The reputations of Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta as legendary cocaine cowboys precede them everywhere.
What’s not well known about the duo who dropped out of high school and became the Colombian cartels’ go-to smugglers is this: In the mid-1990s at the peak of the Miami Vice era, they donated substantial drug-trafficking profits to Cuban exile paramilitary groups aiming to kill Fidel Castro, according to former law enforcement sources and people with knowledge of their donations.
While Magluta is serving a 195-year sentence in prison after being convicted on drug-related charges, Falcon is facing a U.S. deportation order to Cuba after completing a 20-year sentence in June on a money-laundering plea agreement. Ever since, he has been detained in a Louisiana immigration facility.
Falcon, 61, who was born in Cuba and never became a U.S. citizen, now plans to mount a defense to block his deportation as a convicted foreign national at an immigration hearing on Thursday. But details of his legal fight with the U.S. government are unavailable because immigration court records are not public and his lawyers have not returned calls or messages.
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The federal government’s decision to deport Falcon is unusual. More than 28,000 Cuban nationals convicted of felony crimes in the United States have not been deported to Cuba because the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with the communist country until 2015. Of those Cuban felons released into U.S. society, some 2,000 were involved in murders in Florida and other states since the early 1960s, according to federal records.
Falcon’s conviction was for money laundering related to drug trafficking, not violent crime. His immigration case — and the possibility that he could be deported to Cuba — has resurrected the history of his and Magluta’s discreet financial support of anti-Castro militant activities in South Florida, including paying for weaponry, supplies and training in the Everglades. Those covert activities, including plots to assassinate Castro, were secretly backed by the CIA and spanned the Cold War and its aftermath, according to published reports and people familiar with the assassination attempts.
People close to Falcon, including his former criminal defense lawyer, say the regime of Raul Castro would view him as a mortal enemy of the Cuban government because more than two decades ago he clandestinely helped finance efforts to kill Fidel Castro, who died last year.
Willie Falcon was a true anti-Castro advocate — viscerally.
Rick Diaz, Falcon’s former defense attorney
Granma, the Cuban communist newspaper, has published articles over the years identifying Falcon and Magluta among many exiles involved in plots to kill Castro, picking up the intelligence from Cuba’s spies in Miami’s exile community.
Falcon’s former defense attorney, Rick Diaz, said he was a passionate believer in the long and frustrating exile struggle to topple Castro’s government. “Willie Falcon was a true anti-Castro advocate — viscerally,” Diaz told the Miami Herald.
Frank Quintero, a Miami defense attorney who has represented members of anti-Castro groups such as Brigade 2506, Alpha 66 and others, said the Cuban government “would love to get their hands on him.”
“Why the U.S. government would do this knowing that their hands are not clean is beyond any kind of reason,” Quintero said. “Under the present Cuban government, any deportation of political activists or anti-Castro activists, knowing that they will be imprisoned and executed, amounts to the gravest of human rights violations.”
Falcon and Magluta — who also was born in Cuba — became close friends in the Cuban-American community while attending Miami Senior High School. Together they built a South Florida empire as cocaine smugglers for the Medellin and Cali cartels in a deadly drug trade that played out on Miami’s streets. They boasted a flashy lifestyle of ocean-racing boats, nightclubbing and trips to Las Vegas. But while they amassed a fortune, the Boys, as they were dubbed, became public enemy No. 1 for the feds.
In 1991, Falcon and Magluta were indicted along with about a dozen associates on charges of conspiring to import and distribute 75 tons of cocaine worth $2 billion dating back to 1978.
The feds’ “criminal enterprise” case against Willie and Sal seemed like the end of the road. But in 1996, the high-profile Miami trial ended with implausible acquittals for Falcon and Magluta. After the trial, the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI discovered that Falcon and Magluta had bought off the jury foreman to win their case.
Behind the scenes, even while in custody during this period, Falcon and Magluta were collaborating with fellow narcotraffickers who had been financing militant Cuban exile missions to kill Castro, according to former law enforcement sources and people familiar with their contributions.
The colleague who sought their assistance was Antonio Garcia Perez, a Miami drug trafficker who had actively supported militant exile groups such as PUND, the National Democratic Unity Party and its missions against Castro. Among PUND’s members was Luis Posada Carriles, a notorious CIA operative who devoted his life to trying to kill Castro.
Perez donated significant sums of drug proceeds to PUND and other militant exile groups for training in the Everglades and for Castro assassination plots, according to former law enforcement sources and others familiar with his past.
But after his arrest on trafficking charges in Texas in 1994, Perez’s well of funds started running dry — though his contributions to the CIA-backed, anti-Castro activities helped him obtain a 10-year sentence instead of life in prison in the Texas case, those sources said.
As his resources dwindled, Perez enlisted the help of Falcon and Magluta to finance militant exile schemes against Castro. Perez — along with an infamous CIA operative named Frank Sturgis, one of the five Watergate burglars — collaborated with intermediaries of Falcon and Magluta to collect large sums of cash for the cause, according to sources and court records.
More than 28,000 Cuban nationals convicted of felony crimes in the United States have not been deported to Cuba because the U.S. had no diplomatic relations with the communist country until 2015.
When Magluta was tried a second time on drug-related money-laundering charges in 2001, his cousin, Alfred Alonso, testified about meeting with Magluta and Falcon while they were in custody at the federal detention center in Miami in the mid-1990s.
Alonso said two men met with Magluta and Falcon and discussed raising money for the anti-Castro mission. Alonso identified one of them as Aldo Gonzalez, a private investigator for the Boys. Alonso described the other as a Cuban “freedom fighter” but did not recall his name. According to sources, the second man was Justo Regalado Borges, a top-ranking member of PUND.
At the 2001 trial, Alonso testified that after the two men met with Magluta and Falcon at the detention center in late 1995, he delivered a package of cash to an unknown person for the anti-Castro campaign.
At Magluta’s trial, federal prosecutor Pat Sullivan asked Alonso whether he delivered the package to a representative of a Cuban exile group, an anti-Castro affiliate.
Alonso answered that he did, explaining he was present back in 1995 when the representative visited the detention center.
Sullivan asked him whether he knew what the cash payment was for, and Alonso answered: "The hit for Fidel Castro."
Sullivan then asked: "That was to support freedom fighting activities?"
"That is correct," said Alonso, who received immunity for his testimony.
On cross examination, Magluta's defense attorney, Jack Denaro, asked Alonso about the meeting at the detention center.
“And what did they discuss?” Denaro asked Alonso.
“About knocking down Fidel,” Alonso testified. “I think Fidel was going to one of these Central American countries, and they were going to get someone to knock him down.”
To make the point crystal clear for jurors, Denaro asked Alonso whether the visitor to the detention center “was soliciting” money to “help his organization.”
Alonso’s response: “That’s correct.”