenly his story got harder to follow. 

Doc: I I put it involved when we did the tie in between the East and the West because the Make a Difference Program was to help kids on alcohol and drug abuse that I formed after my plea deal with, with the government. 

Patrick: Doc explained that he did some earlier concerts to satisfy his plea deal. For example, he apparently got the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to perform. Or, as he puts it: 

Doc: Well, I did Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for kids and shit. But that was it. I just had to do some community service and… 

Patrick: And set up the foundation. 

Doc: I didn’t have to set up a foundation they didn’t say you set up a foundation. 

Patrick: Yeah. Cause I mean part of what I’m trying to figure out…so the U.S. government didn’t have anything to do with the Moscow festival? 

Doc: No no. 

Patrick: Nothing? Because you can see how from the outside there’s a situation in which you are tied up in this thing, there’s a whole, a bunch of people go to jail, you don’t. They basically say to you, like, you’re good, you know, you’ve got this plea and then you go to Russia, and it’s actually like it was kind of in the interests of the U.S. government, if you think about it, I mean. 

Doc: Well, you know, like you said, it’s conspiracy theory, you can come up with all kinds of shit, OK? And you can you know, you can say and I understand how people would think that the tie in was there. But you have to remember the indictment was from 1980, okay. 

Patrick: So, that’s not true. In fact, Doc is off, here, by about seven years. He wasn’t actually indicted until April 1987. And when you think about it, he couldn’t have been indicted in 1980, because he hadn’t committed the crimes yet. He didn’t meet Steve Khalish until 1982. Maybe his memory is foggy. But it seemed interesting that he’s suggesting, erroneously, that there was almost a decade between his drug indictment and the Moscow Festival in the summer of 89.  

Patrick: But the plea the plea deal is ‘88. 

Doc: Yeah, well, yeah, the plea well the plea deal was uh. 

Patrick: April ‘88. 

Patrick: So the plea deal happens just a little over a year before the Moscow concert.

Patrick: I mean can you tell us just a little bit about because it does seem like you were in kind of a transitional part of your life at that point or maybe you transitioned and then you’re getting kind of pulled back. Help me just understand the, the- 

Doc: Well, you have to remember people say, how did you get into this? OK. And I just tell them the truth, nobody would hire me. So I had to figure out what I was going to do I was out of the Army… 

Patrick: Doc got mixed up with the Kalish network almost by accident, he says.

Doc: I was with a guy named Jerry Carroll who happened to also be a smuggler, but he was in the Caymans. And so I introduced everybody to each other and said, don’t forget me at Christmas, which they didn’t. And, and so when they all went down. 

Patrick: Doc disputes some of what Khalish says. Saying he was only an investor in one of the big drug shipments. Not all three. In fact, in Doc’s view, it was Steve Kalish who was the source of his troubles. 

Doc: Khalish then turned me or said I guess he was going against me they were trying to pin me for everything, saying that I was a kingpin. Behind Kailash and all of them. Okay and Noriega and all that shit, okay. 

Doc: So McCullough, Doug he tried to put me away if he could. He was he was that.

Patrick:  We talked to him. I mean this is part of the reason I’m so interested in the deal because he was a hard ass. 

Doc: Terrible. 

Patrick: And the judge was a hard ass who actually up to that point was not like uh he was pretty hard on drugs kind of dude. So you got a sweet deal. I mean, I realize I’m not saying you were the kingpin or I buy any of that but I’m saying I’m in whatever role. The indictment said you made the introduction in, in Colombia. 

Doc: Yeah.

Patrick: So the you know, the source of supply, basically. 

Doc:  Well, you did some homework here so.

Patrick: Doc’s posture has changed. He takes a big swig from his iced tea. 

Doc: So, yeah, I mean they they said all kinds of shit, OK? Whether and it doesn’t matter what I tell you is true or is that true because nobody would believe me if I say whatever. So I don’t so I don’t care. Okay. It doesn’t matter. But the real truth of the matter was is that Khalish and that group were the conduit to Noriega.

Patrick: But you must have thought you were going to jail. 

