- Former mob enforcer and strip club owner Ludwig ‘Tarzan’ Fainberg, exotic car importer Juan Almeida and Cuban immigrant Nelson ‘Tony’ Yester conspired
- The trio planned to buy a Soviet submarine for the Cali drug cartel of Colombia for the purposes of trafficking cocaine
- Tarzan and Tony even toured a Russian naval base and posed near a submarine with Russian military officers to show the cartel evidence the deal could be done
- Tony told the Cali cartel that he needed money in installments to broker the deal but absconded with $10million – and remains on the run
- Tarzan, a Russian immigrant, testified against Juan but recanted after he was deported to Israel – meaning none of the three remained behind bars
- Tarzan, Juan and fugitive Tony – as well as members of the law enforcement task force who tracked them – agreed to be interviewed for a new documentary
- The film is named for the task force, Operation Odessa, which was set up to monitor collaborations between Russian criminals and Colombian cartels
- Director Tiller Russell smuggled himself into a Panamanian prison and followed Tony to an undisclosed location in Africa during the making of the film
- Russell says he hopes the film is a ‘rock’n’roll thrill ride into the underworld, where you get a passport to a life and lifestyle and characters that you didn’t even imagine existed – much less having a ringside seat with them’
A large Russian man called Tarzan sits in an armchair against the backdrop of a cracked and stained wall, a pack of cigarettes, lighter and an ash tray on a table to his left, and he shrugs as he talks about a deal he tried to broker more than 20 years ago.
‘I had a friend of mine living in St. Petersburg, and I said, “Misha, tell me something,”’ Tarzan – real name Ludwig Fainberg – says in a heavy Russian accent. ‘”I know it’s gonna be a strange question. Is this possible, to buy a military submarine – used one?” And he said, “What a question! Let me check.”
‘He called me in two days and he asked me, do we want the submarine with missiles or without missiles?’ says Tarzan.
He raises his eyebrows and looks upwards to the left to emphasize just how flabbergasted he was with Misha’s counter question. But Tarzan – a seasoned wheeler-dealer, strip club owner and former mob enforcer – took it in his stride and went back to his partners with the response.
He was, after all, working with an American playboy in Miami and a fugitive Cuban spy to procure this submarine. And they were doing it on behalf of the notorious Cali drug cartel in Colombia, who planned to use the underwater vessel to smuggle cocaine undetected.
The entire situation sounds like something dreamed up for a Miami Vice-inspired action thriller, but it actually happened in the 1990s – and the trio came very close to pulling it off before one of them pocketed the cartel’s millions and went on the run.
Now the stranger-than-fiction story is brought to life in new documentary Operation Odessa, a film that’s closer to a roller-coaster ride than anything else and premieres on Showtime March 31.
Feature continues here: Operation Odessa