Willy & Sal, Episode 5: The Impossible Victory

Pages 12-13 of the February 29, 1996, issue of Miami New Times
Pages 12-13 of the February 29, 1996, issue of Miami New Times Miami New Times photo
Editor’s note: Below is the fifth of ten in-depth stories Miami New Times published about the federal government's dogged pursuit of Augusto Falcon and Salvador Magluta — AKA Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta, AKA Willy and Sal, AKA "Los Muchachos," AKA "The Boys" — two Cuban-American boyhood friends from Miami who grew up to head what was alleged to be the most lucrative cocaine empire in South Florida for nearly 20 years beginning in the late 1970s.

When the two Miami Senior High School dropouts were finally captured by federal agents in October of 1991, prosecutors alleged that they’d amassed more than $2.1 billion in cash and assets by smuggling at least 75 tons of cocaine into the United States over the years.

But that was only the beginning of the legal proceedings against Willy and Sal, which dragged on for nearly a decade, dogged by law-enforcement snafus, doomed prosecutorial strategies, numerous incidences of jury tampering, escapes, murders, and other mayhem.

This is the fourth of then-Miami New Times staff writer Jim DeFede’s longform stories about the case, originally published in the paper's February 29, 1996, issue and titled “The Impossible Victory.” The story picks up as the jury returns to the courtroom after deliberating for only three days — and, at one point late in those deliberations, telling the judge they were deadlocked. They proceed to render a stunning verdict: Not guilty on all counts.

Writes DeFede:

More than a week after the verdicts were rendered, the shock and amazement linger. The government made a staggering investment of human and financial resources to develop this case. Agents were drawn from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Marshal's Office, and U.S. Customs, as well as state and local police agencies from Miami to Los Angeles. Information was gathered from informants and sources in at least half a dozen different countries. It was the largest drug-trafficking case ever to be lost by prosecutors in the state of Florida, and it may well be the biggest narcotics case ever lost in the United States. "A dark moment," U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey said of the defeat.

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Sal Magluta visibly trembled with fear as he waited to hear the verdict in his drug-conspiracy trial. The jury slowly filed into the tenth-floor courtroom of federal Judge Federico Moreno, and Magluta's breathing increased rapidly. His attorneys, Roy Black and Martin Weinberg, were sitting on either side of him, and as they heard their client beginning to hyperventilate, they worried he would pass out. "His hands were shaking, his eyes were red," Black recalls. "It looked like he hadn't slept in a week. He was so nervous he was holding on to us, grabbing on to us. I thought we were going to have to hold him up to keep him from collapsing."

A few feet away, Willy Falcon sat passively, seemingly resigned to the worst. His skin was cold, his complexion pale. "I had never seen that color on anybody who was alive," says Falcon's attorney, Albert Krieger. "It was a skin tint I associated with a two- or three-day-old body. It was death."

Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta finally had come to the end of their journey, a four-month trial on federal charges of importing more than 75 tons of cocaine, valued at more than two billion dollars, over a thirteen-year period. At the time of their capture in October 1991, the two Miami High School dropouts were allegedly responsible for one of the five largest drug-trafficking operations in the world. Their arrest was heralded by law enforcement officials as a major victory in the war on drugs.

Now it was judgment day. A conviction on any one of the sixteen trafficking or conspiracy counts brought against them would almost certainly mean a sentence of life in prison. The jury members had taken less than three days to deliberate, and only a few hours earlier had told the judge they were hopelessly deadlocked. But they had somehow resolved their differences, reached a consensus, and were ready to issue a verdict.

Count one: Not guilty.

When those words were read aloud, Falcon and Magluta's family cheered. As the two men began sobbing, Magluta called out to his mother, his wife, his children.

Count two: Not guilty. Count three: Not guilty.

As the words reverberated through the wood-paneled courtroom, prosecutors and federal agents reeled in disbelief. It was their turn for the blood to drain from their faces and their skin to grow cold.

Count four: Not guilty. Count five: Not guilty. Count six: Not guilty.

Bedlam threatened to overtake the courtroom, and Judge Moreno was forced to demand order. Falcon and Magluta were on their feet, hugging their attorneys. All sixteen counts of the indictment were rejected by the jury.

"I love you, Albert!" Falcon cried. "Thank you, Albert! Thank you, Albert!"

