By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Mario Gonzalez was confident he would never be caught. Indicted in 1989 on federal charges of drug trafficking and weapons violations, he knew the cops were looking for him. He'd even seen his own picture on television, where he was described as a violent fugitive. But the 28-year-old Gonzalez never worried; he seemed to have a talent for staying one step ahead of the law. He'd move from hotel to hotel in Miami, never lingering too long in one place. As a further precaution, he equipped his red Chevy Blazer with a high-intensity spotlight mounted on the rear. The light was connected to an extension cord that ran up to the driver's seat. In a pinch, Gonzalez could quickly plug it into the cigarette lighter. Anyone foolish enough to try following him would be temporarily blinded.
This past summer Gonzalez reportedly began to think about retiring from "the business," but for the time being, drug smuggling was still the most exciting and profitable occupation he knew. On July 24, using the name Jorge Perez, he checked into the Miami Princess Hotel off Le Jeune Road near Miami International Airport. The hotel, often favored as a rendezvous point by discreet lovers, features rooms with mirrored walls and elevated, heart-shaped bathtubs. Gonzalez's second-floor room even had its own stairwell down to a private, enclosed garage -- perfectly designed for shielding cars from snoopy investigators looking for cheating spouses, or in this case, deputy U.S. Marshals on the hunt for known fugitives.
On his third night at the Princess, something caused Gonzalez to become suspicious. It remains unclear how he may have learned that lawmen were nearby, but shortly after 3:00 a.m. on the morning of July 27, he awakened his female companion, and the couple headed downstairs to his waiting Blazer.
As the garage door swung open, Gonzalez floored the accelerator. Sure enough, police and federal agents were lying in wait. But Gonzalez's sudden departure caught them off guard. They quickly rushed to block all exits from the hotel. As Gonzalez raced wildly around the parking lot trying to escape, agents unleashed a wave of gunfire. The Blazer crashed through a chainlink gate, but the street ahead was barricaded. Back into the parking lot he charged, this time lying on the floor and steering blindly with his left hand so as to avoid the barrage of bullets coming from every direction. Gonzalez then rammed a pair of police cars by one of the exits and knocked them aside. Out of control and dragging a large chunk of chainlink fence, he smashed into a parked car before stranding himself on an oleander bush half a block from the hotel.
More than 130 bullets were fired in the melee, all by police and federal agents. The chassis of the Blazer was riddled with holes, all four tires were blown out, every window shattered. Even Gonzalez's prized rear spotlight took a hit. When officers came running, Gonzalez's female friend stepped from the car with a only few minor scratches caused by flying glass. Gonzalez himself ended up with just a couple of superficial gunshot wounds -- to his left arm and shoulder. Ever defiant, he boasted that he would have gotten away had his vehicle's drive shaft not broken.
As Gonzalez and the woman were taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital for treatment, federal officials began searching the Blazer. Under the passenger seat, in a briefcase, they made two sobering discoveries. The first was a pipe bomb packed with gunpowder and ball bearings. The second was not literally explosive, but it sent major shock waves through Miami's federal law enforcement community.
Along with the pipe bomb, agents found a series of enlarged photographs that had been shot a few weeks earlier. The photos documented a clandestine meeting of U.S. Marshals and agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
At the time they were secretly photographed in a parking lot, the agents were preparing to conduct a surveillance operation, the nature of which authorities refuse to discuss. "It appears that the surveillance team was actually under surveillance," says one federal official familiar with the case. Was Gonzalez going to use the pictures -- which included detailed shots of the agents' cars -- in connection with the pipe bomb? Federal law enforcement authorities say they don't know, just as they don't know whether Gonzalez himself took the photos or received them from someone else.
It appears unlikely Gonzalez will have much to say about the subject. After his arrest, according to court documents, he told his jailers he would beat all charges, and in the meantime he intended to sit and wait. He boastfully compared himself to the plantados of Fidel Castro's prison system, political prisoners who could spend 30 years in jail and never break, never turn on their compatriots and friends.
