Scarface, ever heard of him? No, not the thespian deity that is Al Pacino. The real Scarface; Mario “The Cobra” Tabraue, whom the film was based on. For a split second you see Mario in the Netflix docu-series “Tiger King” which swept the nation during quarantine. If you haven’t seen it, that’s ok— just get out from under that rock, log into your buddy’s account, and fire it up.
Tabraue sat at the head of the table during the Cocaine Cowboy era of the 1980s. Ever wonder where Oliver Stone got the idea to take a chainsaw to Tony’s best friend, Angel Fernandez, at a rundown Ocean Avenue Hotel? What a scene, the tension was reverberating through the screen. Look I’m not a sicko, but when Tony chases the wounded man who dismembered his childhood friend into the street, circles around him as to look him in the eyes before. . . boom! Shoutout to Brian De Palma for shooting the shit out of that scene. I digress, tangent concluded. Here’s how it really went:
In 1989, Tabraue was acquitted on trial for murdering his wife in 1981, but was convicted for his role in slaying DEA informant Larry Nash. Two of Mario’s lieutenants shot Nash to death in a car, then the three of them chopped him up with a circular saw and chainsaw in a hotel room, and then set it all on fire. [nice teamwork, fellas] The Miami Herald reported that Mario “winked & smiled at his second wife, Diusdy, when the jury found him not guilty of ordering the 10-shot execution of his first wife, Maria.”
Oh, it gets better. A man named Orlando Cicillia, a known henchman inside the Cobra crew and brother-in-law/childhood friends with Senator Marco Rubio, was allegedly linked to the Larry Nash murder and went down for 12 years when Tabraue did. We’re not here to draw conclusions, and Rubio denies any connection to organized crime, but he and Cicillia’s kinship resembles another—rooted in childhood—where crime and politics intersect; that of notorious Boston gangster Whitey Bulger and FBI Agent John Connolly (played by Joel Edgerton in Johnny Depp’s rendition of Whitey in Black Mass)
The mystery surrounding Tabraue’s nickname “The Cobra” has a fun origin; his criminal organization was famous for smuggling cocaine inside yuge snakes and other poisonous reptiles. Now we see how he managed to capture that 2 minute cameo in Tiger King, as both Joe Exotic and Mario had an obvious affinity for “Zoology”.
The Fed’s finally cracked The Cobra in 1987, and he would serve more than a decade in a federal penitentiary for all the things wiseguys usually “go to school” for; murder conspiracy, trafficking narcotics, and money laundering. He would successfully appeal in 2003 after initially being sentenced to 100 years, and opened his own wildlife preserve in Florida.
Much like Tony Montana, Tabraue was a Cuban refugee who built an empire on cocaine, lived on a plush estate with a private zoo, and frequented the lavish Miami neon-nightclubs where hedonism continues to permeate to this day. Oliver Stone even got the idea to engrave Tony’s initials (TM) on his Victorian chair from Mario, who originally had “MT” on his.
In the film, the disco bar Tony goes to with Frank—The Babylon Club—was inspired by The Mutiny Hotel. Reigning supreme as the zeitgeist of South Beach, this is where a Miami Playboy Mansion meets NYC’s Studio 54 or LA’s Viper club. Including, but not limited to marathon orgies, regular hundred dollar tips, and a charcuterie board of drugs.
The Mutiny Hotel hosted a wide range of guests; from Cocaine Cowboy drug lords like Nelson Aguilar, killers, wiseguys, Stevie Nicks, Led Zeppelin, Rick James, Miami Dolphins players, CIA affiliates and even Jackie Onassis. Mario would often pull up in a custom Mercedes with either his entourage, or a prevalent plus-one; his pet chimpanzee “Caesar”. This is the rich-guy equivalent to bringing a puppy to the bar.
Al Pacino, Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma did their proper due diligence in preparation for the film. They went to the Mutiny many a time to rub elbows with celebrities and known drug dealers, including retired underworld worker, Juan Cid, who claimed “Every doper in Miami thought Scarface was based on them. The phones at the table in Mutiny with the long phone-jack, and banks opening up just so we could count our cash. It was our life.”
They reached out to the good guys too; former Dade County detective was consulted by Stone, who remembers “more than 50% of the Tony Montana character is taken from Tabraue’s persona on the Narco’s scene here in the Miami Vice days. . . Every major dope man from Miami circa 1980-82, says they were the archetype that Oliver wrote Tony Montana from, but with Mario it’s pretty much true.”