America's Cocaine King Hid From Drug Cartels for 25 Years
To protect members of Max Mermelstein's family, his alias and certain names have been changed.
DELRAY BEACH, FLORIDA — MOVIE THEATER — NOVEMBER 2006
Former Los Angeles actor Brett Tabor tops a medium popcorn with jalapeños, as is his custom, and sits down in the air-conditioned darkness to watch a 7 o'clock showing of Cocaine Cowboys.
On the screen, superspliced interviews with two former smugglers tell the story of the cocaine avalanche that in the 1980s turned Miami into a bullet-riddled Little Medellín. Using budget special effects to augment footage of drug busts and murder scenes, Cocaine Cowboys isn't your typical documentary.
Thirty minutes into the hyperkinetic film, Tabor fidgets in his seat. But one character, a central figure whose story doesn't get much screen time, keeps him watching.
Anaheim Ducks v. San Jose Sharks
TicketsFri., Dec. 9, 7:00pm
Los Angeles Lakers v Phoenix Suns - Verified Resale Tickets
TicketsFri., Dec. 9, 7:30pm
UCLA Bruins Men's Basketball vs. University of Michigan Men's Basketball
TicketsSat., Dec. 10, 5:00pm
Los Angeles D-Fenders vs. Austin Spurs
TicketsSat., Dec. 10, 6:30pm
Only one photo of the man appears on the screen. He's burly and pasty, with severely parted hair and long sideburns framing a moon-shaped face behind a handlebar mustache. He wears a stiff brown-leather jacket and shoots daggers at the photographer, who snapped the picture in the early '80s.
Other than that shot, Max Mermelstein, the smuggler who pioneered the cocaine pipeline from Medellín to Miami, is nowhere in the film. No silent B footage, no interviews, just that one picture of America's greatest cocaine king.
It wasn't for lack of trying on the filmmakers' part. After turning rat and bringing it all to a crashing halt, Mermelstein had disappeared. In 1986, he had fled the cartel's $3 million bounty into the Witness Protection Program. He was as deep underground as you can get.
"I had one thought in my head as I left the theater," Tabor recalls. "Who's this Max guy?"
The two years Tabor spent in Hollywood shaped him more than he likes to admit. He refers to film-industry superstars by their first names, compares pivotal moments in his life to classic movie scenes, and brags about the time he shared a Thanksgiving table with Al (Pacino) — which Tabor swung because his wife was once an assistant to Harvey (Keitel).
In 1997, the then-24-year-old Florida native, blessed with dark-eyed, puppy-dog good looks, had moved from South Florida to L.A. to try to make it as an actor. He lived in a garage and scored less-than-Brandoesque roles: He played a "young officer" in a B movie called Judas Kiss and the doomed title character in the schlock fest See Dick Die.
Tabor still gets emotional when he recalls his career's epic bad beat: He received three callbacks for the main role in a biopic of boxer Vinnie Curto, alongside Robert De Niro as trainer Angelo Dundee. But then Mark Wahlberg, at that time known primarily as a rapper and Calvin Klein model, showed up to audition. Tabor maintains he was KO'd by star power: "I never had a chance."
The project, titled Out on My Feet, was never made, but that wouldn't soothe Tabor. In 1999, he headed to New York City, where he landed some off-Broadway work and took acting lessons under legendary coach Susan Batson. Tabor shared a class with Keitel and eventually married the star's assistant, Madrid-born Andrea. They had two daughters.
Tabor was plowing through his early 30s with new mouths to feed. So in 2004, when his father, Vero Beach, Florida, developer Marty Tabor, asked him to manage his property business, Tabor grudgingly agreed. He moved his family into a staid gated community in the moneyed town two-and-a-half hours north of Miami, but he kept his eye trained on Hollywood. He wanted to storm that insiders' fiefdom, but now on the production side, using a too-good-to-deny film project as his battering ram. "The movie business is a club," he says. "It doesn't matter how you break in. Once you're in, you're in."