Doc: I thought I was probably going to get something when I because of who I am and they just want they just don’t like they don’t like the king. Nobody likes that fucking king. I’m sorry. They want to chop the fucking head off the king.

Patrick: Doc swears he wasn’t the kingpin but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t the king.

Patrick: So you thought they were coming for you? 

Doc: I knew they were.

Patrick: And at a time in your career when you had just got on the back of a rocket. 

Doc: I was the hottest fucking manager in the world. So it was uh. 

Patrick: Were you scared? 

Doc: I think you’d be stupid if you weren’t scared. But, you know, shit happens. I mean, I really I live a blessed life I think I have a horseshoe stuck in my ass half the time.

Patrick: So the U.S. government, the U.S. government had no hand in the Moscow Festival. 

Doc: None whatsoever. None. 

Patrick: Really? 

Doc: Nothing had nothing to do with it. Had zero to do with it. 

Patrick: Because you can see how from a distance. 

Doc: Everybody says that. And I said, how the fuck do I? Who says. 

Patrick: It was like the best thing that ever happened to the U.S. government? 

Doc: I would think so. But it’s just happened by accident.

Patrick: One hundred fifty thousand young Soviet kids listening to Bon Jovi. 

Doc Mcghee: Right. I’m hip. It was great it’s just it was just part of the shit.

Patrick: I can see why people like Doc. He is, as advertised, a funny, charismatic guy. I found myself thinking about this thing. Jonna Mendez, the CIA’s master of disguise, had said to me about how the perfect CIA officer is someone who’s just effortlessly likeable and able to forge quick connections with people. So who knows. Maybe Doc is a spy or maybe he’s just a good rock manager. And after talking to him, there’s part of me that was ready to believe that the Moscow Music Peace Festival was not a CIA operation. I spoke with two of Doc’s lawyers, who represented him in the plea deal. They were both very plugged in guys in North Carolina, and they told me that what was really going on here was something different. The local authorities were looking for something from Doc McGhee. They wanted Jon Bon Jovi to come and do a concert. Or hey, maybe the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When they went to Louisiana, the judge asked, could you help us with a concert at the Cajun Dome? Could the sheriff get all the proceeds from the parking? Could you maybe get Michael Bolton to come down here and perform for my wife’s junior league? And Doc Mcghee? According to one of the lawyers there, he just grinned and said, I’d be happy to.

I’d been looking at Doc’s story as this exotic, global conspiracy, but what if there’s another way to read the same facts, as something more banale and familiar. A wealthy white guy with some good connections got pinched in a drug bust. So he hired some high end good ole boy lawyers and they met with the good ole boy judge and sheriff to see if they could work something out and behind closed doors, like it’s an Elks Club meeting, they hammered out a deal to let the rich guy off, while a bunch of other folks went to jail. 

That’s a story as old as the U.S.A. 

There was one other piece of evidence that was throwing me off, too. I made a freedom of information request, asking the CIA for any documents they might have on the Moscow Music Peace Festival and they wrote back and told me, definitively, that they had none. 

There’s a couple of things that are weird about that definitive ‘no’ from the agency. One is just, really? I mean, okay,  I can believe the CIA didn’t instigate the festival. But does it make sense that you’d have this huge unprecedented spectacle of western rock acts playing in Moscow, and Doc McGhee going back and forth every other week for meetings at the Kremlin for a year and nobody would send a single memo home just, like, alerting people, FYI, this is happening. 

Then there’s the other thing, which is, I ask for files on the Moscow Festival, and the agency gives me this definite, unequivocal “no such files exist.” But remember when I asked about files relating to any relationship between the agency and the Scorpions? That one they wouldn’t give me a definitive answer on. They could have just said “no such files!” but instead, they said, we can neither confirm nor deny. 

Back in Doc’s dining room, it was time to ask about the Scorpions.

Patrick: Can I throw another uh, another conspiracy theory at you? 

Doc:  Sure.

Patrick:  Have you ever heard anything about the CIA having anything to do with Wind of Change? 

Doc: Mmmm. No. You mean like helping him write it? 

Patrick: That’s one version of the story. Or maybe get in the-

Doc: That’s interesting. That would never happen. 

Patrick: Why not? 

