By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
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
Apparently court papers sent to the reception center indicated that Magluta had been serving time since April 15, 1980, which was actually the day he had formally been sentenced. So it appeared Magluta had already served nearly eight years on a fourteen-month sentence. Five days after his arrest, prison officials let him go. Days later, when Plasencia and Alvarez checked to see the status of their quarry, they discovered he had walked out the door. "We yelled and screamed," Alvarez remembers. "We wanted somebody's head."
Magluta's release was either the result of incompetence or corruption; an investigation by the Dade State Attorney's Office that year failed to show which. "We never could pin any blame," says Assistant State Attorney Richard Shiffrin. "It just seemed to be an administrative screw-up. Something strange happened. We'll never figure out what."
A LASER OR A LEAR JET
The DEA and federal prosecutors, meanwhile, were amassing evidence for a much bigger case against Falcon and Magluta. And if they weren't ready to mount a full-scale manhunt for the two fugitives, they could go after a stationary target - the smugglers' ill-gotten assets. In 1988 the feds initiated proceedings to seize CMM Ranch, at 12000 SW 49th St., which they claimed was used by Falcon and Magluta as a communications base to coordinate cocaine deliveries by plane and boat. The property had been purchased by Magluta's wife and sister-in-law in 1980.
In April 1989 Isabel Magluta was subpoenaed for a deposition by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeanne Mullenhoff. After stating her address and acknowledging she was Sal's wife, Mrs. Magluta proceeded to plead the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination - 59 times. A federal judge eventually granted Mullenhoff's request, and the CMM Ranch was sold for $300,000. According to court records, after paying off the mortgage, the government pocketed $192,000.
In 1989 the U.S. Attorney in Colorado followed the same path, and successfully seized a $340,000 condominium Falcon and Magluta owned in the resort town of Vail. The next year the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida struck even closer to Falcon and Magluta's heart, seizing KS&W Offshore Engineering. Owned by one of the dummy companies in Panama, the St. Augustine business served as Falcon and Magluta's powerboat base, constructing high-performance engines specially designed for offshore racing. A fellow racer described it as "the ultimate in shops. Everything was state-of-the-art."
In taking KS&W, a federal grand jury in Jacksonville also indicted Falcon and Magluta on charges of money laundering. A grand jury in Miami, meanwhile, had indicted Falcon in 1988 for providing false information while purchasing a handgun.
Those indictments, however, were minor when set against the case DEA agents had built. Because a federal grand jury can only sit for eighteen months at a stretch, it took three grand juries to consider evidence during the DEA's nearly five-year-long investigation. The grand juries, all sitting in Fort Lauderdale, had the power to subpoena financial records and compel witnesses to give testimony, and after all the records were presented and the witnesses called, the third grand jury issued a 24-count indictment against Falcon, Magluta, and eight co-defendants, including the hapless Juan Barroso; Falco n's brother Gustavo; and two of Falcon's brothers-in-law, Antonio Garrudo and Terry Blanco. Also indicted were Benny Lorenzo, Louis Mendez, Victor Alvarez, and Louis Escobedo. The most significant charge against Falcon and Magluta was that since at least 1978 they "[did] knowingly and intentionally engage in a continuing criminal enterprise" of importing cocaine into the United States.
Through a combination of mystery, luck, oversight, and outright bungling by law enforcement agencies, Falcon and Magluta had continued to do business over the years. Federal, state, and local lawmen seemed to exhibit a fickle interest in the two men, often showing an inability to cooperate with one another and, at times, a childish sense of competition. One South Florida law officer says he wasn't at all interested in finding Falcon and Magluta until after the federal indictments were filed here, even though by 1988 they were wanted in California on smuggling charges and in Jacksonville for money laundering.
The South Florida federal indictments were filed in April, but remained sealed until May 17, 1991. But before prosecutors could concern themselves about a trial and convictions, they had to find Falcon and Magluta. Once the indictments were delivered, federal agents finally mounted a concerted effort to locate the men.
The U.S. Marshals Service, along with the DEA and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, coordinated the fourteen-agency search. "We got a lot of bad leads," says Humberto Rapado, an FDLE agent who headed a four-man team that concentrated on Falcon. Informants, he says, reported sightings all over South Florida. Some agents wondered whether the fugitives were putting out false information to throw lawmen off their trail. "The stories we were hearing about these guys were amazing," Rapado says, recounting a rumor that Falcon and Magluta had their faces and fingerprints altered by a laser-wielding surgeon, a procedure that supposedly cost them $500,000 apiece.
Another contention was that they had left the country. There were reports that Falcon and Magluta were commuting back and forth from Spain to Alabama in a Lear jet. Others said they were in Argentina. Or the Bahamas. Possibly even Cuba. One story had Falcon living on a boat anchored off the Florida coast, in international waters. Another had him motoring around the States in an RV.