The Impossible Victory

The feds spent years building their case against drug kingpins Willy Falc centsn and Sal Maglutaa. Life in prison was assured. Too bad the jury didn't see it that way.

"We didn't make these people up," Clark said of the witnesses. "The defendants chose, in their own way, the witnesses who would testify in this case. The government didn't embrace these individuals. Falc centsn and Magluta did." If the witnesses were the dregs of society whose lives revolved around drug smuggling, then why had Falc centsn and Magluta been associating with them for years?

Clark mentioned the 1988 incident in which Magluta was arrested by a Metro-Dade police detective, Jorge Plasencia. The detective had told the jury that Magluta offered him a bribe of 1000 kilos of cocaine if he would let him go A this supposedly eight years after the defendant had retired from the drug trade. "Did Jorge Plasencia, the sergeant with Metro-Dade police who has been working there for nineteen years, did he come into this courtroom and lie and perjure himself?" Clark asked.

The one informant Clark emphasized was Pedro Rosello, whose sister was married to Falc centsn's brother. Rosello was serving a 34-year sentence, and admitted distributing thousands of kilos for Falc centsn and Magluta up to 1991. He testified he drove tractor trailers loaded with cocaine across the country for them. "He was a witness who gave you a different perspective, a different aspect than you normally would have gotten from some of the other witnesses, because he was part of the family, part of the organization for so many years," Clark stressed. "Pedro Rosello told it the way it was. He was somebody who was taking care of business for the Falc centsn and Magluta group.

"Do you find credible the defense theory that they were not involved in drugs after April 1980?" Clark asked. "Falc centsn and Magluta were intent on distributing drugs and importing drugs, as much as they could, right up until the time they were arrested. If not for [DEA] Agent [David] Borah and the marshals and the DEA and other agents, they would still be distributing drugs."

Clark finished by recalling Roy Black's arguments: "When Mr. Black talks about arrogance, about the arrogance of the government to prosecute individuals, what true arrogance is, ladies and gentlemen, is to tell you, in a court of law, that you are to disregard the law. That you are to go and send a message to whomever, you don't like how drug cases are prosecuted. But the reality is, this is how drug cases are prosecuted. For you to disregard your instructions as jurors would be the same arrogance demonstrated by these defendants in continuing to break the laws of drug trafficking. What you are to do in this case is render justice. To render a verdict, to speak the truth."

On Wednesday, February 14, after a four-month trial in which more than 80 witnesses took the stand and a thousand exhibits were entered into evidence, Judge Federico Moreno handed to the jury the case of the United States of America versus Augusto Falc centsn and Salvador Magluta. So massive and cumbersome were the materials they would have to consider (the trial transcript alone ran to more than 11,000 pages) that instead of sending jurors to a nearby conference room as he normally would, Moreno allowed them to use his entire courtroom.

The previous day the jury had taken the highly unusual step of asking Moreno to sequester them during their deliberations. Several of the jurors told the judge they were afraid they might succumb to temptation or accidentally read about the case or see something about it on the evening news or, worse still, be drawn into discussions of the evidence -- any of which would be in violation of the judge's orders. Moreno applauded the jurors' devotion to duty, as did all the attorneys. Krieger noted that in his 47 years as a lawyer, he had never heard of a jury requesting sequestration.

So on the morning deliberations were to begin, the twelve jurors brought to court suitcases and enough clothes for several days. Their first action was the selection of a foreman, and they chose a Hispanic male who works at Miami International Airport. (At the time deliberations began, a majority of the jurors were minorities, black or Hispanic.) "Only one of us had ever served on a jury before," says the foreman, who asked that his name not be disclosed, "and she suggested that we go through each of the sixteen counts separately."

As they worked their way through the individual charges, they noted which witnesses were being used by the government to support that count. They also took an initial vote to see where they stood on each charge. From the outset, the foreman says, it was evident that a majority of the jurors, himself included, did not trust the government's witnesses. "Maybe a couple of them did tell the truth," he says. "Maybe."

According to the foreman, those initial votes varied slightly from count to count. Sometimes there were six votes for not guilty, four for guilty, and two undecided; other times it was lopsided in favor of acquittal. On only one or two counts did more jurors lean toward voting guilty than not guilty, and those were the counts supported by the testimony of Pedro Rosello. "Even I was initially voting guilty on those," the foreman recalls.

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