Law enforcement sources say Gonzalez worked extensively with the now-legendary team as part of a relationship that dates back to at least 1985. After Falc centsn and Magluta were arrested in 1991, they were housed at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in South Dade, where they met frequently with Gonzalez's brother, Augustin, who was being held there on unrelated charges. In addition, the sources hint darkly that other recent developments may link Gonzalez with Falc centsn and Magluta.
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."
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."
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.
Another victory for the government, though certainly not as important, was the effort to oust Miami attorney L. Mark Dachs. Judge Moreno, at the urging of prosecutors, tossed Dachs off the defense team after a special hearing that was closed to the press and the public. Dachs, a long-time lawyer for Falc centsn and Magluta, continues to consult with the other defense attorneys. But in September, when he tried to attend one of Falc centsn and Magluta's open hearings as a member of the public, he was ordered out of the courtroom by Moreno. The judge said his ruling prevented Dachs from even sitting in the visitors' gallery, a move other attorneys say is unprecedented and unconstitutional.
Dachs now acknowledges that he was banned because he is the target of a grand jury criminal probe. "I have done nothing wrong and the government knows that," Dachs argues. "This is a device the government has successfully used to get me off the case. This is also an act of retaliation because I refused to turn over attorney fee records for these two defendants after being served with a subpoena. After I refused, they labeled me a target of a criminal investigation."
Prosecutors have been granted other closed sessions with Judge Moreno, hearings from which even defense attorneys have been barred. Sources involved with the case say the government has presented to Moreno a series of "intelligence reports" gathered from confidential informants that outline a variety of security risks associated with the trial generally and with Falc centsn and Magluta in particular. According to these sources, similar information has been presented to a federal grand jury.
In late September, Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Clark, who is leading the prosecution team, drew on some of this confidential information during his arguments for a highly unusual judicial procedure: the selection and empaneling of jury members whose names would remain secret.
The shooting of government witnesses Juan Barroso and Lazaro Cruz, and the murders of attorney Juan Acosta and witness Luis Escobedo garnered little attention in the media, particularly as they might relate to Falc centsn and Magluta. But this past June all that changed with the execution-style killings of brothers Bernardo and Humberto Gonzalez. (The Gonzalez brothers are no relation to the pipe-bomb-toting Mario Gonzalez.)
Bernardo Gonzalez, Willy Falc centsn, and Sal Magluta had been friends since their days at Miami High School. Prosecutors say Gonzalez later became a key player in the Falc centsn-Magluta organization, responsible for arranging many of their cocaine shipments from the Bahamas.
On June 21, during a courtroom hearing in the case, both prosecutors and defense attorneys presented evidence that clearly marked Bernardo Gonzalez as the man who had betrayed his old friends and tipped investigators to Magluta's hideout on La Gorce Island.
The very next day Bernardo and his brother, who was an innocent bystander, were murdered at their parents' West Dade home in what investigators say was a professional hit.
Prosecutors later stated that the timing of the murders -- one day after Bernardo Gonzalez was identified in court as the informant who had brought down Falc centsn and Magluta -- added weight to their arguments for a secret jury. But defense attorneys countered that it was ludicrous to think their clients -- if they were to order a murder -- would do so one day after the courtroom revelations. Besides, they added, Falc centsn and Magluta didn't need the June 21 hearing to learn that their friend Gonzalez was a snitch; they had known it for some time.
But prosecutors continued to argue that the Gonzalez murders lent credence to the need for a secret jury. Casting their net even wider, they recently claimed "there are specific and stark similarities between the Gonzalez murders and that of [Luis] Escobedo." In court papers filed in September, prosecutors added this dramatic declaration: "The United States has received confidential information that defendants Falc centsn and Magluta plan to kill additional witnesses expected to testify in this case."