"Willy, you've been born again," Krieger whispered in his ear. "You have a new life."

More than a week after the verdicts were rendered, the shock and amazement linger. The government made a staggering investment of human and financial resources to develop this case. Agents were drawn from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Marshal's Office, and U.S. Customs, as well as state and local police agencies from Miami to Los Angeles. Information was gathered from informants and sources in at least half a dozen different countries. It was the largest drug-trafficking case ever to be lost by prosecutors in the state of Florida, and it may well be the biggest narcotics case ever lost in the United States. "A dark moment," U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey said of the defeat.

"I have to admit that even I was surprised," says Roy Black. "Anyone charged with a drug offense really has an uphill battle. The worst things to be charged with are child molestation, treason, and drugs. It is far easier to defend a murder case than a drug case, particularly in this community."

Adds Albert Krieger: "When I first got involved in this case, I thought the physical evidence was very strong, and I was very pessimistic. After all, the agents had supposedly seized all these drug ledgers from their homes when they were arrested. The problem was the ledgers were not self-explaining; they were in code and required the testimony of the informants. And that's where the government lost this case."

Several days after the verdict, as Krieger was reflecting on the case — the defense strategies and the prosecution blunders — something caught his eye. Outside his Coconut Grove home, which also doubles as his law office, he spotted his dog, a German shepherd he has owned for several years. "Schutzhund-trained," he says proudly. "Give him the right command and he'll take your head off. The difference between a dog like this and a watchdog is that he doesn't have a vicious bone in his body. He's not a thug, he's a trained fighter."

Krieger's appreciation for the distinction is appropriate. It would be hard to imagine a more fitting pet for the man who skillfully decapitated so many of the government's witnesses during the Falcon and Magluta case. Indeed it would seem that Black, Weinberg, and Krieger were all Schutzhund-trained in law school.

The trial of Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta will best be remembered for the 27 informants called by prosecutors to testify, each of whom was then decimated by the defense's tag-team approach to cross-examination. "Before the trial started," Black concedes, "we thought the most frightening thing would be if the government tried the case in three or four weeks, pared it down to a handful of their major witnesses, worked on those witnesses, put them on, and then got out and put on whatever corroboration they had. If they did that, we thought it would be a tougher case. Thankfully, that didn't happen."

Instead, Black and his defense teammates say, the government called informant after informant — each more sleazy than the last — all of whom testified against Falcon and Magluta in hopes of having their prison terms reduced. For some of these witnesses, serving twenty or thirty years for a variety of crimes, cooperating with prosecutors was their only hope for early release.

The government's ability to offer rewards in exchange for testimony was successfully exploited by the defense: None of those witnesses, they argued, could be trusted because they were all lying to win their freedom. "Under federal law, if I were to give a witness five dollars to obtain his testimony, I've violated the law; it's a major felony," points out Krieger, whose past clients have included New York Mafia chieftain John Gotti. "The government can give liberty, the government can give a person back his freedom, the government can give money, the government can give absolution. The reason I can be prosecuted for giving a witness five dollars is because Congress in its infinite wisdom knows that testimony obtained in that fashion is untrustworthy. Well, the other side of that coin should be testimony obtained through this corrupt plea-bargaining process is similarly untrustworthy. A man's liberty should not be deprived on the basis of it. I find it offensive."

Martin Weinberg elaborates: "[Prosecutor] Chris Clark used a blueprint that has been used very effectively by prosecutors since gain convictions, which is to simply throw at the jury every prisoner-informant who provides them with information that damages the defendant. And they hope the jury is going to say, 'Well, if so many people say it, it must be true.' But what happened in this case is that their worst witnesses spilled over and poisoned the better witnesses. We were able to create not just reasonable doubt but to prove perjury. And when you prove perjury about witnesses A, B, and C, then the jury automatically distrusts witnesses D, E, and F."

Krieger agrees: "Some of the witnesses were so bad they infected those who were not so bad."

"We had witnesses in this case who admitted committing perjury every time they had ever given testimony before," Black adds incredulously. "Sitting there, you would have to say, 'My God, how could anyone rely on these people?' When you think about it, it is frightening. Some of the people who testified were truly frightening — people like Tony Posada.

