After the Fall

In the aftermath of Barthelemy Guerini's conviction, the balance of power in the Marseille heroin trade has shifted somewhat. The Guerini family's declining fortunes are represented by Pierre, a younger brother, and Barthelemy's wife, a former nightclub dancer. The Guerini decline has been matched by the growing influence of the Venturi brothers, longtime Guerini associates, as well as by Francisci himself. The U.S. Bureau of Narcotics has labeled Jean Venturi the "major distributor of French heroin into the United :States," and described his younger brother Dominique as "his major source of supply." (72) The Venturis also seem to have inherited the Guerinis' influence with Marseille's Socialist party; during the last election it was their men who served as Mayor Defferre's bodyguards. Interestingly, in February 1972 The New York Times reported that Dominique Venturi's contracting firm "is currently redoing the Marseille town hall for the city's Socialist Mayor Gaston Defferre. (73) Although Marcel Francisci has publicly denied any involvement in the drug traffic, the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics has long identified him as the man who "organizes the smuggling into France of morphine base produced in the Middle East (74)

Francisci is not the only gangster who is associated with the ruling Gaullist party. The U.S. Bureau of Narcotics believes that the Gaullists have replaced corrupt Marseille politicians as the milieu's most important protectors, and some U.S. narcotics agents have become quite concerned over the complicity of highlevel French intelligence officials in the narcotics traffic.

During the May revolution of 1968, when thousands of students and workers surged through the streets of Paris, barricades were thrown up, and government buildings were occupied, General de Gaulle's government came close to crumbling. To aid the restoration of public order, Jacques Foccart, the general's top intelligence adviser, organized five thousand men, many of them Corsican and French gangsters, into the Service d'Action Civique (SAC). While there were known gangsters in SAC's rank and file, police officers and top intelligence officials took on positions of responsibility within the organization. SAC was assigned such tasks as silencing hecklers at proGaullist rallies, breaking up opposition demonstrations, and providing bodyguards for cabinet ministers and high government officials. (75) When President Georges Pompidou inspected the Concorde supersonic aircraft at Toulouse in August 1971, five hundred SAC men turned out to protect him. The same month another five hundred were mobilized to maintain harmony at the Gaullist party's national convention. (76) In addition, both the national police and SDECE (Service de Documentation Exterieure et du Contre-Espionage, a French equivalent of the CIA) use SAC to execute "dirty" missions that would compromise their regular agents. (77)

In exchange for their services, SAC men are protected from police investigation and given safe-conduct passes-necessary for their more delicate assignments-which grant them immunity to stop-and-search by police. (78) But in spite of SAC's protection, there are occasional slipups, and according to the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics, at least ten SAC gangsters were arrested in France carrying major shipments of heroin during 1970-1971. In the fall of 1970, when the police arrested Serge Constant, a member of SAC in Nice, and charged him with having smuggled two heroin shipments into the United States, he threatened them, saying, "We have protection, so watch your step." A Grenoble bar proprietor named Mrs. Bonnet was arrested with 105 pounds of heroin destined for the United States in her car. She is the widow of SAC leader Matthieu Bonnet, who chauffered President Pompidou during the 1967 election. In September 1971 a notorious heroin courier, Ange Simonpieri, was finally arrested after a Swiss lawyer accused the Gaullists of protecting him on a primetime radio show. Predictably, Simonpieri is a retired barbouze and a close friend of the Gaullist deputy who organized the "parallel police" group in 1961. (79)

Moreover, informed observers arc convinced that some of SDECE's top intelligence officers have been organizing narcotics shipments to the United States to finance SAC operations, using SDECE's counterintelligence net to protect their shipments. Although U.S. narcotics agents working undercover against French heroin traffickers have little fear of being unmasked by the milieu, they have become increasingly concerned about being discovered by SDECE. In early 1971, for example, a U.S. undercover narcotics agent met with representatives of Marseille's biggest heroin syndicate in a New York City hotel room. Posing as an American mafioso, the undercover agent offered to purchase a hundred kilos of heroin and agreed to pay a top price. Convinced that they were dealing with a real American gangster, the Corsican smugglers flew back to Marseille, elated at their success, and began to put together the shipment. However, just as they were about to depart for New York and walk into a carefully-laid trap, another Corsican gangster phoned to warn them that the American mafioso was really a U.S. narcotics agent. Incredulous, the smugglers asked the informant over the phone, "How do you know?" And the caller responded, "Colonel- passed this information on to me." According to informed observers, that colonel is a high-ranking SDECE intelligence officer. And, these observers ruefully admit, some corrupt elements of SDECE seem to have done a good job of penetrating their undercover network.

The extent of SDECE's involvement in the heroin trade was finally given public exposure in November 1971, when a New Jersey prosecutor indicted Colonel Paul Fournier, one of SDECE's top supervisory agents, for conspiring to smuggle forty-five kilos of heroin into the United States. On April 5 a U.S. customs inspector assigned to the Elizabeth, New Jersey, waterfront had discovered the heroin concealed in a Volkswagen camper and arrested its owner, a retired SDECE agent named Roger de Louette. After confessing his role in the affair, de Louette claimed that he was only working as a courier for Colonel Fournier. (80) Although Fournier's guilt has not yet been established, his indictment rated banner headlines in the French press and prompted former high-ranking SDECE officials to come forward with some startling allegations about SDECE's involvement in the heroin traffic. (81)

Even with SDECE's clandestine support, however, Marseille's days as the heroin capital of Europe may be numbered. The Guerinis' collapse has thrown open the field to younger gangsters with little respect for their ban on drug peddling inside France. As one of France's top police officials put it, "These new guys are guys who don't follow the rules. With tougher U.S. suppression effort, the cost of smuggling got too much for some of them, so they took the easy way out and began to sell here."

Within two years after Antoine Guerini's death and Barthelemy's incarceration, France itself was in the grip of an escalating heroin plague. By early 1972 fifteen out of every thousand French army draftees were being rejected because of drug addiction, and Marseille itself has an addict population estimated at anywhere from five thousand to twenty thousand. As France developed a drug crisis of her own, the French government dropped its rather blase attitude and declared narcotics "France's number-one police problem." Marseille's police narcotics unit was expanded from eight officers in 1969 to seventy-seven only two years later. In early 1972 the stepped-up police effort scored several spectacular heroin seizures and prompted speculation in the French press that Marseille's heroin manufacturers might eventually be forced out of business. (83)

It seems unlikely, however, that French reforms will have any beneficial impact on America's heroin plague. For Marseille's problems were simply the final blow to a Mediterranean heroin complex already weakened by a decade of serious setbacks.