Right Out of a Movie

Moya, who earns about $36,000 per year at MIA, also took seventeen gambling cruises after the trial ended and made two trips to Las Vegas. Despite the gambling junkets, it's a safe bet Moya isn't a very good poker player; the July 21 meeting between Moya and the brute at the airport parking lot was a giant bluff. A masterful bluff, yes, but a bluff nonetheless. The hulking Pulp Fiction fan was really an undercover FBI agent sent to trick Moya into admitting he took a bribe. Not only was the agent wired with a hidden microphone, the FBI secretly videotaped the entire encounter.

As for the piece of paper -- the supposed secret indictment -- it was merely a prop. There was even a cliched television-cop-show moment when Moya asked the undercover agent: How can I be sure you're not a cop or someone working with the police? The agent deftly sidestepped the question by turning the tables on Moya and angrily accusing him of not taking his problems seriously. Moya promptly backed down.

In addition to the videotape, prosecutors also have nearly two months of wiretaps of conversations between Moya and family members in which Moya allegedly directs them to lie to investigators. Moya's attorney, Paul McKenna, says his client is innocent and that the evidence he's seen, including the parking-lot recordings, is inconclusive and that when the case goes to trial he will be able to offer reasonable explanations for his client's statements.

Neither Falcon nor Magluta has been charged in connection with the alleged bribery. Prosecutors have not yet identified the "representative" of the Falcon-Magluta organization who made the payments, nor have they detailed exactly how the payments were made. Those facts are expected to be revealed in the next round of indictments, which, according to sources familiar with the case, should come in four to eight weeks.

At a press conference last week, U.S. Attorney Tom Scott called this case "one of the most personally gratifying" indictments of his tenure, a notable statement that underscores how devastating a loss the Willy and Sal case was for the government. Not only did it lead to then-U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey's nibbling romp with a stripper (which in turn led to his resignation), but it also resulted in a widespread review within the Justice Department of the use of informant testimony in criminal prosecutions.

Now, it seems, a bit of revisionist history is creeping into the retelling of that infamous trial. Scott declared during his press conference that, had Moya not been bribed, Falcon and Magluta would have been convicted. The Herald interviewed another juror, Darrell Weekley, who with remarkable hindsight now claims that Moya directed all discussion in the jury room and that the other jurors followed him like sheep.

Moya's arrest made news across the nation, with all the stories repeating the same theme: When Willy and Sal were acquitted, prosecutors were dumbfounded because they had such a strong case and overwhelming evidence. Now, these stories note, prosecutors know why they lost: A juror was bribed.

For more than six years I've closely followed the travails of Willy and Sal, and Moya's arrest has prompted a few thoughts. First, a juror isn't bribed to win an acquittal; a juror is bribed to prevent a conviction, by causing a hung jury if necessary. This distinction is not meant to minimize the significance of the foreman's alleged transgression. If Moya is found guilty, Scott will have been absolutely correct in declaring it one of the most egregious violations of the jury system.

But let's not forget that the prosecution of these Miami High dropouts went awry long before the jury began its deliberations. Rather than asserting discipline over the sprawling case by concentrating on those charges that were based on the best evidence and the most credible witnesses, federal prosecutors threw everything they had against the wall in hopes that something would stick.

That may be one way to make sure your spaghetti is properly cooked, but it's not the way to win convictions. Proof of that was evident when the jurors began their deliberations, before Moya could cast his magic spell. They took a straw vote and found that more of them were leaning toward acquittal than toward guilt.

In February 1996, after the verdicts were announced, I interviewed Moya, who told me he hadn't found the government's case convincing. "People keep asking me, 'How could you put those guys on the street?'" he said at the time. "I don't know, maybe I did put two guys on the street who don't belong there. I don't feel good about that, but we went by what the government put in front of us. And that's all we could do."

I didn't ask him what Willy and Sal had put in front of him. But even if I had tried, I don't think I could have intimidated him into incriminating himself. After all, I hadn't seen Pulp Fiction either.

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