Deadly Cargo

Big payoffs. Gruesome murders. Nosy feds. Life as a cargo handler at MIA just ain't what it used to be.

While in Miami, Flaquer liked to hang out at the Naco Cafeteria on NW 36th Street. The owners, Osmay Oduardo and Ruben Garcia, both had prior convictions for drug dealing. Police suspect the men were involved in Flaquer's smuggling scheme. They also were probably the last two people to see Flaquer alive, Carmichael says. After Flaquer's disappearance Oduardo and Garcia sold the restaurant and disappeared. "We'd like to talk to them," Carmichael says dryly. "Their cooperation is sought in this case." (Carmichael says anyone with information can call him anonymously at 800-226-3019. There is reward money.)

As soon as news of Flaquer's death reached New York, someone at La Guardia broke into the dead man's locker and emptied it. Police never had a chance to look through his possessions. "That leads me to believe co-workers knew what he was doing," Carmichael posits. Indeed the FDLE agent says his investigation revealed that Flaquer helped organize a ring that delivered cocaine and heroin into the United States. Flaquer and his crew would stuff packages of the drugs behind panels in a plane's bathroom in Colombia. After the aircraft arrived in Miami, mechanics would remove the drugs during maintenance. "I interviewed three co-workers who said Flaquer set up the operation," Carmichael says.

In July 1997, a little more than a year after Flaquer's death, the FBI busted six American Airlines ramp workers on charges they smuggled 160 kilograms of cocaine into the country. Had Flaquer lived he would have been the seventh indictment in that case, says Carmichael.

As agents closed that investigation, DEA undercover agents had already started the Ramp Rats investigation. Monitoring drug smuggling at American Airlines was becoming a full-time job.

A year and a half after Flaquer's corpse was discovered in the dust of Palm Beach County, another dead American Airlines ramp worker turned up in Miami-Dade. On the night of November 25, 1997, 36-year-old Karl Smith was returning from a sixteen-hour shift at MIA when someone shot him. He was opening a gate at his home on NW 193rd Terrace when the attack occurred. Law enforcement sources say Smith was involved in the narcotics trade at the airport, and their probe focuses on his airport contacts.

"The police tell me they think my boy was working for somebody in the drug world," laments Smith's mother, Mary. "But I don't believe that. I never saw anything. When I closed out his bank account it had $6.84 in it. I'm his mother, and I don't know anything about that."

In fact Mary Smith's boy had just borrowed money to fix his car. "How could he be involved in drugs?" she asks.

Karl Smith was raised in Jamaica and came to the United States about ten years before his death. "He never get into no trouble growing up," his mother says. Karl was an athlete, an avid soccer player, and a licensed security guard. Some nights he moonlighted as a doorman at the South Beach club Amnesia. He was also a doting son, Mary Smith says. "I've got cancer, and if I ever had to go to the hospital, he was there, ready to take me. He was always there for me."

In the wake of the Ramp Rats arrests, police are combing through mysterious deaths and disappearances of the past. They hope a more careful reading will help restart investigations that have stalled.

Investigators are looking into the killing of a 41-year old American Airlines steward on Miami Beach. The case of a stewardess who fell fourteen floors to her death is also being reviewed. Then there are two suspicious beatings and a shooting in Miami. Authorities offer few details on any of the cases.

The violence is likely to continue as long as drugs and other contraband flow through the airport. Moreover this past August 31, less than a week after the first Ramp Rats bust, customs agents found $21 million worth of cocaine stashed in a shipment of fresh fish. No one stepped forward to claim the cargo, and there was no invoice attached. "They're still at it," says one federal source. And because drug dealers continue to offer big money, it's only a matter of time "until [the ramp rats] get cute, and steal from the dopers," he adds. "And that means soon someone's going to get whacked."

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