March 27, 2020 – Mario (The Cobra) Tabraue was the Miami drug lord who inspired Al Pacino’s Tony Montana character in the 1983 film Scarface. The 65-year old Tabraue appears in the Netflix docu-series Tiger King, a runaway streaming sensation and genuine pop-culture phenomenon that chronicles a business and legal war that erupted in the big-cat theme park industry during the 2010s.
Tabraue reigned supreme in Miami’s Cocaine Cowboy era of the 1980s and was tied to a hotel chainsaw dismemberment that Hollywood screenwriter Oliver Stone used as the basis for the famous scene in Scarface, where Tony Montana watches his childhood friend Angel Fernandez get chopped up via chainsaw in a dingy Ocean Drive motel bathroom. When he was finally busted by the feds in 1987, authorities estimated his drug-dealing activity netted him close to $100,000 in cash.
The organization Tabraue ran smuggled cocaine inside snakes, leading law enforcement to nickname him the Cobra and dub the bust that brought him down Operation Cobra. After serving a 16-year federal prison term for narcotics-trafficking and money laundering, Tabraue, returned to Florida and opened a wildlife preserve.
Stone researched his script by partying with real big-time dopers like Tabraue and wrote many of the characters as composites of the men and women he met through his time on the neon-drenched, high-octane Miami nightlife scene. Like Tabraue, Tony Montana was a Cuban refugee who build a cocaine empire and lived in a palatial estate furnished with a private zoo full of tigers and lions and throne-like desk chair in his office with his initials carved in it.
In the movie, Tabraue’s favorite haunt, the Mutiny Club in Coconut Grove, became the Babylon Club. Tabraue was famous for showing up at the exclusive gathering spot for the drug world elite in South Florida with his pet chimpanzee.
At his 1989 trial, Tabraue was acquitted of killing his wife eight years earlier, however, convicted of playing a role in the murder of DEA informant Larry Nash. Two Tabraue lieutenants shot Nash to death in a car and then along with Tabraue chopped up his body using a circular saw and set it on fire.
“More than 50 percent of the Tony Montana character is taken from Mario Tabraue’s persona on the Narcos scene here in the Miami Vice days,” recalled one former Dade County detective consulted by Scarface scribe Stone and director Brian DePalma on film-content preparation. “Every major dope man from Miami circa 1980, 81, 82, says they were the archetype that Oliver wrote Tony Montana from, but with Mario is pretty much true.”
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