The Trial of Willy & Sal

If America learned anything from the O.J. Simpson trial, it was the value of the courtroom as theater. But not every blockbuster can emanate from Hollywood, and most will never be televised. And so it is hardly surprising that the last great drug trial of the cocaine-cowboy Eighties is taking place without much notice -- from the people at the Nielsen ratings service or anyone else. The drama on the tenth floor of the federal courthouse in downtown Miami began unfolding six weeks ago, with Assistant U.S Attorney Christopher Clark introducing to the jury of six men and six women the two expensively dressed men sitting across the room amid their not-quite-as-well-attired phalanx of attorneys.

Clark described the defendants as a pair of high school dropouts who had attained prodigious wealth through a perverse version of the American success story. These two men, he told the jury, embodied the very history of the cocaine explosion, not just in South Florida but across the nation: an influx of white powder that stoked the local economy and altered the political landscape.

“May I present to you,” Clark said in his opening statement, “the case of the United States of America versus Augusto Guillermo Falcon and Salvador Magluta. Willy and Sal. Los Muchachos. The Boys.”

With a slight flourish of his right hand and a small step to his left to give the jury a clear view of the dapper defendants, Clark raised the curtain on a drama that has taken nearly two decades to produce.

“So well-known in the drug community were these two individuals,” he declared, “that among fellow drug dealers the mere mention of the name ‘The Boys’ or ‘Los Muchachos’ indicated to those in the drug trade the biggest drug dealers in Miami during the 1980s.”

As the federal prosecutor spoke, Falcon and Magluta stared straight ahead. They are no longer boys, having both turned 40 during their four years in custody. And they look even older than that age might suggest. Magluta’s hairline is receding, his skin is pale, and an ulcer has robbed him of his once robust frame.

The passage of time, though, is most telling on Falcon, whose wife Alina was mugged and shot to death three years ago. He has become obsessed with exercise in jail, and while physically fit, he remains dour in court. His eyes are dark, his face drawn, giving off an intensity that makes his attorneys fear the jury will gauge him as menacing, which is not an unfair estimation.

Falcon and Magluta certainly don’t look like they did in the pictures the public has seen sporadically in newspapers and on television since their October 1991 arrest. Those were file photos from better days, when the two were world-champion powerboat racers, cocky and self-assured, literally speeding through life at more than 100 mph. Now they are facing two dozen federal charges, for alleged offenses ranging from the importation of cocaine to operating a continuing criminal enterprise, which prosecutors claim was worth more than two billion dollars. A conviction on the majority of the charges would almost certainly result in their spending the rest of their lives in prison.

“Their names were synonymous with an unlimited supply of cocaine of the highest quality,” Christopher Clark went on. “At a time when the city of Miami was awash with cocaine, these two defendants, Willy and Sal, Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta, stood above all the other drug dealers.”

While most smugglers measured success in kilos, Clark argued, Falcon and Magluta measured it by the ton. And while others were happy to count their profits in hundreds of thousands of dollars, these “Kings of Cocaine,” as the prosecution dubbed them, tallied their receipts in the hundreds of millions. Clark also explained how the defendants avoided capture for so long through a mix of fortune and influence, dumb luck and dirty cops. (New Times has chronicled the alleged exploits of Falcon and Magluta, beginning with the cover story “Willy & Sal,” published in February 1992.)

“Justice in this case had been delayed, in permitting these defendants to continue their criminal enterprise from 1978 through 1991,” Clark concluded. “But upon the presentation of the government’s evidence in this case, upon your consideration of the multitude of witnesses and exhibits which will be introduced, justice will not be denied.”

In a courtroom, of course, everything is open to argument, and concepts such as “justice” are no exception. During their opening statement to the jury, the defense attorneys -- a small army of marquee names including Roy Black, Albert Krieger, and Martin Weinberg (for profiles, see sidebar) A also invoked justice’s virtue, albeit in a different context.

Inherent in the defense strategy is the unstated concession that their clients may not have been altar boys, and may indeed have led the smuggler’s life in their youth, but they certainly weren’t the drug barons prosecutors make them out to be. And that by 1986 -- as far back as prosecutors can go, owing to the statute of limitations -- Falcon and Magluta were out of the cocaine business and were simply living off whatever wealth they’d earned years earlier.

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Jim DeFede
Contact: Jim DeFede