By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
In Miami the haggling began. "After a few days, the same guy who came down from New York with the front money calls me," Chong remembers. "He says, `Is everything okay?' We say, `Don't worry about it. Have you got the money?' They say, `We ain't got no money to pay you, but give us the dope and in three days you'll get paid.' We go, `No, no, no, it don't work like this. We're not giving it up.' They said, `Look, you need to give it to us.' We said, `Look, we're not giving it to you.' Finally the guy from Colombia called and said, `Look, please just give it to them.' I said, `No, I've got a bunch of pissed-off people here from the last trip that didn't get paid. I told 'em they're going to get paid good money, and aside from that little bit of front money you gave me, they ain't got shit. I need the money, man.'
"This goes on for a while, and all of a sudden it gets real silent," says Chong. "But we know it can't get cold, 'cause we have the dope. U.S. Customs is storing it for us. At this point, everywhere we went we would make sure we weren't being followed. The department supplied me with rental cars, which would change frequently."
At last Faustino Contreras-Ordonez, the New York connection, called Chong to arrange a face-to-face meeting in front of the movie theater at Cutler Ridge Mall. Sitting on cement benches in front of the theater, Chong and Swarnes demanded $500,000 for transporting the cocaine. A fourth man, never identified, accompanied Contreras-Ordonez to the meeting and spent his time glaring at the informant and the cop. "That guy proved to be the smartest one of all of them," Chong says. "He didn't like the whole idea, and he never showed up again. Later when we made the arrests, we learned he had said, `I don't like these assholes. Something's wrong.'" Contreras-Ordonez agreed to pay $300,000 in return for possession of most of the cocaine, and shortly thereafter pay for the rest. The deal was finally hammered out on the telephone November 13, in oblique and unintentionally humorous style.
Contreras-Ordonez: "No, no, no. The other guy is to see it and he pays when he sees the, the, the...shoes."
Swarnes: "Well, what I'm gonna do is, I'm gonna, I'm gonna give you a couple of those fish and I'm gonna keep one."
By some ironic and invisible rule of capitalist justice, Cutler Ridge Mall - specifically the northwest corner of the parking lot - became the site of the 1:00 p.m. exchange the next day. Chong and Swarnes loaded 188 kilos of cocaine into a green Oldsmobile supplied by Customs. The Homestead SWAT team loaded itself into a rented Winnebago. A selection of federal agents staked out the parking lot. Punctually, Contreras-Ordonez showed up with two carry-on satchels packed with cash, and a young sidekick later identified as Gerardo Martinez-Delgado. After flashing a glimpse of the cash to Swarnes and Kennedy, Contreras-Ordonez demanded a look at the cocaine.
"We take him to the car," Chong recalls. "He looks at the car very carefully. Front seat, back seat, around, under. He looks at the tag. Then he says, `Open the trunk.' I open the trunk, and I have several of the kilos right there in plain sight. I didn't want the defense lawyers to claim later that he hadn't seen the coke. Well, he goes nuts and says, `Close it! Close it!' At this point I know I'm being watched by the SWAT team, and he doesn't know that. But I don't know who else is there from his side doing countersurveillance on us.
"We're using cellular telephones, 'cause I can't see the other guys," Chong explains. "Kennedy calls me and says, `Someone's going to come over there. Give him the keys to the car.' This young-looking Latin guy with long hair comes over, and I give him the keys. He got in, put on his seat belt, started up, and drove away. They wanted to transfer the dope to another car, but we didn't want them to. We had been sure not to put much gas in the car, because who knows where the hell they're going to go with this stuff. At the same moment the guy drives away, one of our guys grabs the two satchels with the cash from Contreras-Ordonez. It's a done deal."
Unmarked cars loaded with Customs agents and Homestead cops pulled onto South Dixie Highway, and then the southbound lanes of Florida's Turnpike. Martinez-Delgado drove all the way to Homestead, darting on and off the turnpike as Contreras-Ordonez had no doubt instructed him to do. But he never caught sight of, or was able to shake, the men trailing him. Turning north from Homestead, Martinez-Delgado was soon heading for North Dade.
But the more Martinez-Delgado maneuvered, the more worried Chong and others became: "We thought he was going to run out of gas," Chong says. "It was running real close." Scott Kennedy began arranging, via radio, a complex plan by which Martinez-Delgado would be supplied with gas by an undercover cop posing as a helpful passerby in the event his tank ran dry. And just then Martinez-Delgado pulled into the driveway of a Miami Lakes tract house. Contreras-Ordonez and a third man, John Bohorquez, were already there, waiting to help haul the cocaine in cardboard boxes from the trunk of the car into the house.