The Further Adventures of Willy and Sal

Being thrown in jail was supposed to bring down the curtain on Miami drug lords Willy Falc and Sal Magluta. But there was an encore: Death threats, clandestine cameras, illegal searches, and major security violations.

Court records do not indicate whether subsequent contacts took place, but prosecutors contended the conversation showed that Falc centsn was willing to subvert the legal process. "The defendants have no respect for the judicial or trial process," they wrote to the court, "and will tamper with that process at every opportunity, especially in this case."

At about the same time federal authorities were investigating the possibility of a bribery conspiracy inside MCC, bloody violence began erupting on the outside. In May 1992 Lazaro Cruz, a dope smuggler who was going to testify against Falc centsn and Magluta, survived several gunshot wounds to the stomach. No one has been arrested in the case. A few months later, in August, Juan Barroso, another expected witness, was shot three times in an assassination attempt at a West Miami gas station. He, too, survived.

Two weeks after Barroso's shooting, Luis Escobedo A who was originally a co-defendant with Falc and Magluta but who had agreed to testify for the prosecution A was shot and killed in front of a now-defunct Coconut Grove nightclub, Suzanne's in the Grove.

A murder and a threat on the life of a federal agent before Falc and Magluta were even arrested. Three more shootings and a grave security breach at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in the months following their capture. Violence and intimidation may not have been associated with the Falc-Magluta organization in the past, but in the eyes of worried officials, a new pattern seemed to be emerging.

In the 1980s they used high-speed boats and planes, fax scramblers, and radar to stymie their law enforcement nemeses. Today Willy Falc centsn and Sal Magluta employ a battery of high-powered attorneys and, by some estimates, as many as two dozen private investigators in an effort to thwart their prosecutors.

The million-dollar defense team includes Albert Krieger, who began working on the case even as he was defending mob boss John Gotti in New York; Frank Rubino, who took up Falc and Magluta's cause in earnest following his defense of ousted Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega; Roy Black, whose successful representation of William Kennedy Smith and William Lozano has made him one of the most sought-after attorneys in the nation; Ed Shohat, who served as co-counsel for drug lord Carlos Lehder and who recently pleaded the case against extraditing alleged con man Roberto Polo; Martin G. Weinberg, a prominent Boston attorney who recently argued and won a major search-and-seizure case before the U.S. Supreme Court; and Jeff Weiner, past president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Describing the lawyers as the million-dollar defense team is probably selling them short. Prosecutors have noted in court that the defense attorneys have logged thousands of hours in visits with their various clients over the past two years, and with rates for many in the $300-per-hour range, it is easy to imagine this case, which is at least a year away from conclusion, generating millions in fees and expenses. Quips Frank Rubino: "Oh, easily, without batting an eye."

It is clear the lawyers in this case have been working overtime in earning those lucrative fees. Together they have already submitted enough pretrial motions and legal briefs to fill 21 large file folders, some at least four inches thick. (Most criminal cases only require one, sometimes two.) Their strategy seems apparent. They are fighting a war of attrition that will rely less on the conduct of their clients and more on the actions of police and prosecutors. Suppress the evidence, challenge the witnesses, and keep the government on the defensive.

Thus far the strategy has resulted in one major victory for Falc centsn and Magluta. Last month U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno excluded from evidence all of the valuable material seized during the raid on Magluta's La Gorce Island home. Moreno ruled the search illegal because federal agents failed to obtain a search warrant before entering the house. The decision is currently under appeal, which will delay the actual trial until at least next spring.

If the ruling stands, it would be a significant blow to the government's case. For instance, prosecutors claim that seized ledgers provide details regarding the shipment of 55,759 kilos of cocaine -- more than 61 tons -- from October 1988 through September 1991 alone. According to court documents, the ledgers also show that Falc and Magluta sold at least 30,000 of those kilos for $435 million during the same period.

Federal prosecutors, though, have celebrated a few victories of their own. The search of Willy Falc centsn's Fort Lauderdale mansion, though it produced little of value, was ruled legitimate because agents used a search warrant. Far more significant was the admission of evidence seized during a 1986 raid on the Los Angeles home of a Falc-Magluta associate.

Defense attorneys say they were shocked at this ruling because most of the police officers involved in the raid have since been convicted of falsifying information used to obtain search warrants, including the one used to arrest the Falc centsn-Magluta associate. The officers' scam was ingenious. After creating false reports -- often by simply making up information and claiming it came from "confidential informants" -- they would present the documents to a judge and secure a search warrant. Once "legally" inside the house of a suspected drug dealer, they would seize some of the dope and money as evidence, then keep the rest for themselves. Attorneys representing Falc centsn and Magluta say the admission of this evidence will be automatic grounds for appeal should any of the Miami defendants be found guilty.

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