DeFede

The Riddle That Cracked the Case

Celebrating like members of a football team who had just won the Super Bowl, dozens of federal prosecutors and law-enforcement agents gathered on the back patio of Tobacco Road, reveling in the conviction a few hours earlier of Miguel Moya, the jury foreman in the 1996 trial of reputed drug kingpins Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta.

The jury on which Moya served had acquitted Falcon and Magluta of nearly two dozen charges, including smuggling into the United States 75 tons of cocaine worth more than two billion dollars. The jury's not-guilty verdict was a humiliating defeat for prosecutors in Miami and was the largest drug case ever lost by the U.S. Justice Department anywhere in the nation. But the story wouldn't end there.

Last year authorities charged Moya with taking more than $400,000 in bribes to persuade his fellow jurors to acquit Falcon and Magluta. Moya's first trial earlier this year ended in a hung jury. But his second trial was a far different affair. On Friday, July 23, the jury convicted Moya on all counts, guaranteeing him a prison term of at least ten years. Redemption was at hand and it was time to party.

One by one the three prosecutors from the Moya case -- Ed Nucci, Julie Paylor, and David Buckner -- arrived at Tobacco Road and were greeted with a hero's welcome by their colleagues. And befitting the celebratory, locker-room atmosphere, the winning team received a congratulatory phone call from the nation's capital. Attorney General Janet Reno spoke to each of the prosecutors for several minutes, applauding their hard work and persistence. It was a major victory in an important case, Reno told them, and they should be extremely proud.

The prosecutors were certainly deserving of accolades, particularly Paylor, who along with FBI and IRS agents uncovered the link between Moya and the Falcon-Magluta organization, a link they had failed to show jurors in the first trial but that was the key to their success in the second.

In the first trial, Moya's ex-wife testified that a man who identified himself only as Eddie called one day during Falcon and Magluta's 1996 trial and asked to speak to her husband. Miguel Moya took the call in private, left their apartment a short time later, then returned, she testified, with a bag of money. She claimed her husband told her the money was a bribe and all he had to do was vote "not guilty."

Defense attorneys were able to destroy the credibility of Moya's ex-wife during the first trial, and her testimony had little impact on the jury. Paylor and Nucci, though, never lost faith in Moya's ex. They believed that if they could determine Eddie's identity, they would be led to Falcon and Magluta.

Paylor, with the help of several FBI and IRS agents, took the lead in this phase of the investigation. They began with Moya's address book, combing through it and highlighting every person by the name of Eddie. Then they attempted to match those names and phone numbers with names and numbers in all the material accumulated over the past decade in the investigation of Falcon and Magluta, an investigation that has generated tens of thousands of pages of documents and ledgers and notebooks. Some of the material had been loaded on to computers and could be easily searched, but a lot of it was crammed into stacks of boxes and would have to be examined by hand. "This was the ultimate needle in the haystack," Paylor acknowledged.

It took several months, but investigators finally made a connection. Listed in Moya's address book was a person named Eddie Ball, whose phone number matched a number found in the electronic organizer seized from a car Sal Magluta was driving in 1997. The phone number in the organizer was listed alongside the name Eddie Gutierrez.

When authorities retrieved Eddie Gutierrez's cell phone records, they found he had called Moya's house on January 31, 1996, and that the call lasted six minutes. This was the same day Moya's ex-wife claimed a man named Eddie had called them, the same day Moya allegedly came home with a bag full of money. Finally prosecutors were beginning to get the corroboration they needed. But they wanted more.

One thing they learned about Eddie Gutierrez was that in the Eighties he played on a softball team financed by Falcon and Magluta called the Seahawks, which traveled around the country playing in tournaments. Prosecutors suspected that may have accounted for Eddie Gutierrez being listed in Moya's address book as Eddie Ball -- the last name possibly being short for softball.

Investigators then noted that immediately after Gutierrez's six-minute call to Moya, he placed a call to a cell phone with the number 205-9769. Paylor and her colleagues wanted to know who Gutierrez had called. They tried to subpoena records for the 205-9769 phone, but the company that leased the number said it no longer had that customer's records. Prosecutors weren't surprised the firm wasn't more helpful. As it turned out, the owner of the company is Sal Magluta's brother-in-law.

To discover who was assigned that 205 number, Paylor and the federal agents once again began searching the address books they had gathered over the years from people associated with Falcon and Magluta. Eventually they found their second needle.

In 1996 state troopers stopped a car belonging to a woman named Marilyn Bonachea. Inside her vehicle officers found ledgers and other material allegedly relating to Falcon and Magluta's drug empire. Based on that material, federal agents obtained a warrant to search Bonachea's home in upstate New York; among the myriad items seized was an address book. Three years after its confiscation, the book yielded a bit of treasure: names attached to the 205 cell phone.

The telephone number appeared twice in Bonachea's book, once next to the name Alfred and once next to the name Brittany. Investigators were left to wonder: Alfred and Brittany who? There were no last names.

With the beginning of the second Moya trial just a couple of weeks away, Paylor and the agents scrambled to learn more about Alfred and Brittany. Luckily, next to Alfred's name in Bonachea's book was a second phone number. When they checked this number against those in Magluta's electronic organizer, they found it alongside the name Alfred Alonso.

They had struck pay dirt.