Doc: Although, well, because Klaus would never allow that.

Patrick: Why not? 

Doc: Well, they’re you know, they’re rebels, those guys. I mean. Those guys are not part of the establishment. 

Patrick: Really? 

Doc: No, they’re Germans yeah they’re fucking. They’re tough. They’re tough so. 

Patrick: I didn’t really understand what Doc was trying to say here, what being tough has to do with being German, or what either has to do with someone’s willingness to dabble in espionage. But then his tone changed.

Doc: Could it happen? I guess it could have happened. I don’t see that from my side of watching all the government CIA wouldn’t have any understanding of what rock music did to begin with. And whether it influenced it, because there wasn’t enough precedent to say they you could use you as Propaganda. And it would be the same kind of theory that the Cold War was. 

Patrick: Oh how do you mean?

Doc: They could have because when we’re, when we did the Moscow Music Peace Festival, when I did it, I could see them going, wow, here’s an opportunity, if you want a conspiracy theory. 

Patrick: Give it to me. 

Doc Mcghee: If you’re a fucking mind hunters, you’re the mind hunters. 

Patrick: Hit me. 

Doc: That they could say, let’s really leverage this okay? To help you know, get the wall to come down and everything else, because, you know, it was so close. Um and we didn’t know the wall was going to come down.

Patrick: You didn’t?

Doc: No fuck no. 

Patrick: So you could see some universe where the CIA sees this happening and just sees there’s like this you know. 

Doc: I could you know. I could see. Is it possible? Yes, it’s possible. 

Patrick: As our interview came to an end, Doc walked us to the door.

Patrick: We’re out of here. All right. I’m going to let you know if I get to the bottom of the CIA thing. I’m going to figure it out. 

Doc: That’s interesting. That’s interesting. 

Patrick: So you’ve really never heard of anything like that? 

Doc: No, no. 

Patrick: Because this rumor came from inside the CIA. 

Doc: Looking back in retrospect, I would say. Why wouldn’t they have said, you know, how how do we use this to our advantage? 

Patrick: Here’s what I kept thinking about, as we drove off: How when I asked whether there was a connection between the CIA and Wind of Change, Doc immediately said, like they helped him write it? For months, I’d been talking to former spies to see if someone had heard the same story that the graybeard told Oliver and none of them had. But at the same time, none of them laughed it off as implausible, this idea that the CIA might have written a heavy metal ballad about freedom, or at least promoted it. Pretty much everyone I talked to said, “never heard that. but yeah, could have happened.” And here we were interviewing Doc McGhee, the guy who was the manager of the Scorpions at the time, and on the one hand, he’s talking about conspiracy theories and calling me a mind hunter. But on the other hand, he’s saying, “yeah, could have happened.” 

When I started this thing, I thought I would begin on the outside and work my way in, getting closer and closer to the band, until it was time to confront Klaus Meine himself. It feels like that moment has almost come. 

Patrick: Wind of Change is an Original Series from Pineapple Street Studios, Crooked Media and Spotify. The show is written and hosted by me, Patrick Radden Keefe. The Senior Producer is Henry Molofsky. Associate Producers: Natalie Brennan and Ben Phelan. Joel Lovell is our editor. Consulting producer Michael Shtender Auerbach. Original music by Mark Orton and John Hancock. Our music supervisor is Jonathan Feingold. This episode featured “Drift” by Ratatat, courtesy of XL Recordings. And “Saint European King Days” by Opium Flirt, courtesy of CD Baby. The Executive Producers at Pineapple Street are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. At Crooked Media, Executive Producers Tommy Vietor, Sarah Wick, and Sarah Geismer. 

And from Spotify, Executive Producers Liz Gateley and Jake Kleinberg. Special thank you to: Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Alison Falzetta, Ksenia Barakovskaya, Maddy Sprung-Keiser, Eric Mennel, Courtney Harrell, Dzifa Yador, Jesse McLean, Paul Spella, Bianca Grimshaw, Sai Sriskandarajah, Jonah Weiner, and Justyna Gudzowska. 

Source material in this episode included NBC news, BBC World News, and the Vanderbilt Television News Archive. 

Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.