Teaming up for the first time since their red carpet victories with Argo, writer Grant Heslov and actor George Clooney (who co-produced Argo) have reportedly been recruited by Sony Pictures to produce a feature film about a 1970’s Southern California pot smuggling ring, tentatively titled Coronado High.
But while there’s little doubt the script would be hit with moviegoers, the mere rumors of the flick have put the tiny Coronado Island community back in an unwanted spotlight.
Representatives for all parties are keeping mum about the proposed project, but the deal seems to hinge on whether Sony can acquire the rights to an article about the decades-old local legend penned by journalist Joshuah Bearman for Wired magazine. Bearman is best-known for his 2007 report an unconventional CIA plot to rescue American hostages from Iran in the late 1970’s – the adaptation of which would become the award-laden film Argo.
Coronado Island sits right across the bay from downtown San Diego and is known for its white sand beaches, Navy SEAL training, upscale residences, and the posh Hotel Del Coronado. Bearman’s story – which has yet to be published by Wired — is about a group of San Diego high school kids who came to be known as the Coronado Company.
It began in 1972 with a few buddies floating across the US-Mexico border on a surfboard, shaking a few hands on the other side and paddling back with about 20 pounds of fresh Mexican weed to be sold back home on the island. They group say their biggest fear in those days were sharks, but the language barrier soon proved to be a bigger impediment for the sun-bleached surfer boys. So they looked for help in the first place their stoner minds thought of: their local high school.
Louis “Pops” Villar had taught Spanish at Coronado High School, and even coached the school’s swim team to 2 CIF championships for years, but by 1972 he had retired from teaching and had taken up house painting (and pot smoking). The surf crew approached their ex-teacher and told him that they would make it worth his while if he accompanied them to Mexico, and along with Edward Otero, Paul Acree, and Lance Weber, the “Coronado Company” was formed.
By the 1980s, the crew had traded in their surfboards for yachts and helicopters, and expanded to dozens of employees that ranged from accountants to document forgers, loaders and packagers, security and management. They moved on from Mexico and began importing from Thailand. Between 1977 and 1981, the DEA estimates to be approximately 24 tons of “Thai Stick” made it’s way to California thanks to the crew. $50,000 in pot from Thailand could be flipped for nearly $3 million back in the states.
But in the end, greed took over the gang. Villar became untrustworthy and eventually was undone by a $55,000 invoice he owed a builder who had remodeled one of Villar’s coastal mansions. The contractor eventually called the DEA, and Villar was arrested with more than $800,000 in cash and a half-ton of herb.
By August of 1982, indictments were handed down to 27 members of the Coronado Company – many of whom were formers students of Villar. Villar received a decade in jail for his involvement. Instead of serving, though, Villar ratted out on his associates and testified against everyone in court saying that he was just a pawn in the game and that he was seduced by the money and fancy lifestyle. While those below him on the corporate ladder were being sentenced to months or years in Federal prison, “Pops” avoided all jail time, instead being sentenced to an unsupervised probation. He was exempted from all IRS fines and was even given $300k from the proceeds on the sale of one of his many mansions.
While many of those involved look back on it all with a smile and few, if any, regrets, long-time Coronado residents are not thrilled to have the story put in the national spotlight that George Clooney is sure to bring. Many of the names attached to the defendants in the 30 year old case are still attached to some of the most prominent families on an island where social status is king.
Despite a 60 Minutes report by Mike Wallace in 1985, the legend had been successfully buried until the latest buzz surrounding Clooney’s next move. But now the local teens are blowing up social media, shocked that their parents might not be as lame as they seem.