July 28

This Day in History

Crime

Jul 28, 1990:

A soft drink containing liquid cocaine sickens an unsuspecting drinker

Maximo Menendez falls into a coma immediately after drinking a Colombian soft drink, Pony Malta de Bavaria, in Miami, Florida. Drinking half the bottle before heading off to his job at a pet shop, Menendez remarked, "This is poisoned--it's bad stuff," before going into convulsions. The next day, officials at the Food and Drug Administration learned that the soft drink had been laced with a lethal dose of liquid cocaine.

After pulling every bottle of Pony Malta off the local store shelves, authorities discovered that another 45 bottles of the thick, sweet beverage contained cocaine by using a dielectrometer, a piece of equipment usually used by engineers to locate imperfections in building materials. Apparently, a smuggling operation had gone awry; smugglers had planned to reclaim bottles and transform the liquid cocaine back to a sellable crystal form.

Menendez, who had escaped from Cuba only six months earlier, never regained consciousness and died in August. Finally, in June 1993, a federal grand jury indicted Hugo RiosĀ and Alberto Gamba for their role in tampering with the Pony Malta bottles.

The late 1980s and 1990s featured all kinds of innovative smuggling schemes. In 1999, a Ghanian man sued U.S. customs over surgery to remove heroin-filled balloons from his stomach a year earlier.Ā His claim was thrown out of court. Another man entering Puerto Rico had rubber-wrapped packages of cocaine implanted under the skin on his thighs. Earlier, authorities found a shipment of yams had been hollowed out and filled with cocaine.

In 1991, customs officers found that dog carriers from Colombia were actually made of cocaine and fiberglass. That same year, a cast iron pita oven from Turkey had 700 kilos of hashish welded inside: It was discovered when investigators realized there was no way to turn the oven on.

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