Exasperated defense attorneys say the government has grown increasingly reckless in associating Falc centsn and Magluta with the murders. In each instance, they contend, there is no definitive proof. Furthermore, they add, most of the dead or wounded witnesses were cooperating with the government in a number of other criminal cases. Dozens of people might have wanted them killed.
Exactly one week after the Gonzalez brothers were shot, federal Bureau of Prisons officials swooped down on Falc centsn's and Magluta's cells at MCC. The pretext was that the pair once again had been ordered to solitary confinement. Federal authorities will not say why the order was issued -- whether they feared an imminent escape attempt or whether they were angered and frustrated by the Gonzalez murders -- but as a routine matter, the inmates' cells were searched. What happened next, however, was far from routine. Prison officials spent more than three hours reading through all of Magluta's files marked "attorney-client." They then contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office and provided prosecutors with copies and originals of numerous documents.
"The materials seized included, but were not limited to, eighteen memoranda authored by Magluta's counsel, Martin G. Weinberg, and by other lawyers representing co-defendants Falc centsn and [Benny] Lorenzo," defense attorney Ed Shohat wrote in an indignant court plea for the immediate return of all documents. "The memoranda addressed subject matters ranging from potential cross-examination of government witnesses to potential defense theories relating to various facets of the expected government case-in-chief." Officials also seized four legal pads filled with the names, phone numbers, and addresses of anticipated government witnesses. Given the apparent campaign of violence and intimidation, prosecutors argued, it was dangerous to allow Magluta to keep the pads.
Over the government's objections, all the material was eventually returned. In an unusual move, Judge Moreno allowed the U.S. Attorney's Office to construct a "Chinese wall." The prosecutor who saw the confidential memos would be prohibited from disclosing their contents to his colleagues prosecuting Falc centsn and Magluta. Defense attorneys groaned. The Chinese wall, they charged, was a sham and would constitute more grounds for appeal if any of their clients were found guilty.
The intense jousting between prosecutors and defense attorneys continued unabated into July, when Prison Life magazine -- distributed to state and federal institutions across the nation -- ran a large advertisement listing the names of nearly 30 people expected to testify as witnesses against Falc centsn and Magluta. The ad, placed by the defense attorneys, was similar to one they had placed earlier in The Champion, a national magazine for criminal defense attorneys. The defense team justified the Champion ad by saying they were interested in talking to attorneys who may have represented those witnesses in other cases.
They offered a similar justification for the ad in Prison Life, contending they hoped to hear from inmates who may have information about potential witnesses, many of whom are in prison. But prosecutors viewed the Prison Life ad as a "hit list" or a "rats list." Prisoners who recognized the names of fellow inmates were now aware that these men were cooperating with federal prosecutors. "This has resulted in the harassment and intimidation of those inmates appearing on the list by other federal prisoners," wrote lead prosecutor Christopher Clark.
Federal officials began to find other reasons to level charges of misconduct against the defense team. Private investigators working for the defendants, they claimed, have tapped into the state's motor vehicle records in an effort to trace vehicles used by the U.S. Marshals Service, which is responsible for transporting prisoners. Furthermore, prosecutors stated in court papers, "United States Probation Officers who are currently assigned the supervision of persons considered to be potential government witnesses in this case have also reported being followed by strangers. In addition, the government has learned that during the week of July 26, 1993, private investigators surveilled and photographed the federal courthouse in Miami. These same individuals also photographed the vehicles used by the United States Marshals to transfer prisoners from MCC to the courthouse."
The following day, July 27, a group of marshals confronted a woman videotaping the federal courthouse. The woman identified herself as a private investigator and said she was hired by Miami attorney Neil Taylor to photograph the way the marshals move prisoners from the courthouse. "It should be noted that Mr. Taylor was previously retained by Magluta in relation to this case," prosecutors added.
Taylor claims prosecutors are deliberately misleading the court. He says he withdrew from representing Magluta more than a year ago. The investigator he hired was working on another case, and her videotaping was done with the permission of prosecutors. "The government knew that what I was doing didn't have a goddamn thing to do with the Falc centsn and Magluta case, but they put it in [court papers] anyway," Taylor says angrily. "It's wrong and somebody should call them on it. It's getting crazy."
