Revisiting the Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta case
Gustavo Falcon, the Cocaine Cowboy who got away for 26 years, was transferred to Miami from Orlando on Monday by the U.S. marshals who captured him nearly two weeks ago after the accused drug trafficker 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.
The 55-year-old Falcon — younger brother of Augusto “Willie” Falcon and one-time partner with Salvador “Sal” Magluta, both legendary cocaine smugglers during the Miami Vice era — was scheduled to have his first appearance in Miami federal court on Tuesday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan Goodman. Falcon was indicted along with his older brother and Magluta back in 1991 on drug conspiracy, possession and distribution charges.
But Gustavo 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 would retry them on drug-related money-laundering charges and send them to prison for decades.
Gustavo Falcon, in custody at the Miami Federal Detention Center, has hired a prominent criminal defense attorney, Howard Srebnick.
Deputy U.S. marshals had been watching Gustavo Falcon’s rental home in Kissimmee, just south of Orlando, earlier this month. 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.
Falcon was booked into the Orange County jail. Falcon, also known as “Taby,” agreed in federal court not to challenge his removal from Orlando to Miami, paving the way for his transfer here.
The U.S. marshals recently 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, said marshals spokesman, Barry Golden.
A police forensic artist was running images of Cuban males over the age of 50 in Miami and saw a fake driver’s license with a photo that looked like Gustavo Falcon. “The forensic artist is trained in identifying faces and age progression, so when the fraudulent image of Falcon popped up, she immediately knew it was him,” Golden said.
She then forwarded the fake license information and photo to police investigators who had worked on the case, and they confirmed the license was obtained by Falcon. Miami-Dade police contacted the U.S. marshals about the bogus license, which had a Hialeah address. But deputy marshals later learned that the license was obtained in the Kissimmee area, where Falcon had been involved in an accident in 2013. Deputy marshals then trained their investigation on that area.
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 the 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 was indicted in 1991 on charges of conspiring to import and distribute 75 tons of cocaine worth $2 billion with his brother Willie, partner Magluta and about a dozen other defendants between 1978 and 1991.
Willie and Sal, who dropped out of Miami Senior High School, were recognized as kingpins among the legendary 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 Colombian cocaine from the Caribbean to the shores of South Florida.
The feds’ “criminal enterprise” case against Willie and Sal, who were accused not only of drug trafficking but also hiring Colombian hit men to kill former associates who snitched on them, seemed solid on all fronts. But the high-profile Miami trial 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.
Prosecutors 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, 62, was sentenced to 205 years in prison, which was reduced to 195 years in 2006.
After his partner’s retrial, Willie Falcon struck a plea deal in 2003 on similar money-laundering charges with Miami federal prosecutors Pat Sullivan and Michael Davis. Falcon, 61, sentenced to 20 years in prison, is scheduled to be released in June.