Cocaine Cowboy Gustavo Falcon Hit With 11 Years in Prison After 26 Years on the Run

Gustavo Falcon, part of the largest cocaine-smuggling operation in Miami's history, had been on the run for 26 years before he was caught last year.
Gustavo Falcon, part of the largest cocaine-smuggling operation in Miami's history, had been on the run for 26 years before he was caught last year. Orange County Jail/HistoryMiami
For 26 years, Gustavo Falcon lived the mundane life of a middle-aged suburban-Orlando dad. He jogged, he worked an ordinary job, and — unbeknownst to all of his new friends and neighbors — he kept one eye over his shoulder for the federal agents he knew one day would catch up to him.

"I'm not proud of being on the run for 26 years," Falcon told a federal judge in Miami this morning. "That's no way to live. I paid for it every day for 26 years."

Falcon's extraordinary run as the last free member of the biggest cocaine ring in Miami history came to an end last year when U.S. Marshals found him living in Kissimmee. This morning, U.S. Judge Federico Moreno put a final touch on the central conspiracy of the cocaine cowboys era by hitting Falcon with 11 years and three months in prison.

The sentence was less than prosecutors demanded but more than Falcon's attorney argued he should get considering he lived a clean life for more than a quarter-century. Moreno, though, said he couldn't look past Falcon's serious role in the cocaine gang run by his brother Willy Falcon and partner Sal Magluda.

"This is lots of cocaine," Moreno said at one point. "Lots of cocaine."

Indeed, the Willy & Sal operation moved more than $2 billion worth of coke into South Florida from Colombia and the Caribbean between the late '70s and 1991, when the feds indicted dozens of players in the group.

Gustavo, who is now 56, is six years younger than Willy, who started the cocaine operation with his high-school pal Magluda. The pair became known as "Los Muchachos" as they bankrolled millions and lived lavish lifestyles on the beach.

Gustavo was a behind-the-scenes player, mostly helping to keep the books for his brother. But when he pleaded guilty in February, Gustavo also admitted to helping Pedro "Pegy" Rosello — a member of the cocaine ring and Gustavo's brother-in-law — to set up a drug operation in Southern California in the mid-'80s.

In 1991, when the feds swooped in, they arrested Willy & Sal and all of their top lieutenants, including Gustavo. The younger Falcon, though, bonded out and then quickly disappeared. For decades, many assumed he had slipped away to Colombia or elsewhere.

But it turned out he and his wife had obtained fake identities as "Luis Andre Rice" and "Maria Ava Rice" and moved just a few hours north to the Orlando area. That's where the feds picked him up last April when he returned from a bike ride with his wife.

In court this morning, Falcon's attorney, Howard Srebnick, painted the picture of a reformed cocaine addict who had suffered greatly while in hiding. Srebnick asked the judge to take into account the fact that Gustavo Falcon was by all accounts an upstanding father and citizen while living in Kissimmee under his assumed name.

"He lived as a hunted man for 27 years," said Srebnick, who asked for a sentence of 108 months for Falcon. "He was living a very mundane, modest lifestyle."

Srebnick even made the unusual move of asking a former coconspirator to plead for leniency with the judge. Justo Jay was a member of the cocaine operation (and father of Major League Baseball player and former University of Miami star Jon Jay) and served 19 years in prison. Jay told the judge he's been serving the community since his release in 2007 and believed Falcon could do the same. 

Though Moreno said he agreed Falcon would probably not commit any more crimes after his release from prison, he said the vast nature of the Willy & Sal operation compelled him to give Falcon 11 years and three months — the lower end of the federal guidelines.

"It's very hard for me to consider a downward sentence for someone who enjoyed a quarter-century free with his family," Moreno said.
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink