The Trial of Willy & Sal

Smuggling coke by the ton and making money by the bushel. Getting tortured in Panama and eating smoked pork loin in Houston. The courtroom show is riveting, but like Al says, where's the justice?

At one point, he claimed, then-Panamanian general (and now U.S. convict) Manuel Antonio Noriega visited his cell and told him he had no one to blame but himself for the harsh treatment: If his pilots had kept quiet, they'd all be home by now. Their screaming about bribes had embarrassed the government. As further punishment, Noriega wanted an additional $100,000 on top of the $250,000 he had already agreed to pay.

Despite the upping of the ante, Valdes said, for the first time in days he began to believe he would actually be freed. According to prosecutors, the bribe money was delivered; three days later Valdes was released from jail and taken to the airport for what he figured was a flight to Costa Rica. From there he and the others could slip quietly back into the U.S.

Instead, he soon discovered, he was to be put on a flight to Miami and delivered into the waiting hands of the DEA. When he realized he had been double-crossed, Valdes said, they had to drag him onto the plane.

"Welcome to the big leagues," a DEA agent told Valdes when the flight landed in Miami. Valdes was booked into the Dade County Jail. Bail was set at five million dollars. Eventually he was indicted in Macon, Georgia, and, as Weinberg noted in his opening, ended up serving five years of a fifteen-year sentence before being paroled in 1985.

Valdes's conviction marked a pivotal moment in the evolution of Falc centsn and Magluta, prosecutor Christopher Clark told the jury. It was the passing of the mantle from him to The Boys. According to Valdes's testimony, Falc centsn and Magluta took over the operation in May 1979, and became bosses themselves.

When it was their turn to cross-examine Jorge Valdes, defense attorneys picked him apart for two days. They dissected every drug transaction he made between his 1985 parole and his arrest in 1990. Then they went through the plea bargain -- outlined by Weinberg in his opening -- he struck with prosecutors, and suggested that today Valdes has millions of dollars stashed in offshore bank accounts.

And they went line by line through the transcript of Valdes's 1979 bail hearing, during which, under oath, he lied in response to more than a dozen questions in the hope that the judge would lower his bail. Confronted with each false answer he gave sixteen years ago, Valdes now admitted he had lied. "All of it was a lie," he explained.

"It was under oath?" pressed Roy Black.
"Under oath."
When Albert Krieger began his cross-examination, he too took up the point of Valdes's untrustworthiness.

"When you walked in here two days ago, I believe it was Judge Moreno who said to you, 'Do you swear to tell the truth?'" Krieger inquired.

"Yes, sir."
"And you said, 'Yes I do,'" the defense attorney went on.
"Yes I do," Valdes reaffirmed.

"Now that is, is it not, the same oath that was administered to you at the time you testified in your bail hearing?"

Valdes said yes, and attempted to explain he really meant it this time. "It matters today," he insisted. "It didn't make no difference when I was a drug dealer."

"When you were a drug dealer, you could lie?" Krieger asked, his words dripping with condescension.

"I don't know if I could lie or not," Valdes responded, growing contentious. "But I did lie."

"The point that I am trying to make, if you would permit me, sir --"
"I permit you," Valdes interrupted.
"-- is that you raised your hand to God, swore to a federal judge to tell the truth, and you lied?"

"I couldn't care less about God or a federal judge back then," Valdes hissed. "I do today."

The questioning continued for several minutes, with Krieger building to several peaks, including this one:

"It would be appropriate, would it not, for you to be referred to today as a perjurer?"

"In 1979? Very, very appropriate," Valdes answered. "Today? No."
"As a perjurer, sir!" Krieger pounced, the tone of his voice jolting the entire courtroom.

There were times, however, when the defense team was more than eager to accept Valdes's testimony as truthful, particularly when his answers might prove embarrassing to the government.

"Have you ever heard the concept called 'jumping on the bus?'" Black wondered at one point.

"I heard it just about every place I was at," Valdes responded.
"Isn't it true, sir, that you knew that there were people who approached you who said they wanted to testify who were lying?" Black asked.

"I had a gentleman approach me and wanted to get involved that I knew did not know [Falc centsn and Magluta], or I felt he didn't know them, and I left it at that," Valdes replied.

"There were also people in these institutions who acted as what are called 'recruiters,'" Black posited.

"There were people who acted as recruiters," Valdes said. "There are people that have asked other people to get involved in the case and, as a result, got a reduction [in their sentences], yes sir. There are all kinds of ways to cooperate with the government."

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