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.

The Moya defense team consisted of Paul McKenna, Curt Obront, and Ana Jhones. Obront spoke first. "February 16, 1996, the government lost one of the biggest drug cases in history," he began. "Rather than accepting that not-guilty verdict, the government began an investigation of the jury in that case. And here, ladies and gentlemen, today is the result of that investigation, someone that they refer to as a traitor, or the government's scapegoat, Miguel Moya."

Obront claimed the government was desperate to blame its loss of the Falcon-Magluta case on someone, anyone. "The government began their investigation of the jury -- not just Miguel Moya, but other jurors as well -- almost immediately after the verdict," he declared.

"So why are we here, ladies and gentlemen? Why is it that Miguel Moya is sitting here with his parents, charged with bribery and laundering bribe money? Why? The answer is the spending. Through the investigation with the IRS, FBI, Metro-Dade, Florida Marine Patrol, U.S. Attorney's Office, every agency imaginable -- there are probably some I don't know about -- they saw spending. They were convinced, 'Ah, this must be evidence of a bribe.'

"Ladies and gentlemen, Miguel Moya never took a bribe from anybody. There is an explanation for that spending that the government has not told you about in their opening statement," Obront continued. "Now that my client is sitting here, charged with bribery and laundering bribery proceeds, and he's faced with this situation, it's the moment of truth."

Obront paused, allowing the word truth to hang in the air for a moment.
"The Moya family, ladies and gentlemen, has a past that they are not proud of, that they didn't discuss outside the family," he said mysteriously. "And that past, ladies and gentlemen, really stems from my client's cousin, Ray Perez. Who is Ray Perez? Ray Perez is a former City of Miami cop who was a major drug trafficker. Back in the mid- to late 1980s, he was involved in major drug trafficking."

Perez had recruited Miguel and Jose Moya to help him. "They made hundreds of thousands of dollars, ladies and gentlemen," Obront said. "They are not proud of it. They did it back then."

When Jhones rose to speak, she followed the same path. "This is not a case about bribery," she stressed. "This is not a case about laundering bribery proceeds. This is a case about the truth -- a truth that is not a very nice truth. A cold reality that one is not proud to admit to."

A cold reality? Who possibly could have imagined a defendant walking into court and arguing that his ill-gotten riches were not the result of a hefty bribe but rather from drug trafficking? And having made that claim, hope it would earn him the sympathy of a jury?

When the defense attorneys finished their opening statements, prosecutors could only shake their heads in amazement. One prosecutor watching from the gallery summed it up wryly: "Another Miami moment."

The government's star witness was FBI agent Jack Garcia, a Cuban-born undercover specialist who has been with the bureau for nineteen years and is currently assigned to its Queens office in New York. Garcia strolled into the courtroom like a leading man on the opening night of a Hollywood blockbuster, but this production went straight to video. Indeed his stage presence was palpable; people could not take their eyes off him. If he seemed larger than life, it's because he actually was.

When defense attorneys asked Garcia how tall he was, he growled, "I'm very tall." And when they asked how much he weighed, he brushed it off with: "I haven't really weighed myself in a while." Pushed for an answer, he finally estimated his weight to be between 360 and 370 pounds. That was conservative.

"You are much bigger than Mr. Moya, correct?" Paul McKenna asked.
"Yes," Garcia replied.
Size was obviously a factor in selecting Garcia for the undercover assignment. "They wanted a person who did not look like an FBI agent," he said, "and here I am." Garcia readily admitted he was brought in to dupe Moya into admitting he took a bribe. An earlier effort by the FBI had already failed. In that instance the feds dispatched an attractive female undercover agent named Raquel to flirt with Moya and go salsa dancing with him in hopes he might pass along incriminating information. It didn't work.

Garcia's role would be ominously different. He would play the part of a messenger from the Falcon-Magluta organization, a fixer, a man who could make problems disappear. Once he gained Moya's confidence, he would get him to acknowledge the payoff.

Garcia was briefed by agents overseeing the investigation in July of last year, then wired with a hidden microphone. Garcia testified he intercepted Moya, an airport ramp mechanic, as he was getting off work at Miami International Airport. The encounter took place in the employee parking garage and was videotaped from a nearby van.

Halfway through Garcia's testimony, prosecutors began playing the tape. As the lights dimmed, jurors turned their attention to a pair of large-screen televisions wheeled in front of the jury box. The quality of the videotape was extremely poor. The sounds of other cars screeching through the parking garage at times made the audio impossible to understand. And the inadequate lighting made it difficult to identify the grainy faces of the people being filmed.

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