To Tabor, the glancing treatment of Cocaine Cowboys' most intriguing character offered just such an opportunity. He ordered a copy of The Man Who Made It Snow, Mermelstein's out-of-print memoir written with authors Richard Smitten and Robin Moore five years after Mermelstein entered the Witness Protection Program, and was thoroughly convinced of its cinematic potential. "This was my Goodfellas," Tabor says.
It's also, depending on when you ask him, his Rocky and his Good Will Hunting. Both vehicles made their writers famous actors. Tabor arranged to pay $9,000 for the rights to The Man Who Made It Snow.
All he had to do now was find Mermelstein.
Tabor's father thought the proposition was flat-out foolish. "Found Hoffa yet?" he'd jab when Tabor reported to their office, or, "It's called the Witness Protection Program for a reason, son."
But for Tabor, locating the ex-smuggler was becoming more necessity than dream. The real estate market had tanked and Tabor was losing his shirt. He began to announce he was now in "the business of Max." Recalls his wife: "He was possessed. The way he talked about him, you'd think Max was a member of the family."
In July 2008, Tabor's search led him to Dick Gregorie, the legendary Miami federal prosecutor who, 23 years earlier, had helped persuade Mermelstein to turn informant. Tabor called Gregorie and, eager to not seem like an undercover assassin, spit out his Social Security number before the prosecutor could return a greeting. Bemused, Gregorie agreed to meet that week.
They met outside a Miami shopping mall on a hot, breezy weekday afternoon. The prosecutor, his large, lithe frame stuffed into a drab suit, gripped Tabor's hand. On first encounter, the 63-year-old Gregorie looked like a federal prosecutor from Central Casting: forbidding and gruff, with a big, flat head like a Komodo dragon's and arching, skeptical eyebrows.
"I felt like I was in a bad spy movie," Tabor says.
Tabor offered to buy lunch and explain his search. "I'll buy my own lunch, and your business with Max is your business," Gregorie retorted. "I'll give you 20 minutes only, and then I got to get back to my office."
But the enthusiastic filmmaker must have swayed him over greasy chicken and rice at the food court, because after they cleared their trays, Gregorie invited him to his office, on the eighth floor of the nearby Southern District headquarters.
The office walls are like a de facto historical museum of cocaine smuggling: undercover surveillance photos of drug lords Pablo Escobar and Fabio Ochoa loading kilos onto a plane, shots of Gregorie in court against Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega, and an image of Escobar's bloody corpse.
The photos are artifacts from the era when Gregorie cut his teeth as a headline-making young prosecutor, when he earned convictions against high-profile defendants such as Noriega and flamboyant megatrafficker Carlos Lehder. More recently, he helped convict the Liberty City Six terrorists, and in 2007, he was named the nation's best prosecutor by the National Association of Former United States Attorneys.
Gregorie explains he first met Mermelstein in summer 1985, inside an interrogation room at Terminal Island outside Los Angeles. It was the lowest point in the smuggler's life: He faced a life sentence for masterminding the import of 56 tons of cocaine to the United States.
The prosecutor had been chasing an indictment against Mermelstein since he first appeared on his radar, after selling 26 kilos to cash-strapped automaker John DeLorean several years earlier in a federal trap. Gregorie knew if the smuggler cooperated, he would have the inside information to serve up cocaine's CEOs. "The first thing I asked him was, 'A guy as intelligent as yourself, how the hell did you end up in here with me?'" Gregorie recalls.
Mermelstein's sneering response: "Not through anything you did."
After months of negotiations, Mermelstein decided to flip on the cartel in return for a reduced sentence — he ultimately served only two years and 17 days — and the relocation of a record 16 family members into the Witness Protection Program. Mermelstein went on to become what Gregorie calls "the greatest informant in history," crippling the Medellín Cartel by helping to send more than a dozen honchos and associates, including Noriega and Lehder, to American prisons.
