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
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For a time agents staked out Miami Senior High, having heard that Falcon and Magluta sometimes went there after school to play basketball in the gym. Officers were also dispatched to a Julio Iglesias concert, after someone said Falcon and Magluta had front-row seats. "Chasing fugitives is sort of like chasing ghosts," says Keith Braynon, a deputy U.S. marshal who led the Magluta search team. "You get a lot of leads that just don't exist."
When they finally caught up with Falcon and Magluta, law enforcement officials who searched their houses would find at least fifteen cellular phones, as well as fax machines, scrambling devices, and beepers. They would also confiscate ledgers and other papers that prosecutors say indicate Falcon and Magluta continued to conduct business until the day they were taken into custody.
In the end, it was the fugitives' closeness to their families that made it possible for agents to track them down. "There are times when you really can't separate yourself from family," FDLE's Humberto Rapado says. "And if you dig long and deep enough, you'll find family members he's close to." In Falcon's case, the team zeroed in on his children, particularly his son Willy Jr., who investigators say is about six years old and has spent much of the past two years living with his grandparents.
Both men, it appeared, were living comfortable, virtually stable lives. Falcon had been renting a $9000-per-month Fort Lauderdale mansion for almost three years. Magluta had paid $5800 per month for his La Gorce Island house since 1989. "They were not running from roach motel to roach motel," observes Marshals Service supervisor Sean Convoy. "Both houses had better gym equipment than Scandinavian Health Spas."
Why did Falcon and Magluta remain in South Florida, even though members of their families had been subpoenaed by the grand jury and their indictments were widely reported in the Miami Herald and other news media? Convoy and others attribute the smugglers' staying power to a combination of arrogance and stupidity: Falcon and Magluta must have mistaken their own hype for the truth.
FDLE's Humberto Rapado disagrees. South Florida was their home, he argues. This was where their family and friends lived and this is where they felt comfortable. The men knew they were bound to be caught someday; they just hoped their riches would postpone the inevitable. Augusto Jay concurs with Rapado. He, too, could have run before he was arrested and sent to prison for the rest of his life, he says. Instead, he chose to stay. "They knew there had to be an end to their running. They knew it was going to happen," Jay says. "I think they feel relieved."
RAIN AND REDEMPTION
Sal Magluta's La Gorce Island home, a two-story house on the Intracoastal Waterway, complete with a dock and spacious back yard, was one of several under surveillance after friends and family members had been seen entering and leaving. When Benny Lorenzo, a close friend of Magluta's who was named in the federal indictment, was seen driving up to the house on October 14, agents decided it was time to move in. Within 24 hours, a special assault team, comprising 25 deputy U.S. marshals, was drawing up plans.
Although they hoped Magluta would be inside, they didn't know for sure. A police speedboat would be stationed in the waterway in case the three-time national powerboat champion attempted to escape by sea. A police helicopter would fly cover overhead, and tear gas would be lobbed through the windows.
When the team pulled up to the house at about 7:00 p.m. on the soggy evening of October 15, the occupants scattered. In about fifteen minutes, agents rounded up everyone, except Sal Magluta. Deputy U.S. Marshal Braynon began passing around Magluta's photograph, asking those who had already been captured whether this was the man still hiding somewhere in the house or on the grounds. "Their mouths said no," Braynon recalls, "but their bodies said yes."
Within half an hour, Magluta, who had leaped out of a second-story window when the agents arrived, was dragged out of some bushes by a police dog. "Sal looked like he was going to cry," says an agent who was present at the arrest. "He was shaking like a leaf." After calling paramedics to tend to a dog bite, the agents wrapped a blanket around Magluta and took him away to jail. In Magluta's house, the team found papers that contained Willy Falcon's address in Fort Lauderdale. Until that time, they had been unsure about Falcon's exact whereabouts.
A few hours later, the same marshals headed north and staked out the Fort Lauderdale mansion and waited for Falcon to return home. Unlike his partner, Falcon surrendered immediately. Inside his house, photos of Falcon's children and family adorned the walls. On the night stand in the master bedroom, agents found a bar of solid gold that weighed more than two pounds. Falcon had been using it as a paperweight.