Miami Jury Acquits Pair of Major Cocaine Trafficking Charges; Jury Foreperson Cites Use of Informants
Prosecutors expressed shock after a Florida jury delivered a not guilty verdict in the case to two men accused of leading a $2 billion cocaine smuggling and distribution operation ("Acquittal in Miami Stirs Debate Over Use of Informant Testimony," Drug Enforcement Report, February 23, 1996, p. 5; Associated Press, "Prosecutors Stunned as Jury Clears Duo in $2.1 Billion Cocaine Scheme," Philadelphia Inquirer, February 18, 1996, p. A24).
The jury declared Salvador "Sal" Magluta and Augusto "Willie" Falcon not guilty of smuggling 75 tons of cocaine into the U.S. between 1978 and 1991. Prosecutors had argued that the pair directed one of the largest cocaine smuggling and distribution operations in the country.
"I can't recall a case with this much evidence that was this well presented," U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey told the Associated Press. "I am shocked by the result."
The jury foreperson, speaking to the press after the trial, said one of the key factors in the decision to acquit was that the prosecution had presented testimony from 27 people who said they worked for the pair running drugs and laundering money. Defense attorneys pointed out inconsistencies in the testimony and argued that the informants were lying in order to strike deals with the government.
Prosecutors were so sure of their case they had turned down plea agreements offered by the defense. In addition to the informant testimony, they presented seized accounting books documenting shipments of cocaine to the U.S., recorded telephone conversations, and seized drug and cash evidence. A police officer testified that Magluta tried to give him 1,000 kilos of cocaine if the officer would release him.
After the verdicts, defense attorneys in Miami called for prosecutors to examine their use of informants. Albert Krieger, the attorney representing Falcon, called the use of informants "disgusting" and "corrupting." "It makes our criminal justice system an invitation for the successful dishonest criminal to buy his or her way out of jail by testimony," he said. Krieger and Roy Black, the lawyer representing Magluta, are two of the nation's top criminal defense attorneys.
Although they were cleared of the cocaine smuggling charges, the two remain in jail with pending money laundering charges in Jacksonville, Florida. Krieger and Black say they are working to get the two released, as they have been in jail since 1991 and would not face more than five years if convicted on the money laundering charges.