Gregorie got into countless screaming matches with Mermelstein: He didn't want to pay taxes on the rewards the federal government paid him for agreeing to be a witness, lump sums as high as $275,000. He insisted on carrying a gun, even though the conditions of his lifetime probation forbade it. And when hunkered down with prosecutors, he liked to have dinner delivered from Joe's Stone Crab, along with a bottle of vintage red, on the government's tab. "The quality of his information made it worth it," Gregorie says.
Despite the clashes, Mermelstein always kept in touch. The lonely ex-smuggler sent holiday cards sans return addresses, cheesy Hallmark things with paintings of mistletoe and oil lamps. "Our best to you and yours from me and mine during the holiday season," reads one, signed "Max Mermelstein and family."
But Mermelstein avoided all others. In Gregorie's dusty files are letters from journalists who were summarily rejected, ranging from 60 Minutes producers to Time editors. The Cocaine Cowboys creators managed two phone conversations with Mermelstein in which they explained the project. But he never called back.
"I'll give Max your info, but he probably won't talk to you," Gregorie told Tabor. "And if he does, good luck, because he might just make you cough up your firstborn."
After his meeting with Dick Gregorie, Tabor picked up his wife at the mall and they headed back to Vero Beach. They were on I-95 in his black Jeep when his cell phone rang. "No ID," Tabor read in a hallowed tone, exchanging glances with Andrea.
The voice on the other end was low and husky, the product of a three-pack-a-day lifetime habit. "Brett. Max Mermelstein."
Andrea grabbed the steering wheel to prevent the Jeep from swerving into the median.
Afterward, Tabor barricaded his two young daughters out of his red-painted TV room, with its black-and-white photos of the patron saints of gangster cinema: Michael Corleone, Tony Montana, Henry Hill. Tabor stationed himself on a couch with his laptop and a box of documents from Gregorie: old testimony and letters from Mermelstein, most of them complaining about not receiving enough money or enough security from the government. Tabor read them over and over, trying to capture the old smuggler's voice.
In basing a script on Mermelstein's memoir, The Man Who Made It Snow, Tabor teamed up with Michael Kingston, another Hollywood exile. Kingston, who moved to South Beach to be closer to his ailing mother-in-law, had written a couple of screenplays. The most successful: horror flick Population 436, which "you can still catch on Cinemax," Tabor points out. Kingston didn't share Tabor's obsession with Mermelstein but saw the cinematic potential. They dreamed of a $70 million budget and Eric Bana as the front man — although they'd settle for Sean Penn.
MIAMI LAKES — MAX MERMELSTEIN'S HOUSE — CHRISTMAS 1978
An impatient rapping roused Mermelstein from bed at 2 a.m. Fat and sleepy, he opened the front door. Swaying on his front steps was a Colombian man in a leisure suit, with an Afro and a bushy mustache. His eyes were vacant, bloodshot.
Rafael Cardona Salazar, a family friend of Mermelstein's Colombian wife, Lara, had the build of a pubescent teenager. But Mermelstein knew this was not a man to be fucked with. Salazar was a rising prospect within the Medellín Cartel's cocaine business, a former slum kid constantly zooted on bazooka joints — fat cigarettes filled with superpowerful cocaine paste.
Thirty-six-year-old Mermelstein had been, for the most part, a law-abiding citizen. The son of Benjamin Mermelstein, owner of a little corner store in Brooklyn, the young Mermelstein studied mechanical engineering at the New York Institute of Technology and then bounced between Manhattan engineering firms with names like Wold & Ziggers and Cullen & Lemelson before finding his niche as the Aventura Country Club's chief engineer, overseeing an army of janitors, plumbers and maintenance men.
