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
It took federal agents more than five years to piece together a solid case against them -- cultivating witnesses and untangling the intricate web of dummy corporations and laundered money. But finally in April 1991 a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale returned a 24-count indictment against Falc centsn, Magluta, and eight co-defendants, including two of Falc centsn's brothers-in-law. The charges alleged that over the years, Falc centsn and Magluta had smuggled into the United States more than 75 tons of cocaine and had illegally accumulated cash and assets in excess of two billion dollars.
The manhunt, for years a half-hearted and disorganized effort, now began in earnest. And in October 1991 authorities at last received information from a prison inmate regarding Magluta's suspected whereabouts. As it turned out, he was right in law enforcement's back yard: exclusive La Gorce Island in Miami Beach.
On October 15 a special assault team of U.S. Marshals -- backed up by agents from the DEA, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Customs Service, and police from Miami and Miami Beach -- raided Magluta's hideout. Inside they found a treasure trove of ledgers and financial records detailing the organization's activities over several years. Magluta was found hiding in some nearby bushes and was arrested. Based on information discovered at the home, agents a few hours later raided a Fort Lauderdale mansion and nabbed Falc.
This time there would be no easy escape using phony identification, no "clerical errors." Law enforcement officials were determined to keep Willy Falc and Sal Magluta behind bars -- from the moment of their arrest, through one of the biggest drug trials in U.S. history, and for the rest of their lives. Whatever power and influence the pair had wielded in the past had now been neutralized.
In retrospect prosecutors may well have underestimated Falc and Magluta's resourcefulness, their determination, and perhaps their ruthlessness. Certainly there had been early suggestions that, despite a reputation for nonviolence, intimidation hovered at the edges of their organization.
Two years before their arrest, Falc centsn and Magluta's business attorney was gunned down in his Miami office. Juan Acosta, who allegedly helped the pair set up dozens of offshore corporations to launder millions in drug profits, was murdered shortly after he received a subpoena to appear before the federal grand jury investigating his clients.
Inside Acosta's office, DEA agents and Miami police seized 377 files pertaining to the alleged money-laundering activities. The files also connected Falc centsn and Magluta to a Panamanian law firm that was intimately involved in the creation of their numerous dummy corporations. The Panamanian firm was headed by Hernan Delgado and Guillermo Endara, both of whom were listed as officers of the various companies. Today Endara is the president of Panama, installed by the U.S. government after the 1989 invasion and the capture of Gen. Manuel Noriega. Delgado is one of Endara's key advisors. Both men have denied any knowledge that companies were being used for money laundering.
Yvette Torres, a DEA agent based in Panama, was responsible for gathering together many of the deeds and records used to trace the dummy corporations back to Falc centsn and Magluta. In 1991 she received threats and was immediately transferred out of Panama for her own protection.
Investigators have not implicated Falc centsn and Magluta in Acosta's murder. DEA officials will not discuss the threats against Torres. And though they occurred long before any arrests were made, the two incidents could have served as a warning: Willy Falc centsn and Sal Magluta were not likely to fade quietly into the federal prison system.
Within two months of their capture, guards at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) discovered a cellular phone in the housing unit where the two were being held. (The fact that Falc centsn and Magluta were being held in the same unit at MCC, where they had constant daily contact with each other, has confounded many people familiar with the case.)
Though Falc centsn and Magluta denied any involvement with the phone, they were placed in solitary confinement. But when they filed a lawsuit demanding their release from solitary, the government acquiesced. Their attorneys pointed to that decision as proof that authorities had no evidence tying the phone to Falc centsn and Magluta. Today, however, federal investigators assert they had obtained phone records definitively linking the pair to the phone. They backed off at the time, they say, because they did not want to divulge that evidence.
After the cellular phone was discovered in December 1991, federal prosecutors and investigators, working with a Miami grand jury, began exploring security breaches at MCC, as well as other allegations that Falc centsn and Magluta, along with their attorneys and private investigators, have improperly tried to manipulate the justice system. At least part of that two-year investigation is now complete, and the grand jury could return indictments within the next few days.
Following their release from solitary confinement, Falc centsn and Magluta were free once again to mingle with other prisoners. Federal authorities decided to take advantage of the situation. In the spring of 1992, in an apparent effort to catch Falc centsn in a bribery conspiracy, they wired another MCC inmate in order to record his conversations with Falc centsn. The alleged topic: bribery of Dade County court officials to secretly expunge prior criminal convictions from Falc centsn and Magluta's records. A transcript of the conversation is garbled in places, but Falc centsn appeared to express only lukewarm interest in the plan. He said would have to consult privately with Magluta, whom he described as his "prisoner lawyer."