"Tony Posada is the worst witness I have ever seen in my entire career," Black continues. "Here is a guy who has been convicted in five or six different cases; the last case involved some 70 counts of bank fraud. Every time he gets arrested he comes up with some story about either working for the DEA or the Secret Service or some other agency to try and lie his way out of it. The last time this guy gets arrested with counterfeit money, counterfeit securities, he tells all the agents that he is really working for the Secret Service agent in Miami — who has never even met the guy. But still they called Tony Posada as a witness against Willy and Sal. How could you ever rely on one word he was saying? This guy could be telling the God's honest truth and you could never believe him."

In court Posada testified about several loads of cocaine transported from Colombia to Florida by Falcon and Magluta in 1979 and 1980 — drug deals that had already been detailed by other witnesses. The government's decision to call Posada as a witness baffled defense attorneys. He added nothing new for the jury, but allowed the defense another opportunity to argue that prosecutors were relying too heavily on known liars.

"The government didn't need Tony Posada as a witness," Black says. "That's just being greedy, calling in a guy like him. He was so bad. We had the transcript from Posada's last sentencing in Fort Pierce, where the government prosecutor in that case said you could never believe anything Posada said. This was a representative of the United States government saying, 'I could never use this man as a witness; you could never believe him.' And then the prosecutors in Miami turn around and use this guy as a witness."

Kendall Coffey, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, staunchly defends his office's handling of this prosecution. "I'm not going to point-counterpoint a particular defense lawyer's observations," Coffey demurs, adding that "it wouldn't be responsible or compelling to rest your case after half a dozen witnesses. This was a huge case, and a huge case in order to be credible is going to require a substantial amount of evidence. At the end of the day, if you're taking the position that these defendants were two of the biggest, the worst, and the most serious drug dealers ever tried in South Florida, you'd better have a lot of evidence and you'd better have a lot of witnesses and you'd better be able to nail down every possible source of doubt that the defense will skillfully try to create.

"We exercise tremendous care when relying on accomplice testimony to look for corroboration, verification to satisfy ourselves that it is valid testimony," Coffey says, "and we intend to continue using it. We believe we put people on the stand who had truthful information to provide. I'm not going to sit now and postmortem every witness any more than I am going to sit now and criticize the jury."

Experts say it is rare for prosecutors to face defense attorneys who know more about the government's witnesses than the government itself does. But that is exactly what happened in the Willy and Sal case. In addition to spending untold millions on attorneys, Falcon and Magluta also hired a score of private investigators who fanned out across the United States and throughout Latin America to track down incriminating information about the government's witnesses. "What made the difference was the fact that Sal Magluta and Willy Falcon were willing to fight this and fund an investigation that could expose all of these things," says Black, who adds this victory to a growing string of wins, including his representation of William Kennedy Smith and former Miami police officer William Lozano. "How many people can afford to hunt these things down? Do you know how many witnesses we investigated before the trial? They called about 30 accomplice witnesses, but they had given us notice on their witness list of about 81, and added 4 or 5 more just before trial." (Black, Krieger, and Weinberg refused to answer questions about their fees or the overall cost of preparing for trial during the last four years.)

Among the government's many witnesses, Nestor Galeano proved to be a favorite of the defense team. His testimony, they believe, was also a turning point in the case. Before the trial commenced, defense attorneys obtained several letters Galeano had written in prison to a friend in Colombia, fellow cocaine smuggler Manuel Garces. In those letters, Galeano eloquently explained his belief that the American justice system is corrupt, and that the only way to deal with it is to play along, to do whatever it takes to get out of prison, including, defense attorneys claimed, lying on the witness stand to please prosecutors. "Those letters were an overwhelming embarrassment to the government," says Krieger. "Or at least they should be."

Galeano's testimony about drug shipments in the Eighties initially appeared to be very damaging to Falcon and Magluta. On the witness stand, he told jurors they could believe him because he wasn't anticipating any special consideration from the government, even though he was awaiting sentencing on drug charges in New York and expected to receive a prison term of 30 years.

But on cross-examination, his credibility was ruined. Weinberg began questioning him about his views of the American system of justice and about prosecutors intimidating witnesses into testifying. Galeano said he didn't know what the attorney was talking about. Then Weinberg held up several handwritten letters and began reading them aloud. "'The justice system is implacable when it comes to "dealing," and the sentences are terrible, as is the entire trial process,'" Weinberg read. "'What justice? Whoever falls gets his lights put out, and they pile years on you by the truckload. If there are no witnesses, they make them up, same with the evidence, or else they look for some acquaintance with a good memory. They invent an indictment and God help you!'"