Defense attorneys cite another example of what they believe has been prosecutorial paranoia: the big crane theory. For a time federal prison officials told the court that Falc centsn and Magluta should not be housed in the prison at Atlanta because they represented an extreme escape risk. The specific basis for their concern? A large crane temporarily at the prison for a construction project. Officials feared Falc centsn and Magluta might somehow use it to hoist themselves over the prison wall.
Prosecutors and federal investigators insist their overall concerns are legitimate. In addition to the overt acts of violence, for example, they say at least two federal agents and their families were moved out of South Florida this summer following very specific threats on their lives in connection with the Falc centsn-Magluta case.
Also, on several occasions this year, Colombian nationals, claiming to be private investigators, have been discovered sitting on bus benches across the street from the DEA's West Dade headquarters, monitoring traffic in and out of the building. In each instance, when federal agents realized they were being watched, they summoned Metro-Dade police to question the Colombians, who have refused to name their employers or reveal the purpose of their surveillance.
Another example: Witnesses have received harassing phone calls from Falc centsn's and Magluta's families. In July, prosecutors claim, Falc centsn's mother telephoned a member of witness Luis Mendez's family with instructions that he was to call Falc centsn-Magluta attorney Mark Dachs. When the family member refused, prosecutors say Falc centsn's mother ended the call by saying, "May God protect him." Mendez's wife also reported to law enforcement officials that she was verbally assaulted by friends of Falc centsn while sitting outside the courtroom.
Alleged misconduct, however, has not been limited to defendants and their families. This past summer two former smugglers turned government informants were caught with a cellular phone and several beepers inside the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center, the county jail where the two were being held. Janelle Hall, spokeswoman for the county corrections department, confirms the discovery and adds that an investigation is under way. Following the incident, the two inmates were turned over to U.S. Marshals and transferred from the jail.
Permeating the U.S. Attorney's concern about intimidation of government informants and witnesses is this irony: Earlier this year Willy Falc centsn and Sal Magluta themselves were prepared to become witnesses for the prosecution. Sources familiar with the negotiations provided these details: Falc centsn and Magluta offered to plead guilty in return for prison sentences of less than 40 years. With their expected cooperation in other criminal cases, their time could be reduced to less than twenty years. To sweeten the offer, Falc centsn and Magluta agreed to turn over $30 million in cash and to lead DEA agents to 4000 kilos of cocaine -- nearly four and a half tons -- they have allegedly stashed away.
DEA officials urged the U.S. Attorney's Office to accept the deal in the belief that Falc centsn and Magluta would make important government witnesses. Furthermore, a plea bargain on federal drug-smuggling charges would not preclude state prosecutors from filing murder charges against Falc centsn and Magluta if they could be tied to the killings of attorney Juan Acosta, the Gonzalez brothers, or witness Luis Escobedo.
But the offer was rejected by Richard Scruggs, then chief of the criminal division for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami. (Scruggs, who is now an assistant attorney general under Janet Reno, will not comment about the proposed deal.) Prosecutors, who have already sold off nearly $25 million in confiscated property, were reportedly unhappy at the prospect of Falc centsn and Magluta essentially buying their way out of one of the biggest drug busts in U.S. history.
With the loss of that opportunity for lenience, Willy Falc centsn, 38, and Sal Magluta, 39, now face life in prison without the possibility of parole. Today they are about as far removed from the legal wrangling as the government can place them. Magluta is in the federal prison in Atlanta (the construction crane has been removed), and Falc centsn is in the penitentiary in Marion, Illinois, two facilities considered to be among the harshest in the federal system. Both men are locked in solitary confinement.
Defense attorneys claim the government is trying to break their spirits. Federal officials say they are merely getting a taste of what they can expect for the rest of their lives.