Research shows candidate connection to ranch known for exotic animal slaughter, drug busts

Brandon Tucker is a candidate for Martin County Commission, District 5.

From Brandon Tucker’s bio:   As a 3rd-generation Floridian, my local roots are strong. My maternal grandfather, Frank Brady, Sr., worked cattle as a teenager on our family ranch in western Martin County and still lives on the ranch today. My parents, Bobby & Pamela, were both born and raised in Pahokee, FL. They met in the 1960’s and moved to Okeechobee in 1976.  After raising my sister and me, they moved to Martin County in 1996.

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Brady Ranch was an 1,800-acre ranch located on the northeast side of Lake Okeechobee near Indiantown.  It was sold to the South Florida Water Management District in 2007 along with the adjacent Lakeside Ranch to be used in connection with the Northern Everglades Initiative.  The district has not carried out its plans for the properties, which were acquired under the direction of Ruth Clements, the SFWMD land acquisition manager who hastily retired last month after the Palm Beach Post published a series of articles exposing questionable land deals by the district.

See Palm Beach Post story below about the Brady Ranch . . .

Ranch to sink for lake project         

by  Jason Schultz

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, March 24th, 2008

 

The ranch that put Martin County in the headlines for all the wrong reasons is going under – but not financially.

 

It’s going under water.

 

And its owner, a man once linked to some of Martin County’s biggest drug busts, is getting $30 million for the land.

 

“It’s time to move on. I’m going to semi-retire and give it up,” said Frank Brady, who recently sold his 1,832-acre Brady Ranch to the South Florida Water Management District to use as part of efforts to clean up Lake Okeechobee.

 

Brady, 75, is known best for a drug-smuggling career that spanned the 1970s and 1980s, including several high-profile drug busts by law enforcement officials at his ranch, in the Bahamas and Boca Raton.

 

In a surprising turn of events, he will earn far more now from the government that plans to flood his ranch than the $10 million to $20 million he once claimed to have made in the drug trade that got him into trouble with authorities.

 

“They told me they need it for the restoration of the lake,” Brady said. “I told them I’d sell it to them for whatever it appraised at.”

 

His ranch will be flooded, along with a neighboring ranch, to make a government-owned swamp larger than the city of Stuart. It will filter impurities from the water that then will be returned to the nearby lake.

 

“It will function as a 24-hour kidney for Lake Okeechobee,” said Ruth Clements, land acquisition coordinator for the district.

 

Since 1993, the ranch has been used for exotic game hunting, attracting hunters from around the world who were willing to pay top dollar to stalk Axis deer, Asian water buffalo and other game.

 

Brady, who has visited the property since he was a boy and has lived on it for 35 years, has until July next year to phase out the hunting business and get off the land.

 

“I started off with nothing but palmettos and scrubs, and we turned it into a profitable cattle operation,” Brady said. “I’m done with the hunting business. I’ll just be a little quieter now.”

 

‘Today’ show along for raid

 

Federal authorities say Brady used the ranch’s runway as a landing strip for drug smugglers to fly in marijuana and cocaine from South America and the Bahamas in the 1970s and 1980s.

 

The Martin County Sheriff’s Office raided the ranch on April 22, 1978, with an NBC television crew tagging along that broadcast the bust on the Today show. Deputies found a plane loaded with 1,400 pounds of marijuana.

 

The case was thrown out because deputies did not have a search warrant.

 

In 1986, deputies seized a plane filled with 1,000 pounds of cocaine at the ranch.

 

Brady had numerous high-profile scrapes with the law at his ranch and away from it. In 1979, he was arrested on weapons possession charges in the Bahamas after being caught near a warehouse filled with 50,000 pounds of marijuana. Bahamian officials dropped those charges.

 

In 1980, Brady was arrested at the Pahokee Airport on federal charges of smuggling drugs from Florida to Virginia. He was never tried in that case. In 1983 and 1985, federal grand juries indicted him on charges of smuggling large amounts of marijuana and cocaine from the Bahamas.   By that point, Brady had become a federal fugitive.

 

While on the run, he became an undercover informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, but the FBI, not aware that he had turned into an informant, arrested him outside a Boca Raton condominium in 1986.

 

Brady later testified against other smugglers and pleaded guilty to drug smuggling and tax evasion charges. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and was released in 1991.

 

‘Trophy hunter’s paradise’

 

Even after Brady got out of smuggling, his ranch stayed in the news.

 

The federal government tried to seize the ranch in 1988 because of his earlier smuggling activity. A judge made the federal government give the land back because Brady was only leasing the property, and the actual owners at the time, the Tucker family, did not know about the smuggling.

 

In 1988, four men blindfolded and handcuffed Brady’s then-wife, Paula, in a barn and burglarized the ranch. They reportedly were looking for $3.5 million in smuggling profits they thought were buried on the property. All four were caught and sentenced to prison.

 

The Brady family eventually bought the 1,800 acres. Brady’s son, Frank Jr., turned it into a hunting business in 1993 and ran it until his death in an Okeechobee County car crash in 2005.

 

The business’ Web site, www.bradyranch.com, states that, for as much as $5,000, hunters can stalk game at the “Brady Ranch Florida Trophy Hunter’s Paradise.”

 

Jim McCosker, a dentist from New Rochelle, N.Y., hunted Axis deer at the ranch in April.

 

“It was like a slice of ‘Randy Wayne Old Florida’ walking through the trees,” McCosker said,

referring to Florida author Randy Wayne White. “It was stalking deer in the woods with a bow.”

 

Brady recently sold the business, animals and the Brady Ranch name to Danny Santangelo.

Although Santangelo owns other property in the state where he could shift the hunting business, he said he hasn’t decided whether he will do that or just shut the ranch down.

 

Canals, plants to help filter

 

Brady’s ranch will be combined with a neighboring 2,700-acre property called Lakeside Ranch, which the water district also bought. As part of the lake restoration plan, canals will be dug throughout the ranches, plants will be added to help filter pollutants, and the property will be covered with about 11/2 feet of water, district officials said.

 

“Our big concern with Lake Okeechobee is getting a project to cleanse the water,” Clements said. “This was as an ideal location because it was close to the lake.”

 

Work to convert the Lakeside Ranch for water storage will begin early next year, Clements said. Money for converting the Brady Ranch has yet to be budgeted.

 

Brady said he plans to live with his wife, Marilyn, at his lake house near Sebring and continue cattle ranching.

 

“It’s sort of sad to see what they are going to do with it,” Brady said of his ranch. “It’s progress, I guess.”

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