Miami-Dade County

Imprisoned Cocaine Cowboys hitman appears in court

Jorge Rivera Ayala, suspected of 35 drug slayings and convicted in three, made a return to Miami-Dade Criminal Court Thursday as he seeks to get his life prison sentence reduced.

A Miami-Dade judge, however, held off on ruling whether Ayala, a Cocaine Cowboys hitman, can explore claims prosecutors long ago promised to help the convicted killer get out of prison.

Ayala, 48, is a notorious figure in Miami crime lore, and his testimony was key in the case against Griselda Blanco, the savage South Florida drug kingpin of the 1970s and ’80s.

But the case against Blanco, known as “the Godmother,” was dealt a damaging blow when it emerged that Ayala, from jail, had been engaging in phone sex with secretaries at the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.

Blanco wound up serving nearly two decades behind bars before her 2004 release and deportation to Colombia. She was gunned down last fall at a Medellin butcher shop.

Ayala was a feared gunman for Blanco’s organization; her henchmen’s penchant for wild gun battles in public earned them the nickname “Cocaine Cowboys.”

Ayala retold his story in the popular 2006 documentary, Cocaine Cowboys.

He pleaded guilty in 1993 to three murders and was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Last year, Florida’s parole commission denied him a shot at leaving prison.

In April, Ayala’s lawyer, Jim Lewis, filed a motion for a reduction of his sentence, saying prosecutors had reneged on a promise to help him seek parole if he cooperated against Blanco and the Colombian Cartel.

In court Thursday, Assistant State Attorney Penny Brill, head of the office’s legal unit, pointed out that the plea deal only indicated that prosecutors “might” help Ayala if he cooperated.

The state attorney’s office is opposing the move.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Migna Sanchez-Llorens seemed to agree, noting that nothing in the court record showed prosecutors promised to go to bat for Ayala, 48.

“Am I not limited to what’s been presented before me?” she asked Lewis.

Lewis said the case was “unique” because prosecutors had made a private “handshake deal” with Ayala to help him seek parole.

“Twenty-five years ago things were different,” Lewis said. “Things were done by a handshake.”

Lewis is asking to hold an “evidentiary hearing,” in which former prosecutor Cathy Vogel, now the elected state attorney in Monroe County, would testify about Ayala’s cooperation and the plea deal.

He also wants to call to testify former statewide prosecutor Cynthia Imperato, now a Broward Circuit Judge, and Michael Band, a defense attorney who was head of the Miami-Dade state attorney’s major crimes unit. Both worked on the Blanco case.

Lewis also wants to call retired Miami-Dade homicide Sgt. Al Singleton, as well as Ayala’s former defense lawyer, Hilliard Moldof.

Sanchez-Llorens will rule Aug. 22 whether to allow the hearing.

“I think [Miami-Dade prosecutors] are embarrassed that he was responsible for so many killings and the notoriety he received,” Lewis told reporters after Thursday’s hearing. “Secondly, I think they really have a bad taste in their mouths for what happened with state attorney’s secretaries 20 years and how that played out and they blame Jorge ... at some point, everybody’s got to get over that.”