Saturday, May 12, 2007

Fake Cuban Cigars (Part 2)

Thompson quickly recounts the turbulent history of Cuban cigars and how Juan Penton, a balsero who arrived from Guantanamo in 1995, got a taste of the boom market in the 90's working for the Caribbean Cigar Company.

In the US, the mid-90's saw a huge growth in cigar sales. Radio personality and connoisseur, Cigar Dave called it a "renaissance." By 1997, imported cigar sales had quintupled to 417.8 million cigars from only four years before. Unfortunately that same year, the unmet demand for high quality tobacco burst the bubble, leaving Caribbean Cigar and its Dominican tobacco products to waste. Before the ship sunk, Caribbean Cigar attempted to salvage what they could, but violated federal laws in the process. They were sued by its stock holders and accused of having "materially overstated its accounts receivables, current assets, leasehold improvements and cash flow and understated its professional fees, advertising expenses, general and administrative expenses, and depreciation expenses." Today, the canceled bonds of the Caribbean Cigar Company are now collectibles for scripophiles.

Juan Penton survived unscathed from the 90's and in 2000 bought a warehouse in Hialeah to begin his own cigar business. He started by making "gift boxes", replicas of authentic Cuban cigar boxes such as Montecristo, and he even stamped on each "Hecho en Cuba" (Made in Cuba) to top it off. Intentionally or not, Penton had then stepped into the underworld of fake Cuban cigars, and eventually became lunch for a hungry conglomerate.

[Part 3]

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