Sunday, June 23, 2024

Coronado Company Ringleader Lou Villar Dies at 86

Lou Villar died August 2, 2023 following a lengthy illness. How will time treat the memory of this former Coronado High School teacher and coach, who went on to become ringleader of the international drug smuggling mob, the Coronado Company?

Will he go down in history alongside such notorious drug kingpins as Lucky Luciano and Pablo Escobar, or be remembered as a greedy and opportunistic school teacher, who wanted women, wanted wealth, and didn’t care who he had to hurt to get there? Only time will tell.

Whether you loved Lou or hated him, were a victim or a partner, response to his passing will cover the gamut of emotions and memories.

Lou came to Coronado in the mid-1960s at the wheel of a racy Corvette Stingray. He was handsome and charming (picture the actor, Antonio Banderas). He became a teacher and coach at Coronado High School in the late 1960s, but left that career rather abruptly (and controversially) and moved north to build boats.

He returned to Coronado a couple of years later and started a house painting business. One day while painting a large home near the golf course, a car pulled up with Lance Webber, Eddie Otero and Paul Acree – former students of Villar.

Webber beckoned Lou to climb down. Said he had a deal that Lou couldn’t refuse. It took all of 15 minutes to convince the former teacher to hang up his paint brush, drive with them to Tijuana, and translate a marijuana deal for them.

Lou, Cuban born, had been a Spanish teacher at CHS, and spoke the language fluently. Translating a better deal for them was a no-brainer for Villar. He made $50 in the process, and saved the boys money on the deal. But, what grew from that little adventure is the stuff movies are made of.

Lou was older than the boys who hired him that day, much older. He was smart, tired of his life, and already in a position of leadership by virtue of his age, and in light of the teacher/student relationship he had with the younger men.

They did the deal, and all the while, Lou’s brain was contemplating the potential of the fledgling drug smuggling business the boys had created, seeing the financial opportunity it could provide him. He went on to lead this group of his former students (and many, many more) in a massive drug smuggling operation that became known as The Coronado Company.

Previously, Lance, Eddie and the boys, had been swimming, or paddling kilos of marijuana across the border taped to their longboards. Small time stuff…

Under Lou’s leadership, they grew and grew, moved on to small, and then large boats, and expanded to an international cast of buyers, smugglers and dealers. The Coronado Company operated lucratively from 1973-1981 (see the 60 Minutes piece on the Coronado Company at the link below).

When they were finally caught, the major players all went to prison. Lou, however, cut a deal with the U.S. Attorney in 1986. As government informant, he turned in his attorneys (among others) in exchange for time served, immediate release from jail and probation; He was allowed to keep part of his fleet of expensive cars, much of his cash, and he agreed never to smuggle again.

As part of his plea bargain, Lou did a local radio talk show, condemning his actions, and warning kids not to take that path in life, not to make the same choices and mistakes he made.

Lou changed his name to J.R. Reynolds and moved north to Oregon and Montana. He died in Montana. Close friends have said that Lou fell in love with pickleball in his later years, even competing on a senior circuit.

He had a motor home, and would periodically return to Coronado, mostly staying in Imperial Beach, where he could connect with old friends for golf and play, while staying off the radar, so to speak. He also spent summers living out of his RV in San Felipe. Only a few select friends remained in touch with Lou in his later years, and that was by his choice.

Decades of efforts have been made to tell this story so you could see it in a theater or streamed on your screen at home. I am still part of that effort in telling the story in spite of some hostile reactions from locals and neighbors who then preferred this story never be told.

Times have changed …

For more information about this current effort please visit our website: www.thecoronadoco.com. On the website, you can also see the 60 Minutes episode on the Coronado Company in its entirety as told by veteran newsman Mike Wallace. I encourage you to comment and leave your own anecdotes about the Company on the website.
There were many good friends in the Company who will be remembered as charismatic personalities who impacted all our lives. I, for one, would love to see them remembered as the magical characters they were.

Enough time has passed. It’s no longer a taboo subject; no one need point a finger. It’s a great story, with great characters involved. It’s our story.

Some of the events that took place in that decade were tragic and disgusting, criminal, unforgiving, and far beyond the routine smuggling of drugs. But, you’ll have to wait to see the finished story …

Rest in peace, Lou, along with Wizard, Lightshow, Otter and all the rest.

  — Joe Ditler


RELATED:

New Project on Past Coronado Drug Smuggling Ring Looking for Contributors

CoSA Student to Show Documentary Short at Coronado Island Film Festival

Book Review: “Deep Water” – Coronado’s Own Katherine Nichols Tells the Story of the Infamous Coronado Company

George Clooney to Produce Drug Smuggling Movie “Coronado High” – Based on Coronado’s Biggest Crime Ring



Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler
Joe Ditler is a professional writer, publicist and Coronado historian. Formerly a writer with the Los Angeles Times, he has been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and Europe. He also owns Part-Time PR (a subsidiary of Schooner or Later Promotions), specializing in helping Coronado businesses reach larger audiences with well-placed public relations throughout the greater San Diego County. He writes obituaries and living-obituaries under the cover "Coronado Storyteller." To find out more, write or call [email protected], or (619) 742-1034.

More Local News