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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Does any of that establish a connection between the startling contents of Mario Gonzalez's briefcase and the Falc centsn-Magluta organization? Is it far-fetched to imagine that the duo still controls some sort of organization? From their jail cells where they await trial? That authorities are actively speculating about such possible connections may reveal more regarding their state of mind than their ability to prove anything.
Many federal law enforcement officials based in Miami are unusually edgy these days. The euphoria that followed the capture of Falc centsn and Magluta -- after nearly two decades of brazen drug-trafficking and bungled efforts to halt it -- quickly dissipated as key witnesses in the case began getting shot and killed with alarming regularity. And while the murders have made headlines, many more anxiety-producing incidents have occurred behind the scenes, many of them hidden from public view by a law enforcement community that has grown exceedingly wary: Death threats targeting federal agents, pervasive surveillance by private investigators known and unknown, unauthorized electronic retrieval of confidential information, blatant breaches of security at local jail facilities.
Attorneys defending Falc centsn and Magluta, however, say that if federal officials are suffering from stress, the response has been highly questionable -- if not illegal -- tactics in the Falc centsn-Magluta case. Charges of government misconduct range from seizure of attorney-client working papers to efforts at entrapment to unconstitutionally barring one defense attorney from even entering the federal courtroom where Falc centsn and Magluta will be tried.
With a trial date still at least six months away, and amid furious jockeying for legal advantage on both sides, it is becoming increasingly difficult for outside observers to distinguish real threats from fantasy, legitimate concerns from paranoia, good guys from the bad, and the bad from the truly heinous.
Augusto "Willy" Falc centsn and Salvador Magluta were underachievers at Miami High School, at least when it came to the classroom. But the childhood pals were precocious businessmen. By the time they dropped out of Miami High in the early Seventies, they had already graduated from alleged dime-bag dealers to ambitious entrepreneurs well on their way to establishing trusted contacts with Colombia's major drug cartels.
As the original decade of disco and bell-bottoms came to a close, Falc centsn and Magluta reportedly purchased a farm just south of Lake Okeechobee and built an airstrip to facilitate the shipment of cocaine for a burgeoning distribution network that stretched from Miami to New York to California. Protection was assured; according to prosecutors, they kept two generations of sheriffs on their payroll.
In the past, at least, that was typical of their business philosophy: spread the wealth and pay what it takes to ensure smooth operations. They also kept their organization close to home, relying whenever possible on family members and friends who shared their experience of coming to Miami from Cuba as children in the late Fifties and early Sixties.
During their alleged reign as the undisputed kings of U.S. drug smuggling, Falc centsn and Magluta developed a reputation for avoiding violence. As the more reckless cocaine cowboys shot up Miami in the 1980s, Falc centsn and Magluta quietly went about their affairs and escaped the attention that comes with killing.
The only waves they wanted to make were on the water. While building their drug empire, the two indulged in the preferred sport of their fellow smugglers -- powerboat racing. Magluta became a three-time national champion and a member of the commission that oversaw the American Power Boat Association. Falc centsn won the 1986 Offshore Challenge in the Florida Keys. Their sporting achievements received widespread publicity.
When they weren't spending their money on million-dollar boats, Falc centsn and Magluta reportedly invested millions more in real estate -- apartment complexes in Hialeah, condominiums in Vail, houses in Coral Gables. But even sprawling property investments couldn't absorb their fortune, and they allegedly laundered hundreds of millions through dozens of offshore corporations and drug-friendly banks such as the now-defunct Sunshine State Bank.
Throughout the Seventies and Eighties, police -- at least those not on their payroll -- made a series of botched attempts to bring the pair to justice. In 1978 they were arrested and convicted on minor drug charges but managed to tie up their case for nine years, all the while remaining free. When the last of their appeals was denied, they simply went into hiding. In California in 1985 they were arrested under aliases. By the time police figured out who they were, the pair had been released on bail and already disappeared. Three years later in Miami, Magluta bumped into an old high school classmate, now a Metro-Dade police detective, in an office-supply store. The detective arrested Magluta, but when eager DEA agents went to jail to see him, they discovered he had been released as a result of a mysterious and still unexplained clerical error.
Their ability to operate a vast criminal enterprise while grabbing the public spotlight with their powerboat victories made their escapes from the clutches of the law all the more amazing. The Falc centsn-Magluta mystique grew. "They were like gods in the doper community," recalls a supervisor for the U.S. Marshals Service. "All the other smugglers talked about how invincible they were."