In Pursuit of Willy and Sal, Part Two

Having lost their case against the drug kingpins, federal prosecutors vowed to convict jury foreman Miguel Moya of bribery. Didn't quite work out that way.

On the morning of January 6, on the ninth floor of the James Lawrence King Federal Courthouse, the man for whom the building was named, Senior U.S. District Court Judge James Lawrence King, presided over what will long be remembered as one of the more bizarre moments in South Florida's legal history. The occasion was the criminal trial of Miguel Moya, the erstwhile foreman of a jury that three years earlier had acquitted a pair of infamous cocaine smugglers, and who now stood accused of taking a bribe in that case. Joining Moya in the dock were his parents, Jose and Rafaela, charged with helping their son launder the alleged payoff.

Their defense would be as novel as any seen in a federal courtroom in the Southern District of Florida, a uniquely Miami-style strategy that poked a hole in a case many prosecutors thought was puncture-proof. But that would come later in the day.

At 10:00 a.m. Judge King summoned the jury and instructed prosecutors to proceed with their opening statement. "In October of 1995 there commenced a trial in the United States District Court here in the Southern District of Florida," Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Nucci began. "It was a trial of the United States versus Augusto Guillermo Falcon, Willy, and Salvador 'Sal' Magluta. It commenced before the Honorable Federico Moreno in this very courthouse. Those defendants, Falcon and Magluta, were charged with running a continuing criminal enterprise in the narcotics business. The allegations were that they ran this enterprise from 1978 all the way through 1991. That they were drug kingpins, in other words. The allegations were that they made in excess of two billion dollars running that drug enterprise.

"And in that trial a jury was impaneled, much like you today. They were sworn to try the case well and fairly, as you have been. But the government will prove to you ... that there was a traitor to the due administration of justice on the jury in the Falcon and Magluta case.

"There was someone who was bought and paid for by the Falcon and Magluta organization who was not going to try that case fairly and impartially, who had received money in exchange for sitting as a juror. And the government will prove that that individual is the defendant, Miguel Moya."

As Nucci uttered these last words, he turned to Moya. Pointing at the defendant, the prosecutor paused long enough for jurors to take full measure of the man on trial. Their eyes followed Nucci's outstretched index finger until they fell upon the 36-year-old Moya. It was easy to be unimpressed. Short, balding, and overweight, Moya's body seemed constantly at odds with the business suit he wore every day to court. The only thing Moya seemed to wear naturally was a look of contempt.

Nucci continued with his presentation, outlining the government's case, both its strengths and its weaknesses. On the negative side, Nucci conceded, prosecutors would be unable to tell jurors specific details of how the bribe was paid or even the precise amount. "The government," he said candidly, "does not have evidence of someone from the Falcon-Magluta organization coming in here, getting up on the stand and saying, 'I'm the guy that was the middleman. I paid Miguel Moya a bribe of several hundred thousand dollars.'"

Instead the government would rely on two critical pieces of evidence. First prosecutors would delve into the finances of the Moya family. Before the Falcon-Magluta trial, Nucci maintained, the Moyas struggled to pay their bills and maintain a modest, middle-class lifestyle. After the trial, however, their financial concerns seemed to vanish. In late 1996 Miguel Moya and his parents bought a $198,000 house in the Florida Keys and paid off the fifteen-year mortgage in less than three months. The family purchased a speedboat for $31,000 in cash. They spent thousands more on furniture, jewelry, and new cars. All that money had to come from somewhere, and the only logical source, Nucci argued, was the Falcon-Magluta organization.

The second crucial element of the government's case was a fifteen-minute videotape in which an undercover FBI agent, posing as a member of the Falcon-Magluta organization, confronts Moya and tricks him into making statements that, in the prosecutors' view, were tantamount to a confession. "He [Moya] will be a witness against himself," Nucci promised in conclusion.

King then ordered a brief recess to allow defense attorneys to set up exhibits for their opening statement. In the interim the gallery buzzed over Nucci's strong performance, which lasted nearly an hour. It was a sympathetic crowd. More than two dozen federal agents, prosecutors, and other employees from the U.S. Attorney's Office (which occupies the seventh and eighth floors of the court building) had packed the courtroom in a show of support for a case U.S. Attorney Tom Scott declared was one of the most important prosecutions of his tenure.

Winning a conviction against Miguel Moya would permit some members of Scott's office to rewrite the history of their failures in the 1996 trial of Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta. And as New Times reported this past week, a conviction could also help buttress a new racketeering indictment prosecutors are preparing against Falcon and Magluta.

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