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‘The Last Pirate’ by Tony Dokoupil

Pot-er Familias: P’Slope journalist writes book about his dope-smuggling dad

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Take your kid to work day? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Park Slope journalist Tony Dokoupil has penned many articles on drug policy and culture throughout his career — something his childhood left him oddly prepared to do.

Dokoupil’s dad is a notorious former drug smuggler known as “Big Tony,” who allegedly secreted 50 tons of pot into the US before he was arrested when Dokoupil was 10 year old. Now in his early 30s, the writer has published a memoir about his estranged father, using his investigative skills to piece his dad’s past together, and explain his sordid story against the backdrop of South Florida in the 1970s and ’80s.

“When I talk about him selling a kilo of Mexican pot to his sister — who was in high school at time — I talk about what it was like to do that in 1971,” he said of his new book, “The Last Pirate: A Father, His Son, and the Golden Age of Marijuana,” which he will plug at Park Slope’s Community Bookstore on April 2.

Dokoupil said his father started out as an amateur dealer, but eventually began pulling in six figures moving Mexican and Colombian dope up the East Coast of the United States. When the feds caught Big Tony in the ’80s, Dokoupil’s parents split, and he severed ties with his dad, who served about 18 months in custody.

Two decades later, Dokoupil reconnected with his father for a 2009 Newsweek article titled “My Father the Drug Dealer.” Dokoupil said journalism became a shield that allowed him approach the man who left a void in his life.

“It’s a helpful piece of armor to have, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to cut through the emotional lump I had in my throat,” said Dokoupil, who is now a senior writer at NBC digital.

He interviewed his father and wrote 4,500 words for the newsweekly, but he ultimately found the final product lacking.

“I realized quickly that I had not gotten close to the bottom when I wrote that article,” he said.

The government subsequently released additional case files on Big Tony and his partners, prompting Dokoupil to dig deeper and write “The Last Pirate,” which he describes as “an Olympic rings-style reconstruction of how everyone fit together.”

During the event at Community Bookstore, Dokoupil will talk about the challenges of piecing together “a past that’s only seen through the eyes of people who were pretty significantly chemically sideways during the events in question,” he said. Fellow journalist Bruce Porter (of “Blow” fame) will join him in a discussion about reporting on drug culture — a beat where Dokoupil said his family history has actually been an asset.

“The legacy that I have was attractive to sources,” he said. “The only reason they let me in to see their operations was because they liked where I came from.”

As for his father, Dokoupil said they keep in touch via email, and Big Tony has come to Brooklyn to visit his grandson a few times — but that is the extent of their contact.

“We’re past the point where we could forge any meaningful connection,” he said.

Tony Dokoupil at Community Bookstore [143 Seventh Ave. between Carroll Street and Garfield Place in Park Slope, (718) 783–3075, www.communitybookstore.net]. April 2 at 7 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-8303. Follow him on Twitter @MJaeger88.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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