Weinberg asked Galeano if he knew the author of the letters from which he was reading. The witness admitted the letters were his, written to a drug-smuggling cohort in Colombia. Prosecutors hurriedly rose in objection and the jury was ushered out of the courtroom. After a heated debate on the admissibility of the letters, Judge Moreno agreed that defense attorneys had a right to use them.

When the jury returned, Weinberg continued to read excerpts. In the letters, Galeano — contrary to his earlier testimony that he wasn't expecting help from prosecutors in reducing his sentence — wrote that he expected to be back in Colombia in about a year because of his testimony against Falcon and Magluta.

Galeano also wrote that not long after he was arrested, "these stars arrived" with mug shots of Falcon and Magluta. Weinberg asked the witness what he meant by stars. "The light," Galeano responded. "When you are in prison, you are in the dark. When you get the stars, you get the light." He went on to explain that the stars were the prosecutors and DEA agents who would visit him in his cell and offer him a reduced sentence in return for his cooperation.

Weinberg continued reading: "'They made me an offer I couldn't refuse. Are you with us or against us? Imagine another indictment for racketeering or organized crime, with a minimum of life, which means 25 years more, and me without a lawyer, broke and more cooked than a fish in a pan — in other words, fried!'"

Putting down the letter for a moment, Weinberg looked at Galeano and asked, "Those are your words, are they not, sir?"

"It's my writing," Galeano replied, his earlier self-assurance having disappeared.

"It is your writing that came from your hand and your pen, onto a piece of paper, sent to your friend. Correct?"


In another letter, Galeano wrote, "The truth of the matter is, you have to dance to the gringo beat."

When it came time for closing arguments, Black, Weinberg, and Krieger spoke for nearly five hours. They concentrated on arguing that the government's witnesses were untrustworthy, and if the jurors couldn't trust the witnesses, then they had to find Falcon and Magluta not guilty.

"There is something wrong with what happened in this case," Black told the jury. "There is something wrong with the way this whole investigation was handled. There is something wrong about the way these witnesses were treated. There is something wrong about the arrogance of power that makes what happens in this courtroom so frightening that somebody has to have the courage to say it's time to stop it."
click to enlarge At the time of the trial, attorney Martin Weinberg had been representing Sal Magluta for more than 15 years. - MIAMI NEW TIMES PHOTO BY STEVE SATTERWHITE
At the time of the trial, attorney Martin Weinberg had been representing Sal Magluta for more than 15 years.
Miami New Times photo by Steve Satterwhite
Black quoted Edmund Burke ("The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing") and invoked the names of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. He even tried to show the jury the famous photograph from Tiananmen Square — blown up to poster size — of a lone man bravely facing down a column of army tanks, but Judge Moreno stopped him. "I know I am not overstating the case when I tell you how important this is, not just for Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta, but it is important for all of us, because it is our constitution, it is our system of justice, it is our democracy that we want to protect," exhorted Black, who then motioned to Falcon and Magluta. "It is not just them, but it is our country, our Constitution that is at stake."

He told the jury that Falcon and Magluta retired from the drug business in 1980 and that the statute of limitations protected them from any crimes they may have committed back then. "They had made enough money," he said. "They didn't have to continue on."

Black ended where he had begun, with the government's informants. "It is easy to get up here and to criticize these people who testified," he said. "They should be criticized to some extent, but you have to sort of sympathize with them. Can you imagine what it must be like being put into a jail cell and looking at ten, twenty years, thirty years, the rest of your life in that cell? Can you imagine how people like that feel? You can see why people become desperate. You can see why they do these kinds of things.

"But that is no excuse for putting this kind of testimony on in a courtroom," Black added, turning his criticism to the prosecutors seated a few feet away. "This is no excuse. That is just arrogance. That is just the end justifies the means, and that is what this case is all about — the end. Convicting these two men is worth anything. It is worth cutting any corner. Is there anything more dangerous than that?"