Mermelstein was a voracious eater whose weight pinballed between 200 and 280 pounds. Around his neck hung a gold chain with a pendant welded with Yiddish family initials, passed down from Mermelstein's grandfather to the Mermelstein men. Mermelstein had made his own alteration: He plastered on a diamond-studded version of the cartoon Tasmanian Devil.
Fluent in barrio español, Mermelstein married Colombian Lara Hernandez, his third wife. He adopted her two children, 13-year-old Luis and 7-year-old Isabella, and soon they would have a baby girl named Ana.
But the family man has already shown genius for illicit importation. Using private planes and freelance pilots, he has arranged the smuggling of dozens of Hernandez's friends and relatives into Miami. Among the refugees: the jittery shooter standing on his front steps and demanding that Mermelstein act as his designated driver.
Mermelstein climbed behind the wheel of Salazar's rented van to find another glaring Colombian, Antonio "Chino" Arles Vargas, sitting in the backseat. Soon Mermelstein realized there was trouble. Salazar apparently shot a man in the face at a Christmas party for no reason, and Chino did not approve. Salazar, in turn, suspected that Chino had been pilfering kilos from him.
While Chino was in midsentence, Salazar suddenly spun around in his seat with a nickel-plated .38 in his right hand. "I don't remember hearing the shots," Mermelstein would recall in a deposition. "I only remember seeing the flashes. And my foot froze on the accelerator, and I just kept driving. And at this point, Cardona [Salazar] was starting to direct me where to go."
He might as well have been speaking metaphorically. From that moment forward, Mermelstein was Salazar's personal zombie. They would dump Chino's bullet-torn body in a suburban field in South Miami. The next morning, with the help of Hernandez's straight-as-an-arrow brother Arturo, Mermelstein and Salazar would scrub the van of blood and bits of brain.
Mermelstein would say later he had only one thought in his head: I'm next.
He came to believe Salazar had wanted him to witness the murder: The Medellín Cartel — the Colombian cocaine conglomerate helmed by drug superlords including Escobar, Lehder and the Ochoa crime family — needed a smart American who knew how to smuggle. Mermelstein had the perfect curriculum vitae. For two years after the killing, he sold loose kilos around Miami and New York. Then Salazar put him to work full time as the cartel's American point man.
Mermelstein found his calling in cocaine smuggling. Using Cessnas loaded with plastic-wrapped coke footballs, he pioneered the water drop. He mastered eavesdropping on law enforcement radio frequencies, and evasive flying routes: His pilots stayed below radar and headed to the middle of the state before swooping down to South Florida. Mermelstein placed innocuous lookouts, armed with high-powered binoculars, in penthouses above harbors where coke-loaded boats came in, to warn of Coast Guard patrols. The procedures were all new.
He was the Henry Ford of cocaine, creating a world mirrored in Miami Vice. He briefly adopted a Colombian alter ego: According to a Florida driver's license, he was Maximiliano de Leon.
Miami became the type of city where bayonet-wielding sicarios stabbed enemies at the airport, where men with machine guns performed daylight massacres at Miami's Dadeland Mall, where a shrink-wrapped kilo, hurled from a smuggler's plane evading fighter jets, could crash through the ceiling of a Baptist church during Sunday service. Twenty killings a month — about four times as many as today — gave Miami the highest murder rate in the world. And it could all be traced back to Mermelstein.
But he wasn't pulling the trigger. "I didn't think I was hurting anybody," he said later. "In my mind, I was making an honest living."
Roughly six years and 56 tons of cocaine later, it ended. On June 5, 1985, he was arrested as he drove his blue Jaguar near his house in Miami's Golden Beach. Cops seized a permitted Walther TPH .22 from his glove compartment and $275,000 from under his bed. They sent him off to his indictment in Los Angeles, where he had a date with Gregorie in a cramped room with no windows.
Salazar was soon gunned down by a hit squad in Colombia. It was his punishment for vouching for Mermelstein.
Stephanie Mason knew the wizened 65-year-old man as Wes Barclay, a great friend who had rescued her from rock bottom 13 years earlier.