Alfredo "Alfred" Alonso is considered one of Sal Magluta's oldest and most trusted friends. He came to federal court nearly every day and sat through the entire Falcon-Magluta trial in 1996. He visited Magluta in jail on weekends or days when court was in recess.

In 1997 Magluta skipped bond while he was on trial for using a phony passport. Federal agents later discovered that Alonso had leased the car Magluta used for his escape. Last year Alonso pleaded guilty to aiding a fugitive and was given probation. So close is Alonso to Magluta and his family that at his daughter's school, if an emergency arises and school officials can't reach him or his wife, they are instructed to contact Magluta's parents.

The name of Alfred Alonso's daughter? Brittany.

Now one of Magluta's closest friends was connected -- through Eddie Gutierrez -- to the Miguel Moya bribery case. As Paylor and the agents continued to dig, they found an even more startling connection. Tracing the lives of Alonso and Moya, investigators soon discovered they had attended Coral Park High School together. Prosecutors now had the link between Moya and the Falcon-Magluta organization they lacked in the first trial.

"We knew it was there," says Nucci. "We knew there had to be a more provable link." The connection hadn't been established before the first trial, Nucci explains, because their investigation of Moya had been leaked to the press, which forced them to indict him sooner than they would have liked. After the first trial ended in a hung jury, Nucci says, Paylor and the agents on the case did a phenomenal job sifting through all the evidence.

In that first trial, which I chronicled earlier this year, Moya claimed that his extra cash came from the proceeds of numerous drug transactions from the Eighties and had nothing to do with his service on the Falcon-Magluta jury. The defense strategy was novel, to say the least. Attorneys proclaimed their client's innocence on the bribery charges by claiming he had been part of a drug-trafficking ring. The move succeeded in befuddling several jurors, causing the panel to become hopelessly deadlocked.

Last month, for his second trial, Moya had a new defense attorney, Thomas Scalfani, and a new explanation for his sudden wealth. It wasn't the result of drug-trafficking, Scalfani ventured. It was the result of good luck: Moya had won several hundred thousand dollars gambling. Jurors didn't buy it. After a two-week trial, they took less than two hours to convict Moya on thirteen separate counts.

Prosecutors will now try to build a case against Gutierrez and Alonso, though without Moya's cooperation that may be difficult. Contacted at his home, Gutierrez refused to answer questions about the Moya case. Alonso could not be reached for comment.

Investigators are also continuing to look at the possibility another juror may have been involved in the bribery scheme. This time they are concentrating their attention on a female juror. In the past prosecutors have suggested that Moya may have had a romantic affair with this female juror during the four-month-long Falcon-Magluta trial. The juror denies she's done anything improper.

The next big step for the federal government, however, will be a new round of indictments against Falcon and Magluta, which could be announced in the next two weeks. As I reported in February, authorities have been assembling a massive indictment against the pair under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statutes. Prosecutors are expected to allege that Falcon and Magluta were in charge of a criminal organization that engaged in acts of money laundering, obstruction of justice, retaliation against government witnesses, and murder. Given the conviction of Moya, they might also include charges of bribery and jury tampering.

Prosecutors might also include in the RICO indictment some of the same allegations made in the original case against Falcon and Magluta. Typically, under a constitutional doctrine known as double jeopardy, a person cannot be charged with a crime for which he has already been acquitted. But because Moya was convicted of taking a bribe to help acquit Falcon and Magluta, double jeopardy may no longer apply.

Rather than retrying all the original charges against Falcon and Magluta from their 1996 trial, prosecutors may simply take the strongest counts from their case three years ago and incorporate them as an element of the larger racketeering indictment.


On a related note, I'd like to clarify something I reported earlier this year. In detailing the steps the government was taking in building a RICO case against Falcon and Magluta, I noted that Manuel Mattos, the triggerman responsible for murdering Miami attorney Juan Acosta in 1989, had struck a deal with prosecutors and had appeared before the federal grand jury investigating Falcon and Magluta. Although he doesn't dispute that he appeared before the grand jury earlier this year, Mattos has taken offense to the inference he is now a government informant, or as he put it, "a rat."

I know this because Mattos has taken to calling me from prison to complain about my stories. Call me old-fashioned, but when a Colombian contract killer calls to demand clarification, I tend to listen very carefully. Even if he is in prison.

And so here is Mattos in his own words: "I killed Juan Acosta. I don't know Willy. I don't know Sal. I don't snitch on nobody."

To elaborate briefly, Mattos pleaded guilty last year to second-degree murder and was sentenced to more than 40 years in prison, which in itself, he says, should be proof he did not cut a sweetheart deal to be an informant.

He appeared before the grand jury, he says, merely to explain how he and accomplices went to Acosta's Miami office and shot him repeatedly at point-blank range. He says he has never met or spoken to either Falcon or Magluta and has no idea if they ordered Acosta's murder. (Prosecutors suspect Acosta was killed because he was about to become a government witness against Falcon and Magluta.)

Mattos says he regrets the crime. He was young and foolish in those days, he says, and he made a mistake.


Related Stories by Jim DeFede
"Right Out of a Movie," August 27, 1998

"In Pursuit of Willie and Sal," February 25, 1999

"In Pursuit of Willie and Sal, Part Two," March 4, 1999

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