Update: Sentence not commuted. Antonio Bascaró was one of the hundreds of colorful characters who enlivened Florida marijuana smuggling scene during the 1970s. He was daring and handsome, a former Cuban naval pilot who participated in Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.
He wasn’t a kingpin or violent or famous, just a valuable utility man in a group of Cubans who used fishing boats to ferry marijuana between Colombia and Florida when Jimmy Carter was president.
The leader of the enterprise was released in 1994. A legendary marijuana wholesaler who bought all the pot the Cubans could deliver was freed in 1996. Today, everyone involved in this forgotten marijuana smuggling enterprise has been out of prison for many years — except one man.
Meet Antonio E.Bascaró, an 80-year-old grandfather with an unblemished record of good behavior in prison.
He has been locked up since Feb. 21, 1980 — except for 45 days on bond during his 1982 trial — for nothing but marijuana.
No violence. No cocaine. No previous criminal record.
Antonio will enter his 35th year of imprisonment in April. He is scheduled for release June 8, 2019.
He is an unlikely candidate for the title of “The Nation’s Longest Serving Marijuana Prisoner.” The elderly man spends his days in a wheelchair, mostly by himself, reading newspapers and listening to the news in his cell at a federal prison south of Miami.
He is marijuana’s forgotten man.
Antonio hasn’t been mentioned in a U.S. newspaper since 1982. He’s unremarked upon on marijuana-related web sites. Even Beth Curtis, founder of lifeforpot.com and an expert on prisoners serving long marijuana sentences, was amazed that she had not heard of him.
Four weeks ago, Antonio’s youngest daughter, Aicha, sent an unsolicited e-mail to The Clemency Report: “Hello! Can you help me?,” she asked.
Her father’s case seemed too horrible to be true: 35 years in prison for a non-violent, first-time marijuana-only offense? Sadly, research confirmed the story was true — and even more important than his daughter realized.
This elderly Cuban gentleman is making American history. He has been imprisoned longer for marijuana than any person in U.S. history — dead or alive, free or released.
The previous record was 30 years by a good fellow who ran a giant marijuana operation out of Miami at about the same time as Antonio played a niche role. The old record holder man was released in 2008 and now promotes marijuana legalization to senior citizens.
If Antonio survives until his 2019 release date, he will have been imprisoned 39 years, two months and one day — all for helping supply a product that’s legal in a growing number of states.
His imprisonment is a disgrace to the nation’s legal system. It illustrates why the drug war has diminished respect for the criminal justice system, especially along minorities.
Taxpayers paid for Antonio’s back surgery in July and his glaucoma operation last month. Taxpayers just bought him a wheeled walker this week, so Antonio can try to get up from his wheelchair.
This old man’s sentence is insane — arbitrary, illogical and just plain wrong. The government has opposed his efforts to be released with a snide and simple response: The sentence may be crazy, but it’s legal.
Antonio’s Orwellian sentence includes such legal absurdities as:
- a non-parolable parolable sentence.
- a sentence exempt from the Obama administration’s efforts to shorten drug sentences … because he’s been in prison too long.
- a sentence that doesn’t qualify for the U.S. Sentencing Commission recent reforms (shortening the drug sentences of 40,000 federal prisoners) because … his sentence is too old to be shortened.
- an ineligibility to receive “compassionate release” for elderly prisoners … because the regulations were written in a way that didn’t take into account the existence of a man so old and locked up for so long.
If Antonio was a violent “new law” offender, he would meet the Bureau of Prisons’ “compassionate release” standard of being 70 years old and having served 30 years. But he is an “old law” offender who didn’t hurt anyone, so, in a legal system that can’t shoot straight, he must remain behind bars. Too old, too harmless, not violent enough to be released.
An ignorant law is no excuse.
Antonio has three wonderful children, successful professionals, who want their father home.
“He disappeared from my life when I was 12 years old,” says Aicha, his youngest daughter, a corporate vice president who lives in Atlanta. “My children barely know him and mostly through photos. They will never know what an amazing grandfather they have.”
Coming next: Part 2 — Antonio’s life before prison
PLEASE SIGN Antonio’s change.org petition!