In June, one of South Florida's most infamous cocaine cowboys was finishing his 20-year prison sentence and yearning for a taste of freedom.
But instead of being released to his family in Miami, Willie Falcon was detained by immigration authorities who sought to deport him to his native Cuba because he's a convicted felon without U.S. citizenship.
Falcon's lawyers tried to block his removal. They asserted that his clandestine role in helping finance a CIA-backed plot in the 1990s to kill Cuban president Fidel Castro would lead to his death by the government if he were sent back to Cuba.
An immigration judge, however, rejected his petition last week to stay in the United States under an international human rights treaty, the United Nations Convention Against Torture, according to sources familiar with the decision. The 1984 U.N. treaty forbids nations to transport people to any country where there is reason to believe they will be tortured, among other provisions.
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Falcon’s setback does not mean he will be deported to Cuba immediately.
His immigration lawyers, Steven Goldstein and Ada Pozo, are expected to appeal Immigration Judge Agnelis Reese’s ruling. She has a history of denying torture petitions such as Falcon’s and ordering deportations.
Falcon’s attorneys declined to comment about the judge’s decision. A copy of her order was not available, because the Justice Department has denied the Miami Herald’s public records request to release filings in Falcon’s case without the consent of both sides.
Amanda St. Jean, a spokeswoman for the Miami-based Executive Office of Immigration Review representing the southeast, declined to comment about the judge’s ruling.
In his bid to block his deportation to Cuba, Falcon disclosed a secret about his past partnership with notorious fellow cocaine cowboy Sal Magluta. After the high school dropouts became the Colombian cartels’ go-to smugglers at the peak of the Miami Vice era, they donated substantial drug-trafficking profits in the mid-1990s to Cuban exile paramilitary groups aiming to kill 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 faces the U.S. deportation order to Cuba after completing his 20-year sentence in mid-June on a money-laundering plea agreement. Ever since, he has been detained in a Louisiana immigration facility.
Falcon, 62, who was born in Cuba and holds the status of a lawful permanent resident in the United States, has been treated differently from other Cuban nationals convicted of felony crimes in this country.
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 Raúl 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 in 2016.
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 and Magluta — who also was born in Cuba — became close friends while attending Miami Senior High School. Together they built a South Florida empire as cocaine smugglers for the Medellín and Cali cartels in a deadly drug trade that played out on Miami’s streets. They boasted a flashy lifestyle of ocean-racing boats, nightclubs 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.
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 the National Democratic Unity Party, known by the Spanish acronym 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.