MARIO TABRAUE BELIEVED TO BE AMONG INSPIRATIONS FOR TONY MONTANA, ALSO SAID TO BE "THE MOST NORMAL GUY" INCLUDED IN DOCU-SERIES
The Netflix docu-series Tiger King came into being when filmmakers Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin set out five years ago to make a movie about people who dealt in reptiles. "Tiger King opens with the footage that reshaped the entire endeavor," writes Esquire's Gabrielle Bruney. "While the crew documented a south Florida reptile purchase, the buyer invited them to see what he had in the back of his van: a snow leopard." And thus the project "veered away from the reptile people,” Goode tells Bruney, “into big cat world."
According to Oxygen's Courtney Brogle, "The docuseries mainly tracks the rise and fall of Joe Exotic, a bombastic Oklahoma zookeeper who in January was sentenced to 22 years in prison for hiring a hitman in a murderous plot against a longtime animal rights activist enemy named Carole Baskin." Yet several articles this past week have wondered about another person included in the series: Mario Tabraue, who is believed to be one of the real-life inspirations for Tony Montana. As Bruney puts it in the Esquire article, "Tabraue breezily describes an informant's dismemberment, and still comes off as being among the most normal people featured in the series."
At Distractify, Mustafa Gatollari's headline reads, "Mario Tabraue Was Real Life 'Tony Montana' and Most Normal Guy in 'Tiger King'"...
The presentation of increasingly absurd and downright insane facts in Netflix's Tiger King docu-series is nothing short of masterful. Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin can't receive enough praise for the way each episode was shot and edited. The way it's paced, how much time and attention is given to each fantastical plot point is awe-inspiring, and the unprecedented access they had to the folks in the documentary, like former drug dealer Mario Tabraue, is astounding.
I don't know any other way to put this, but a man who was once one of the biggest mover of illegal narcotics in Miami — a man who was a part of all the unsavory bits of business that went into moving feel-good contraband with his father just so he could support his exotic animal habit — is one of the most "normal" people featured in the docu-series. Let that sink in.
The fact that Eric and Rebecca were able to get access to Tabraue's private zoo and feature him in the documentary is pretty significant, especially because he's an extremely private person who lives in a secure compound that's under 24-hour surveillance.
Hailed by many as the inspiration for Tony Montana in the iconic drug film, Scarface, Tabraue is now the owner and founder of the Zoological Wildlife foundation in Miami.
At the height of his operation, the Miami Herald reported that Tabraue was the alleged leader of a 10-year-long drug operation in the '80s worth about $79 million. In addition to spending money on big cats, the "kingpin" owned several machine guns and an enormous estate with a mirrored ceiling and a "throne" like Montana's in the movie with his initials emblazoned on it: MT (versus TM in the film). Like Tony, Tabraue is also a Cuban-American.
Even though Tabraue used his exotic animal import business as a cover for smuggling drugs into Florida, his love for the majestic beasts trumped his passion for hustling narcotics.
Tabraue was eventually arrested after being involved in the murder of ATF agent and informant Larry Nash. A New York Times article indicated that Nash was killed by Tabraue's cartel during a massive marijuana trafficking operation.
"A drug-smuggling ring that killed an informer and cut up his body while trafficking in a half-million pounds of marijuana has been broken, the Federal authorities said today. The ring also bribed police officers to protect their operation, said Richard Gregorie, the chief assistant United States Attorney here. At one time, the indictment charged, members of the ring used Miami police officers to collect, count and disburse drug profits," the report stated.
In addition to being charged with the murder of Nash, Tabraue was also accused of killing his first wife in 1981 after she threatened to reveal the inner workings of his drug trafficking operation to authorities. He was acquitted of this charge, but in 1989 he was found guilty of racketeering and was slapped with 100 years in federal prison.
He complied with authorities in prison, working as an informant, and was released after a dozen years.
After getting out of prison, Tabraue and his wife, Maria, run ZWF, which cares for exotic animals and offers small group tours where visitors can get a closer look his private zoo. Those who have visited the ZWF have left mostly glowing reviews and despite Tabraue's criminal past, his foundation appears to be unassailable with a huge priority placed on animal nutrition and wellness.
