Gustavo Falcon, a “Cocaine Cowboy” who hid from the feds for 26 years, finally pleaded guilty Thursday to drug trafficking in Miami federal court — where his older brother, Willie, and his partner, Sal Magluta, met their demise long ago.
The younger Falcon, now 56, was arrested last April by U.S. marshals who captured him in Orlando after he took a long bike ride with his wife. Falcon, initially suspected of being in a foreign country such as Mexico or Colombia, was arrested on April 12 in the Kissimmee area where he had been living with family members under fake names since the late 1990s.
Falcon was indicted along with his older brother, Magluta and other associates back in 1991 on charges of smuggling tons of cocaine into the United States, ending an era that was captured for better or worse on the slick TV drug drama, “Miami Vice.” But Falcon disappeared instead of standing trial with “The Boys,” the nickname for Willie and Sal, who beat the criminal justice system by bribing three jurors to win acquittals in the mid-1990s. After that travesty, prosecutors retried them on drug-related money-laundering charges and sent them to prison for decades.
Never miss a local story.
Sal Magluta, convicted at trial, is serving a life sentence at a Supermax prison in Colorado. Willie Falcon, who pleaded guilty and served a 20-year sentence, was released from prison last June but is now fighting a deportation order to his native Cuba because he never became a U.S. citizen.
On Thursday, Gustavo Falcon pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine in a multiple-count indictment prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Clark and others. In a statement filed with his plea agreement, Falcon was held accountable for arranging a 400-kilo shipment of Colombian cocaine from Southern California to South Florida in late 1989. Prosecutors said he was responsible for tractor-trailer shipments totaling 3,000 kilos of cocaine that were stored at an associate’s South Florida home through the early 1990s.
But those drug shipments represented a fraction of the “extraordinarily prolific cocaine-trafficking organization” led by Willie Falcon and Magluta, Clark said in court. A pair of red day-timers used by Magluta as cocaine ledgers, which were seized on October 15, 1991, from one of his properties, showed the “reach” of the organization, he said. Between January 1990 and October 1991, the red day-timers reflected the distribution of 8,921 kilos of cocaine — almost nine tons — for a total price of $142,509,800.
Despite the legendary status of the Falcon-Magluta syndicate, Gustavo Falcon’s change of plea before U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno seemed anti-climactic after years of life on the lam. Falcon, represented by defense attorney Howard Srebnick, faces up to 20 years in prison at his April 11 sentencing. But because he agreed to plead guilty instead of going to trial, Falcon could end up receiving between 11 and 14 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines — if Moreno sticks to that range.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do because I don’t know where you fit in,” said Moreno, who presided over the initial trial of Willie Falcon and Magluta.
One significant concession that Srebnick obtained in his client’s plea deal is a guarantee that prosecutors won’t charge Gustavo Falcon for being a fugitive from justice for 26 years or his wife and their two grown children with harboring him.
Beginning last April, deputy U.S. marshals had been watching Gustavo Falcon’s rental home in Kissimmee, just south of Orlando. They spotted him and his wife as they went on a 40-mile bicycle ride on the morning of April 12 — sometimes losing the couple, then finding them again because bike helmets and sunglasses made it difficult to identify the fugitive. Eventually, the deputies nabbed him at an intersection in Kissimmee that afternoon.
The U.S. marshals got a big assist in the high-profile fugitive case from the Miami-Dade Police Department, which was running fake names and addresses on Florida databases that Gustavo Falcon had used over the years.
Falcon had obtained fake driver’s licenses for himself, and his wife, Amelia, in September of 1991, Golden said. The parents went by the names of Luis Andre Reiss and Maria Reiss, he said. In addition, Falcon had obtained fraudulent Social Security cards for himself and his wife.
Falcon and his family were renting a Kissimmee home on Cavendish Drive, which the marshals had under surveillance. Golden said deputy marshals from Miami and Orlando spotted Falcon and his wife for the first time as they were departing on the bike ride and arrested them a few blocks from their rented home.
Gustavo Falcon was last seen in South Florida shortly before he and several other defendants were named in the initial indictment charging brother Willie and partner Sal with conspiring to import and distribute 75 tons of cocaine worth $2 billion between 1978 and 1991.
Willie and Sal, both Miami Senior High School dropouts, were recognized as kingpins among the Cocaine Cowboys who turned South Florida into a deadly hub of drug trafficking in the 1980s. The partners, who grew up in Miami’s Cuban-American community, used their ocean-racing speedboats to haul loads of Colombian cocaine from the Caribbean to the shores of South Florida.
But the feds’ “criminal enterprise” case against Willie and Sal went terribly awry.
In 1996, Falcon and Magluta were acquitted of all drug-trafficking charges — but there was a sinister explanation for the shocking outcome that would soon surface after the trial. The U.S. attorney’s office and FBI would discover that Falcon and Magluta had bought off three jury members, including the foreman, to win their case.
In the aftermath, prosecutors Pat Sullivan and Michael Davis stepped up the investigation, targeting not only The Boys but even more of the associates in their network, including family members and lawyers.
Magluta, always recognized as the mastermind of the organization, was retried and convicted of drug-related money-laundering charges in 2002. Magluta, 63, was sentenced to 205 years in prison, which was reduced to 195 years in 2006.