In 1996, the then-25-year-old Mason's husband would habitually beat her. Word spread, and her boss, the big, intimidating chief engineer at Westgate Vacation Villas in Kissimmee, Central Florida, called her into his office and began asking her personal questions.
Almost everybody on the Westgate staff was terrified of Barclay. "He could get irate," Mason recalls in her native Kentucky lilt. "He would tell you to go fuck yourself quick."
Barclay had a proposal: Leave the dirtbag and come live with me until you get back on your feet. With his tar-drenched voice and steely but sympathetic gaze, he could be very persuasive.
Mason moved into a guest room in his nice two-bedroom apartment in a nearby gated community. Barclay charged her a few hundred bucks a month in rent. He was unafraid of his new tenant's jilted husband, who soon found himself divorced: Hotel engineer Barclay kept a couple of handguns and a rifle and seemed like a man who had faced worse adversaries than a wife-beater.
Barclay became Mason's surrogate father. In late 1996, he started his own hotel-consultation business and gave Mason an executive position. And around 2003, he decided to retire. Mason, who had since remarried a man named Billy, suggested they all return to her hometown of Frankfort, Kentucky.
Barclay liked the idea. He wanted to be near family — even if it wasn't his own.
He said he had two grown daughters and a Colombian ex-wife who "took all his money," but Mason never met them. On holidays and his birthdays, he celebrated with Mason alone.
It seemed Barclay was to blame for his own exile. During the 2007 holiday season, he called his daughters in Florida, where they lived. He said he was going to marry a stripper and wanted to come spend Christmas with them. The phone call ended horribly. He stayed in Frankfort. "He didn't even want to marry the girl," Mason says. "He just wanted to make sure his daughters would love him no matter what he did. I told him, 'You're just mean!'
"But he did want to be with his kids," she adds. "He loved them dearly. You just had to know Wes. Everything's a test."
In Frankfort, Barclay frequented strip clubs, browsed flea markets and smoked like John Wayne. He was a regular at LongHorn Steakhouse in Frankfort, where the servers called him Papa.
But Barclay's health was failing. He had diabetes. He spent $400 a month on insulin, needles and other medical care, which didn't leave much for anything else. He lived in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in a low-slung Section 8 complex he called "ghetto fabulous."
He bought an expensive Himalayan cat that, with its flat face and strangely colored fur, looked like an inbred stray. The loner with the dry sense of humor named his new companion Cat.
Barclay was always somewhat mysterious. He disappeared for weeks or even months on end with little explanation. He never talked about his past professional life, but Mason assumed that was because there wasn't much to say. Hotel engineering is not the most fascinating trade.
As Tabor would find out, Mermelstein's daughters Ana and Isabella still live somewhere in Florida. With her plum-shaped face and crescent eyes, 28-year-old Ana is a prettier apparition of her father. But like Isabella, she has made a very different life for herself from Dad. Both Ana and Isabella work dull jobs in order to give their children something the sisters never had growing up: stability.
From the moment Mermelstein told Gregorie he agreed to cooperate, no aspect of life remained the same for his relocated family members. That afternoon, U.S. marshals picked up 14-year-old Isabella from her South Miami private school. They whisked her — along with her siblings and mother, Hernandez — to a "hotel room with no windows" in the basement of the federal prosecutor's Southern District headquarters.
For the next three weeks, this "submarine," as the fortified rooms are called, was the family's home. Like dogs, they were walked around the block. Food was brought to them. "Why is he doing this to us?" Isabella recalls thinking of her dad, who was en route to a secure location of his own.
They were moved to a temporary facility in Atlanta and then to their new home in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where they learned the routine: They were given birth certificates and Social Security cards with invented names. The girls sat across from marshals and chanted their new identities into memory.