Although Tabraue isn't necessarily the focal point of Tiger King — Schreibvogel, Baskin, and Antle's zoos take up more screen time — it's apparent he's running a much different operation than Joe Exotic's zoo, which was not only way larger by comparison, but housed a lot more animals and, at time, found difficulty in feeding the creatures it housed.
Nowadays you can follow Tabraue's work with animals on his Instagram page, mariowildlife.
Mari Tabraue is mentioned in a review of Roben Farzad's 2017 book Hotel Scarface at Lad Bible:
The Hotel Mutiny, in Miami, was a pleasure palace where Hollywood royalty and rock stars mixed with America's most notorious cocaine kingpins. It was the inspiration for the famous Babylon Club in legendary gangster film Scarface *Say hello to my little friend*.
Now, a new book looks at life inside the hotel during its Seventies heyday. And author Roben Farzad, who has written the book 'Hotel Scarface', has given us a bit of an idea of all the bonkers stuff that led to Al Pacino and co. making a classic...
New Year's Eve, 1979, and behind the dimly lit bar at Miami's Hotel Mutiny, waitresses, hotel porters and cooks were stacking velvet whiskey totes full of cocaine.
These were the evening's tips at a legendary hotel owned by founder Burton Goldberg.
Sat amid crystal-lined tables were Hollywood royalty, rock stars and models - including Liza Minnelli, Ted Kennedy, Burt Reynolds, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Eagles. But partying with them - as they did every night at the Mutiny - were America's biggest cocaine kingpins.
It was these who no longer paid staff for good service in currency. They simply - and openly - passed over wraps of drugs worth thousands of pounds.
In the Seventies, cocaine hit Miami with hurricane force and no place attracted the dealers and dopers quite like this luxury hotel in the city's affluent Coconut Grove enclave.
Among the regular drinkers were such notorious characters as bomber-spy-doper-Nazi-hunter Ricardo "Monkey" Morales, Mario Tabraue, the kingpin with leopards and a pet chimp that drove shotgun in his Benz, and Willie & Sal, the speed-racing 'Boys' who created a $2 billion cocaine empire.
For these men - and their tips - hostesses would always go the extra mile. They would hide weapons in cushions and breadbaskets. They offer discrete warnings whenever the cops were on the premises. One waitress was even adept at clicking her stilettos against new guys on the dance floor to check for an ankle holster on a suspected undercover officer.
How had a respected hotel come to this?
By 1979, South Florida was a failed state. It was raking in hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees, including thousands sprung from Fidel Castro's prisons and insane asylums. Hit men were among them, showing up in Miami with their weapons tattooed on the inside of their lips, raring for contract work.
The homicide rate was out of control. The county morgue was so overwhelmed that Burger King had to lease it a refrigerated truck for the overflow of murdered corpses. Race riots left swathes of the city in ashes.
But in its heyday, the lush, members-only Mutiny Club became an oasis within the chaos -- where you would go (if you could get in) to escape the mayhem, even while you were seated among those who were causing it and becoming rich on it.
The dopers. The beautiful women. The celebs. One hundred and thirty differently themed rooms, based on fantasies like bordellos, Star Trek and Arabian Nights. The Mutiny had it all. It was the Magic City's Studio 54.
Filmmakers Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma knew as much. That's why they themselves stayed at the Mutiny when in town to shoot Scarface, their Miami remake of the 1932 gangster movie.
Similarly, when Miami Vice started shooting in town, one drug lord scored roles on two episodes, in exchange for quality blow for the cast and crew.
But what ultimately transpired at the Mutiny was stranger than Hollywood could ever imagine.
In its decade of existence, the hotel was an unprecedented ecosystem for drug traffickers, law enforcement, celebs, spooks, refugees, parvenus, informers, and scammers, playing host to a drama of murder, corruption, betrayal, and recklessness.
It was a surreal free-trade zone, of sorts, where three generations of Cuban gangsters partied debaucherously and plotted their dominance of perhaps the single most lucrative commodity known to man.
But the Mutiny's infamous orgies and hot tubs would ultimately give way to a decade-long pursuit by the Feds. It would turn from pleasure palace to the front line in the war on drugs.