Did a Mob Movie Unintentionally Put a Criminal Russian Sub Smuggler Behind Bars?

Did a Netflix documentary accidently help put a Cuban mobster hiding in South Africa behind bars?

Or perhaps it was an observant comment on a Reddit social media conversation thread?

Nelson Tony Yester, 63, who once tried to buy a Russian submarine to help Colombian suppliers smuggle drugs to the U.S., was finally captured in Italy and extradited to America earlier in 2020.

On December 7, 2020, U.S. District Judge Carlos Mendoza in Orlando, Florida sentenced Nelson Pablo Yester-Garrido a/k/a Nelson “Tony” Yester to five years in federal prison for conspiracy to distribute a large amount of high-grade marijuana in the Middle District of Florida.

Yester DOJ Photo

According to court documents, from the late 1980s through early 1997, Yester-Garrido was part of a group involved in importing kilogram amounts of cocaine and other narcotics into the United States. They were negotiating the purchase of a Russian diesel submarine for Colombian drug suppliers.

Around 1997, Yester-Garrido fled to South Africa to escape prosecution related to charges filed in the Southern District of Florida (which have since been dismissed).

Between December 2014 and continuing through February 25, 2015, Yester-Garrido conspired with Andrew Cassara, Juan Almeida, and others, both known and unknown, to possess with the intent to distribute a large amount of marijuana in the Middle District of Florida.

Tiller Russell a director filming a Netflix documentary called Operation Odessa, was in Moscow when he received this text:

“You’ve met the waiters. You should come meet the chef. If you really want to talk about what happened, fly to Africa and meet me for a cup of coffee tomorrow.”


Russell’s film was about international mobsters, a Russian, a Miami playboy, and a Cuban spy. They were the characters who literally tried to sell a nuclear submarine to a Colombian drug cartel.

As far back as 2018, in a Reddit thread about the documentary, one observant commentator noticed something about the footage Russell had with Yesper.

“He’s hiding in South Africa, I recognize the plane in on of the scenes and in one of the hanger scenes with him you can see “Outh Afri” on the 747 in the background (indicating it’s a South African Airways plane) and the type of grass is indicative of Southern african bushveld.. plus I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him in the background of a news clipping but can’t for the life of me remember where.”

Yester-Garrido’s specific role in the drug trafficking conspiracy was to assist, from South Africa, in trying to collect a $250,000 debt that was owed to co-conspirators by a Dominican drug-trafficking group.

Almeida and Cassara had traveled to South Africa in December 2014 to meet with Yester-Garrido and seek his assistance with the drug debt after $250,000 worth of high-grade marijuana was stolen from co-conspirators.

Cassara testified during this month’s sentencing hearing that he had made $25 million from trafficking in marijuana and that he had supplied firearms to assist in the collection of the drug debt. 

The documentary provided additional clues for investigators:

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Behind Yester, who met the film crew at an airport hangar, is a L-39 Albatros two-seater, single engine aircraft designed and manufactured by Aero Vodochody for the Czechoslovakian Air Force.

A close examination of the movie revealed parts of words “uth” and “Afri” on a Boeing 747 parked further in the background.

These letters are exactly in sync with the word “South Africa.”

There is also what appears to be the blue tail of a Douglas DC-4 parked in front of the 747, an oddity for such aircrafts to be parked that close to each other at an international airport.

A South African Airlines search of those two different models indicated they were both stored at Rand Airport in Germiston, Johannesburg, South Africa.

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“The Google Earth image of May 30, 2016 as below, the Let-39 aircraft can be observed circled in red. The DC-4 and the 747 can be seen, however, interestingly it presents a perfect line of sight (yellow arrow)from the Yester interview screen shot to location of the aircraft.”

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Although it was January 2015 when the DEA began investigating the conspiracy, it was January 2017 that an indictment was returned in the Middle District of Florida charging three of Yester-Garrido’s co-conspirators, Almeida, Cassara, and Wade Jones, Jr. (Each of three was adjudicated guilty and sentenced in 2018.)

In October 2017, Yester himself was indicted on drug and gun charges.

In November 2017, based upon a provisional arrest warrant requested by the U.S. government, Italian authorities apprehended Yester-Garrido at the Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy.

In July 2019, the Italian judicial authorities and the Ministry of Justice granted the request for Yester Garrido’s extradition to the United States.

Yester-Garrido had pleaded guilty on August 11, 2020.


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