A high-flying Michigan telecommunications executive led a double life as the financier of a sprawling international drug ring, according to a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday. Among his alleged secrets: plans for “the Torpedo,” a parasitic submarine meant to haul clandestine cocaine across the globe.
Marty Tibbitts was the CEO of Clementine Live Answering Service, but he often went by the generic code name “Dale Johnson” in communications related to his work as a drug trafficker, prosecutors say. He was killed at age 50 in a plane crash in 2018. An aviation buff with the pockets to prove it, he founded the World Heritage Aviation Museum in Detroit. He died when the vintage fighter jet he was piloting nosedived into a dairy barn in Wisconsin, taking 50 cows with him.
The details of Tibbitts’ double life emerged as part of a federal indictment against Ylli Didani, the 43-year-old alleged leader of the worldwide drug ring, on charges of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances on a boat in U.S. jurisdiction, conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and money laundering. Didani was arrested in North Carolina this week. His cartel allegedly sold cocaine in 15 countries.
The two were allegedly at work together on “the torpedo,” a remote-controlled submarine that would attach to the hulls of cargo ships via strong magnets. They planned to stuff the sub with cocaine, track it via GPS, and detach it from the host up to 100 miles off European shores, prosecutors say. A fishing boat would then retrieve the underwater drone and its contents.
Tibbitts and Didani allegedly paid an unidentified company $12,000 to develop the submarine via cryptocurrency and wires from an Albanian bank account. The company, authorities said, was unaware of what the “underwater hull scrubber device” was meant for.
The Michigan CEO bankrolled Didani’s operation, according to federal authorities, and the investigation that would detail his involvement began in 2015. In 2016, he is said to have issued a check for $864,000 to the cartel, which authorities believe was cashed at a pawn shop or gold exchange business. Later he would fly by private plane to Washington, D.C. to give Didani $350,000 in the dead of night. In all, he would provide the cartel more than $1.8 million, the indictment says.
But Tibbitts’ death scrapped plans for the Torpedo and sent the organization into a spiral, with Didani flying to half a dozen countries in search of new financing, which he allegedly found in the UAE. Investigators were already closing in, though. August 2019 saw Dutch authorities seize 753 kilograms of cocaine hidden among bananas from the cartel in Rotterdam; likewise, in February 2020 Dutch police nabbed 644 kilos in duffel bags following a tip from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Tibbits’ neighbors expressed incredulity at the description of him as a gadget-happy drug lord in interviews with The Detroit News. He lived on Lake St. Clair in Grosse Point Park, Michigan in a 12,000 square-foot house listed for $6.4 million that belonged to a former saxophone player in the Silver Bullet Band.
“I think anybody who would hear something like this would be shocked,” a neighbor named Ari Buchanan told the paper.