Myles Malman, who led prosecution of Manuel Noriega, dies at 67

Myles Malman
Myles Malman

Myles Malman may not have been a marathon man, but he sure lived like one.

As an attorney, he tried months-long cases, most notably the drug-trafficking prosecution of Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega in Miami. For clients, he traveled to New York, Russia and Israel. And as an older father, he stayed in shape on the tennis court to keep up with his young son and daughter.

Malman, a New York native who worked for the city's legendary district attorney, Robert Morgenthau, before moving to South Florida in the 1980s to become a federal prosecutor, died of brain cancer on Sunday at his home in Hollywood.

Before his death at age 67, Malman had lived long enough to see a movie in which he appeared — American Hustle — nominated for a Best Picture Oscar. He got a nonspeaking part after he gave some advice to director David O. Russell, who conferred with Malman about a scene filmed on location in the Boston area.

But it was in the courtroom where Malman made his mark, gaining a reputation as a formidable but fair attorney.

Veteran Miami lawyer Norman Moscowitz praised Malman as an “effective and tenacious advocate” as both a prosecutor and defense attorney.

“He was a decent and honorable person and that always came across in court, which is why jurors liked him so much,” said Moscowitz, who worked with him in the U.S. attorney’s office and later on defense cases.

“When he became a defense attorney, he continued to be well liked by the prosecutors,” said a longtime friend, Miami lawyer Michael Pasano. He came to know Malman when he handed him the complex Colombian money-laundering case known as Operation Swordfish in the mid-1980s, when both worked as federal prosecutors.

“He combined that affability with an intelligence and talent and great sense of humor,” said Pasano, who played tennis with Malman weekly and spent seven months by his side as they both defended two brothers at a 2006 criminal fraud trial in Orlando.

In early 1990, the Miami Herald put Malman in the spotlight when he was named deputy chief of the Manuel Noriega trial team, which included fellow prosecutors Pat Sullivan and Guy Lewis.

After a six-month trial, the Panamanian dictator was found guilty in April 1992 on eight of 10 counts in a drug-smuggling and racketeering indictment. Malman delivered the closing argument for the prosecution.

But the conviction came only after the prosecutors and Drug Enforcement Administration agents labored long and hard over a two-year period. Prosecutors acknowledged that winning a conviction would have been immeasurably more difficult if they had gone to trial in the early months of 1990 because they needed a longer time to gather evidence and line up all their witnesses.

“We would have been like a quarterback with four 300-pound linemen running in our backfield,” Malman said at the time. “It really would have been a scramble.”

By the time he was selected for the Noriega trial team, Malman had already solidified his credentials in South Florida as the lead prosecutor in the notoriously long Operation Swordfish case, which targeted members of the Cali cocaine cartel in Colombia.

Malman successfully prosecuted six people in the Swordfish case. Two of them, Marlene Navarro and Bertha Yolanda Paez, were convicted in June 1987 after what was, at the time, South Florida's longest federal criminal trial — 9 1/2 months.

“I just feel a sense of relief,” Malman said at the time.

In prosecuting the complicated Swordfish case, Malman helped create legal precedents. The drug-conspiracy convictions of Navarro and Paez were largely based on evidence of their money-laundering activities.

Fort Lauderdale attorney Jon Rosenthal, who became partners with Malman 17 years ago, described him as the “the consummate trial lawyer.” Malman’s wife, Jill, who also is a lawyer, remains a partner at the firm.

“He was respected by judges, co-counsel and his adversaries, and well liked by everyone,” Rosenthal said. “He was truly a people person, and had an uncanny ability to connect with jurors.”

“He was one of those few persons who was immediately known just by a single name,” Rosenthal said. “All you had to do was to say ‘Myles’ and everyone instantly knew exactly who you were talking about.

“I am thankful to have been able to learn from such a wonderful mentor, and I already miss him terribly.”

Malman, who was born in New York and raised outside the city, graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson Unversity, where he played on the varsity baseball team. In 2010 the university inducted Malman into its Pinnacle Society, the highest honor Fairleigh Dickinson bestows upon its alumni.

He served in the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1969 in the military police with the First Air Cavalry Division. Upon his return, he attended New York University School of Law. From 1974 to 1984, he was an assistant district attorney for Manhattan.

One of Malman’s closest friends said he got to know him after they both contracted hepatitis while serving in Vietnam. Howard Shrut, a Boston businessman, said he met Malman in an Army hospital in Japan.

The young men bonded, he said, because they were both in the Army, from the Northeast and Jewish. They took weekend leaves together to Tokyo and agreed to look each other up when they returned stateside.

Shrut said Malman used to joke, “I thank the mosquito for giving us hepatitis so we could meet.”

Over the years, Malman and his family would regularly spend the Fourth of July and New Year’s holidays at Shrut’s vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Shrut said that after Malman was diagnosed with brain cancer last summer, his friend still tried to visit even as he battled the disease.

Said Shrut: “It was a special place for him and us.”

Malman’s wife, Jill, has planned a private service and burial on Martha’s Vineyard for Friday. A remembrance and celebration of Malman’s life will be held later in the year.

Malman is survived by his wife and their children, Parker and Mallory, his sister, Sharon Miller, his nephew, Michael Miller, and his niece, Jennifer Rose.

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