It sank in that they would never see lifelong friends again. Relatives were strewn randomly across the United States. Rare family reunions took place in "neutral" sites so each cluster wouldn't know where the other had been relocated. And every year or so, they would have to uproot their false lives and start new ones.
"You have no identity, and you have no freedom," Isabella says. Her one steady companion throughout her teens was a white Palomino horse Mermelstein had bought her.
The isolation quickly proved too much for one relative. Arturo, Hernandez's soft-spoken brother whom Salazar had forced to scrub Chino's brains up a decade earlier, was relocated with his wife and son to Nashville despite not speaking a lick of English. Using a protected witnesses' switchboard, Arturo reached Hernandez and confessed thoughts of suicide. "He was just the definition of gentle and harmless," Isabella recalls. "He couldn't handle any of this stuff that had happened to his life."
On November 10, 1986, Hernandez and Mermelstein contacted the Marshals Service to try to get him emergency counseling but were told it would have to wait until Arturo's case manager returned from vacation. The next day, Arturo hanged himself inside a closet in his apartment.
The suicide turned Hernandez against her husband. After Mermelstein returned from prison, they bickered constantly and she threatened divorce. In 1989, when the family was living in Mobile, Alabama, 18-year-old Isabella dodged Dad and the U.S. Marshals to take an illicit road trip with school friends to Disney World. "I felt more free, more alive than I had in five years," Isabella recalls. "That's when I decided, I'm not going to live in the program."
She headed to Florida for good. Hernandez left soon after, taking teenage Ana with her back to Colombia. Luis had shipped out even earlier. As far as he was concerned, his father was a snitch who had screwed his family in order to save himself. He declined the government's protection and disappeared into freedom.
In 1995, Luis was arrested in Miami. He had emulated Dad more than he let on: He'd been the "U.S.-based organizer" of a Colombian-based coke-smuggling ring. The DEA had seized nearly two tons of cocaine, worth $33 million, hidden in shiploads of metal cylinders. Then 31, Luis had lived opulently in a Miami Beach condo, keeping nothing in his own name. Isabella says of her brother: "He was chasing the fast money, the thrill, the power."
Luis was convicted of cocaine conspiracy. On May 29, 1997, Mermelstein spoke at his son's sentencing in a federal courthouse in Miami. His testimony that day was sealed, but a law enforcement official with knowledge of the proceedings recalls that Mermelstein blamed himself. The way Luis was raised, he hardly had a choice, Mermelstein testified.
A copy of The Man Who Made It Snow was also submitted to the judge. "The things [Luis] was exposed to and the way he was guided as a young man," argued his lawyer, Bob Amsel, "is a factor that I think the court should consider in sentencing."
Luis was sentenced to 17 and a half years but was released in 2002. He and Mermelstein never saw each other again.
Mermelstein's daughters received news of their isolated father via rare word-of-mouth bulletins: Max has published a memoir. It's not selling, though, because he can't exactly go on a book tour. Mermelstein left the Witness Protection Program after Escobar was killed. Mermelstein has moved back to Florida — somewhere in the middle of the state.
In 2004, 25-year-old Ana heard Mermelstein was testifying in Miami, against drug lord Ochoa. She hadn't seen him since her mother had taken her to Colombia a decade earlier. When she arrived at the federal courthouse downtown, the cadre of U.S. Marshals protecting Mermelstein wouldn't let her through, but she passed on to him a photo of her newborn daughter, Gabriela, and an invitation to the baby's christening.
Mermelstein showed up at the church and rekindled his relationship with his daughters. He even briefly moved into Ana's Florida house, where his ex-wife Hernandez was also living — all under false names, like characters in a slapstick sitcom.
"They almost got back together right in front of me," Ana recalls, but the longtime lovers' shared history was too complicated to overcome. When Mermelstein was done testifying, he headed back to Kentucky.