Weinberg rose to speak next, and he recalled for the jury Nestor Galeano's testimony two months earlier. The infamous letters. Weinberg had enlarged portions of them and now used them as props. He told the jury that Galeano and the other informants had to testify in such a way as to please prosecutor Christopher Clark. Otherwise Clark would refuse to file the necessary motions that would reduce their long prison terms.

"You can ask yourself whether or not there is something wrong when, in a democracy, in this case, one man, a young prosecutor in his thirties, Chris Clark, has power over the life and death of so many human beings," Weinberg said. "It may offend you that, in a democracy, one young man not elected has so much power and that power promotes perjury."

In his closing remarks, Krieger also attacked the prosecution for wasting time with "meaningless law enforcement and lay witnesses" whose testimony had little or nothing to do with drug trafficking but instead concentrated on Falcon's and Magluta's wealth. "Like we needed a parade of real estate brokers," Krieger said sarcastically, "or we needed two days with Horvath the jeweler, for example."

Like Black and Weinberg before him, Krieger disparaged the government's 27 informant witnesses. "Each one carries with him the mark of the perjurer, of the liar, of the con man, of the deceiver, of the dissembler," he bellowed. "It is my respectful submission to you that no more than a leopard can change its spots can some of the beauties we saw up here tell the truth."

Prosecutor Clark, in his final remarks, implored jurors to look at the evidence and not allow themselves to be misled by the defense's attack on the witnesses' character. "So what type of people is it that you would expect to testify in a case such as this?" he asked. "Do you expect your grade school teacher or your parish priest or your minister to come into court and say, 'Yes, indeed, I dealt drugs with Willy Falcon and Sal Magluta'? No. Of course not.

"We didn't make these people up," Clark said of the witnesses. "The defendants chose, in their own way, the witnesses who would testify in this case. The government didn't embrace these individuals. Falcon and Magluta did." If the witnesses were the dregs of society whose lives revolved around drug smuggling, then why had Falcon and Magluta been associating with them for years?

Clark mentioned the 1988 incident in which Magluta was arrested by a Metro-Dade police detective, Jorge Plasencia. The detective had told the jury that Magluta offered him a bribe of 1000 kilos of cocaine if he would let him go — this supposedly eight years after the defendant had retired from the drug trade. "Did Jorge Plasencia, the sergeant with Metro-Dade police who has been working there for nineteen years, did he come into this courtroom and lie and perjure himself?" Clark asked.

The one informant Clark emphasized was Pedro Rosello, whose sister was married to Falcon's brother. Rosello was serving a 34-year sentence, and admitted distributing thousands of kilos for Falcon and Magluta up to 1991. He testified he drove tractor trailers loaded with cocaine across the country for them. "He was a witness who gave you a different perspective, a different aspect than you normally would have gotten from some of the other witnesses, because he was part of the family, part of the organization for so many years," Clark stressed. "Pedro Rosello told it the way it was. He was somebody who was taking care of business for the Falcon and Magluta group.

"Do you find credible the defense theory that they were not involved in drugs after April 1980?" Clark asked. "Falcon and Magluta were intent on distributing drugs and importing drugs, as much as they could, right up until the time they were arrested. If not for [DEA] Agent [David] Borah and the marshals and the DEA and other agents, they would still be distributing drugs."

Clark finished by recalling Roy Black's arguments: "When Mr. Black talks about arrogance, about the arrogance of the government to prosecute individuals, what true arrogance is, ladies and gentlemen, is to tell you, in a court of law, that you are to disregard the law. That you are to go and send a message to whomever, you don't like how drug cases are prosecuted. But the reality is, this is how drug cases are prosecuted. For you to disregard your instructions as jurors would be the same arrogance demonstrated by these defendants in continuing to break the laws of drug trafficking. What you are to do in this case is render justice. To render a verdict, to speak the truth."

On Wednesday, February 14, after a four-month trial in which more than 80 witnesses took the stand and a thousand exhibits were entered into evidence, Judge Federico Moreno handed to the jury the case of the United States of America versus Augusto Falcon and Salvador Magluta. So massive and cumbersome were the materials they would have to consider (the trial transcript alone ran to more than 11,000 pages) that instead of sending jurors to a nearby conference room as he normally would, Moreno allowed them to use his entire courtroom.

