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.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede