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
The way bankers and brokers might socialize at a country club with other bankers and brokers, Falcon, Magluta, and other competitors gathered at marinas, comparing boats, boasting about their business exploits, and betting on each other's races. Falcon raced under the team name Cougar; Magluta's team was Seahawk.
Money, of course, was no problem, despite the fact that boats sell for $500,000, and most teams have more than one boat. (Engines can cost another $300,000. Even a propeller can cost as much as $10,000.) "You're looking at a million dollars just to be competitive," says John Crouse. "And that's not competitive competitive. That's not being the ace of aces. That's just running with the hot dogs."
For a time Falcon and Magluta were among the sport's very best. "They had the best boats, the best equipment," says Marc Mercury, president of the Offshore Power Boat Racing Association. "They were fierce competitors. They were there to win. They would hang it right on the edge, pushing it to the limit. Like my grandmother told me: `If you go to fight to win, you're gonna lose; if you fight to kill, you're gonna win.'"
(The members of Falcon and Magluta's organization all fought hard. Juan Barroso, a navigator aboard Magluta's Seahawk team, was arrested in 1990 after allegedly dumping 548 pounds of cocaine in the waters off Dania Beach in Broward County. Coast Guard agents found the 249 individually wrapped kilo bricks floating in the water. Barroso and another man were found stranded offshore in a disabled $100,000 speedboat. Investigators say that once the boat broke down, Barroso dumped the coke and waited to be rescued. Ten days after being booked into jail and released on bail, Barroso was shot five times when another drug transaction went sour. He survived, only to be arrested once more in May 1991. He is currently in jail, awaiting trial.)
Author John Crouse says it was common knowledge within the powerboat racing industry that Falcon and Magluta were involved in drug smuggling. But racing association president Marc Mercury says he knew nothing about their activities until he heard they were fugitives. "It blew me away. I couldn't believe it," says Mercury, who also worked as a stunt man and water stunt coordinator for Miami Vice. "These were the kind of guys that if you were broke down on a highway with a flat tire, they would stop and help change your tire."
One of Magluta's last races took place at Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana, on June 6, 1987. The water was rough, and Magluta, piloting the Seahawk, capsized and sank during the race. After that, says Crouse, "He never came back as a racer."
In 1985 Falcon and Magluta were arrested in a Los Angeles sting, after they had set up a multi-kilo cocaine deal with undercover officers. The partners had been conducting their West Coast business under the aliases Wilfred Fernandez (Falcon) and Angelo Maretto (Magluta); they had a complete set of driver's licenses, credit cards, and other identification. Authorities released "Fernandez" and "Maretto" on bail, whereupon Falcon and Magluta promptly left town. A year later, the California police detective who had arrested them was sitting at home, watching the 1986 Miami Grand Prix auto race on television. There on the screen - Maretto! But the announcer was introducing him as Sal Magluta, the reigning powerboat champion, being thanked by race organizers for helping to sponsor the annual event.
By August 1987, the last of Falcon and Magluta's appeals from their 1979 conviction was denied in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta. Faced with the prospect of turning themselves in, the pair went into hiding, traveling around the country, investigators say, often winding up in New York and Las Vegas. But their base of operations remained in South Florida.
On March 30, 1988, Magluta's luck seemed to have run out for good, when he bumped into an old classmate from high school. Jorge Plasencia, a Metro-Dade Police detective, had stopped at Dolphin Office Products, at 300 NW 27th Ave., with his partner, Alex Alvarez, to pick up a new note pad and journal. Magluta was there to buy ledgers and other office supplies.
Plasencia, who was a year behind Falcon and Magluta at Miami Senior High, remembers the pair as being very popular in school. "Everyone wanted to be around Sal and Willy," he recalls. Magluta, he says, was outgoing and personable; Falcon was a track star. "Willy was well-known for being a speedster," he says.
"He didn't remember me," recalls Plasencia, who was aware when he saw Magluta that he was wanted in connection with the 1979 drug conviction. Magluta used his "Maretto" alias when confronted by the two cops outside the store, Plasencia recounts, and provided the same false ID he had given California officials three years before. "But we knew him," says Alex Alvarez.
At the police station, Magluta acknowledged his identity and said he was aware that he was wanted. Initially, he was held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center, then transferred to the South Florida Reception Center for prisoners. While he was in custody, DEA agent David Borah even paid a visit to ask Magluta a few questions in connection with his agency's ongoing investigation. Not surprisingly, Magluta had no comment.