The previous day the jury had taken the highly unusual step of asking Moreno to sequester them during their deliberations. Several of the jurors told the judge they were afraid they might succumb to temptation or accidentally read about the case or see something about it on the evening news or, worse still, be drawn into discussions of the evidence — any of which would be in violation of the judge's orders. Moreno applauded the jurors' devotion to duty, as did all the attorneys. Krieger noted that in his 47 years as a lawyer, he had never heard of a jury requesting sequestration.

So on the morning deliberations were to begin, the twelve jurors brought to court suitcases and enough clothes for several days. Their first action was the selection of a foreman, and they chose a Hispanic male who works at Miami International Airport. (At the time deliberations began, a majority of the jurors were minorities, black or Hispanic.) "Only one of us had ever served on a jury before," says the foreman, who asked that his name not be disclosed, "and she suggested that we go through each of the sixteen counts separately."
click to enlarge Cover of the February 29, 1996, issue of Miami New Times (Roy Black, standing; Martin Weinberg and Albert Krieger, seated) - MIAMI NEW TIMES PHOTO BY STEVE SATTERWHITE
Cover of the February 29, 1996, issue of Miami New Times (Roy Black, standing; Martin Weinberg and Albert Krieger, seated)
Miami New Times photo by Steve Satterwhite
As they worked their way through the individual charges, they noted which witnesses were being used by the government to support that count. They also took an initial vote to see where they stood on each charge. From the outset, the foreman says, it was evident that a majority of the jurors, himself included, did not trust the government's witnesses. "Maybe a couple of them did tell the truth," he says. "Maybe."

According to the foreman, those initial votes varied slightly from count to count. Sometimes there were six votes for not guilty, four for guilty, and two undecided; other times it was lopsided in favor of acquittal. On only one or two counts did more jurors lean toward voting guilty than not guilty, and those were the counts supported by the testimony of Pedro Rosello. "Even I was initially voting guilty on those," the foreman recalls.

Overall, however, the jurors felt that the government had not made its case, and they adopted many of the defense attorneys' arguments. "The prosecution presented so many witnesses we got inundated with evidence, but it wasn't good evidence," the foreman explains. "It was just a whole bunch of stuff thrown at us about things that didn't make sense, or was inconsistent with other pieces of evidence."

On the second day of deliberations, tensions among the jurors became more pronounced as they began to scrutinize and debate the evidence more thoroughly. It also became clear that several jurors were regretting their decision to be sequestered. Nathaniel Scippio, the oldest juror on the panel, suffered a diabetic seizure owing to the stress.

As paramedics tended to Scippio, Judge Moreno convened an emergency conference with prosecutors and defense attorneys to determine whether they should release him from the jury. Scippio had told the judge he wanted to remain, and prosecutors felt he should be allowed to do so. But defense attorneys, particularly Krieger, argued he should be excused. Noting that he was familiar with diabetes because his family suffered from a history of the disease, Krieger said it would be reckless to place the man in any additional danger. Judge Moreno agreed.

Krieger did not mention that he was pleased to be rid of Scippio, particularly since the remaining alternate juror was a young Hispanic woman who defense attorneys believed would be more sympathetic to their clients. "We liked her better," Krieger now admits.

Those instincts proved fateful. Scippio, it turns out, had been one of the few jurors who believed there was enough evidence to convict. Injecting racial considerations into the deliberations, Scippio, who is black, told the others he thought it was wrong that kingpins such as Falcon and Magluta might go free while so many young blacks, who cannot afford high-powered attorneys, go to prison for dealing relatively small amounts of crack.

But the alternate juror who replaced Scippio had a completely different outlook on the case. According to the foreman, she told her fellow jurors she didn't trust any of the witnesses. She didn't even trust the attorneys — and that went for both prosecutors and defense counsel. As a result she was inclined to vote not guilty. By Thursday afternoon the jury had decided to acquit Falcon and Magluta on five of the sixteen counts. They would deal with the remaining charges the next day.

Three jurors — two men and a woman — wanted to hang tough on the remaining eleven counts and vote guilty. For several hours the group argued. By early Friday afternoon they believed they were hopelessly deadlocked and sent a note to the judge. A short time later Moreno met with the jury members and gently admonished them. He warned that he was going to keep them working all weekend and into the next week if necessary.