MARRIOTT HOTEL — FRANKFORT, KENTUCKY — AUGUST 4, 2008
An old man shuffled, aided by a walker, into the drab conference room. Max Mermelstein was toothpick-skinny, at 120 pounds less than half of his former weight. He was as "bald as an egg," Tabor remembered, except for an ash-gray mustache clinging to his upper lip. He was covered in tacky gold jewelry and wearing blue jeans and a worn polo shirt. His baseball hat and sneakers bore the same logo: a billiards eight ball. "It's because I'm always behind the eight," he explained vaguely when Tabor asked about it.
As Mermelstein got comfortable, palming a Parliament cigarette out of its pack, Mason shook like a leaf next to him. She had just learned that her old Catholic friend Wes Barclay was a Jewish guy named Max Mermelstein who once wrote a book. That, of course, was just the beginning. "You're going to hear some shit that's going to shock you," Mermelstein warned her. "Just listen."
Mermelstein spent many hours over the next five days in that conference room as Tabor's tape recorder rolled. Tabor wanted to know everything, from minute details about smuggling, to his favorite movie (The Silence of the Lambs), to his opinion of Cocaine Cowboys, which Mermelstein had watched on DVD. The former smuggler deemed the film "more style than substance."
They subsisted on room service, Chinese food and a delivery from LongHorn Steakhouse. Mermelstein chugged cups of Starbucks white chocolate mocha, his favorite drink.
Mermelstein put up no fight in negotiations over his film rights. He could use the $3,000 check, and he was thinking about his legacy. While Tabor filmed one afternoon, Mermelstein grabbed a Mont Blanc pen and signed away his rights, a cigarette wedged between his fingers.
After one of the sessions with Tabor, Mermelstein headed to the oncologist's office. Mason sat in the waiting room, reading The Man Who Made It Snow and learning the true background of her old friend.
Mermelstein already knew he had cancer of the lung, liver and bone. That day, his doctor gave him bad news: He'd be lucky to live another month.
The obituary in the Frankfort State Journal was 24 words long and listed him as one year younger than he actually was: "Services for Wesley Barclay, 64, will be held at a later date in Florida. He died on September 12. There will be no visitation."
Max Mermelstein received a thousand-word eulogy in The Washington Post. It was written by Jeff Lean, author of the Medellín Cartel tome Kings of Cocaine and the only professional reporter to ever interview him.
In late September, a wake was held for Mermelstein's cremated remains at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Homestead, South Florida. For the first time in more than two decades, his real name was openly used. About 20 relatives attended the ceremony, most of them relocated by the Witness Protection Program.
Tabor was also there, along with Gregorie. When it came time for a speech in remembrance of Mermelstein, heads swiveled to the back of the church, where Tabor sat. In a roomful of family, the man who knew Mermelstein best had met him four weeks before he died. Tabor's short speech recalled that Mermelstein was honest to a razor-sharp edge: "You always knew where you stood with him."
Afterward, Gregorie thanked Tabor for speaking instead of him. Nobody wanted to see an old prosecutor blubber. "I had a tear in my eye, and it wasn't for the mean old Max," Gregorie says. "It was for what everybody had just lost. He was a piece of history."
Mermelstein's ashes now sit in Ana's house. His daughter was also bequeathed $800, according to Wes Barclay's will, which was filed in Franklin County Court in Kentucky. That's a third-share of his net worth at death: $4,000 in a Bank of America account minus $1,600 in credit-card debt. Isabella also inherited her share.
Mermelstein left Ana's husband, Mannie, a computer and a handgun that he legally should not have owned. The Himalayan cat, Cat, also lives in Ana's house, somewhere in Florida.
Ana's 4-year-old son Pedro will inherit the Yiddish/Tasmanian Devil talisman when he comes of age.
Mason inherited Mermelstein's worn furniture, her share of the money and his old silver Lexus.
Brett Tabor is currently negotiating the sale of his finished script to a major Hollywood producer. Isabella, Ana and Mason will split any royalties, which, according to the will, are of "values unknown."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Los Angeles, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.