When deliberations resumed, the female juror among the three pushing for conviction broke down in tears and announced that her father was in the hospital dying of cancer. She had to see him and couldn't remain sequestered any longer. Recounting her experience, the juror, who asked that her name not be used in this article, says she was emotionally drained and exhausted. She began to have doubts about the evidence and changed her vote from guilty to not guilty on the remaining counts. "We felt like prisoners," she says now. "I'm happy it's over."

Soon the vote was eleven to one for acquittal. The final holdout was a young man who normally works nights but had been unable to do because of the sequestration. Finally he relented as well. "Sign the damn papers," he told the foreman, referring to the verdict forms that would read not guilty.

Friday at 6:30 p.m. the jury sent a note to Judge Moreno saying they had reached a verdict. Calls immediately went out to the prosecutors and defense attorneys. While waiting for everyone to return to the courtroom, the jurors remained silent. "Everything was quiet," the foreman recalls. "Everybody just sat there without saying a word."

As the verdict was announced, the foreman observed the reaction of Christopher Clark and his fellow prosecutors, who stared at the jurors in amazement. "They way they looked at us," the foreman says, "it was as if we were guilty."

"If we weren't sequestered, we probably would have stayed divided forever," says the female juror, whose father died five days after the verdict. It never occurred to her to ask the judge to excuse her because of her father's illness. She says she felt it was her obligation to stay until a decision was reached.

In the days following the verdict, the foreman says he and other jurors became the objects of harassment and ridicule from friends and co-workers. "People keep asking me, 'How could you put those guys on the street?'" the foreman recounts. "I don't know, maybe I did put two guys on the street who don't belong there. I don't feel good about that, but we went by what the government put in front of us. And that's all we could do."

This past Friday, after spending 52 months in prison (mostly in solitary confinement), Sal Magluta walked out of downtown Miami's federal detention center a relatively free man. For a week following the verdict, the government sought to keep Magluta and Falcon in jail, citing federal money-laundering charges still pending against them in Jacksonville. But a judge granted Magluta bail, noting that he had already served more time awaiting trial than he could possibly receive even if he were found guilty of money laundering.

Falcon, however, remained in jail, held without bond on an eight-year-old weapons charge. "They are obsessed," Roy Black says of prosecutors' efforts to find any excuse possible to keep Falcon and Magluta in jail. "They were obsessed before the trial, during the trial, and it carries on now. I think there is no doubt about it."

That obsession, or anger, spilled out publicly last week when prosecutors and federal agents released details of two plea-bargain discussions that took place prior to the trial. Under the terms of the most recent offer, Falcon and Magluta were reportedly offering to turn over $25 million in cash and 1000 kilos of cocaine in return for a guilty plea and a promise of a light sentence. After the acquittal, prosecutor Pat Sullivan told the Miami Herald: "Now they have $25 million to spend and 1000 kilos to peddle."

"I was very upset reading that," Martin Weinberg says. "I think it is a very bad precedent for the U.S. Attorney's Office to try to publicly embarrass the jury or undermine a jury's verdict with loose talk about whether or not there were plea discussions. Why would lawyers ever again engage in frank discussions with the U.S. Attorney's Office if they knew that at the end of a trial, if the government loses, they were going to put them on the front page of a newspaper?"

Asked about prosecutor Clark's earlier assertion that Falcon and Magluta have "hundreds of millions of dollars" stashed away in foreign bank accounts, Albert Krieger says simply: "More power to them if they have it. It matters not a thing to me."

Nor should the public be upset by the verdict. "I don't think it has any effect on life in America if there was a conviction in this case or an acquittal," Krieger says. "One of the things I was doing during some of the boring moments of the trial was trying to extrapolate from the various seizures how many people on a given day would have to be sniffing cocaine in order to use up all this stuff. And you run into millions of people. If millions of people are using cocaine, then we have such a widespread drug culture that it doesn't matter if it was Sal and Willy bringing it in or anyone else. Someone is going to be bringing it in because nature abhors a vacuum.

"Would Willy or Sal go back into the business?" Krieger asks rhetorically. "My personal opinion, assuming they have committed crimes in the past, is no. They've come too close to the jaws of the tiger. They are not going back into the jungle.

Originally published in the February 29, 1996, issue of Miami New Times. Click here to return to "Everything There Is to Know..."
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Jim DeFede
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