MIAMI (AP) — After 26 years on the lam, a man dubbed by investigators as one of Miami’s last “cocaine cowboys” pleaded not guilty Friday to decades-old drug trafficking charges that could land him in prison for life.
The plea was entered at a brief hearing Friday by Howard Srebnick, the attorney for Gustavo Falcon who stood silently nearby in a tan prison jumpsuit and shackles. Falcon, 55, is charged in a 1991 indictment claiming he was part of a major cocaine smuggling operation during the 1980s.
Falcon vanished in 1991 when he, his older brother Augusto “Willie” Falcon, Salvador “Sal” Magluta and others were originally charged. The gang purportedly smuggled at least 75 tons of cocaine into the U.S., earning some $2 billion during the hyper-violent “Miami Vice” era.
Falcon was arrested by U.S. marshals in April near Orlando, where he lived under the fake name Luis Reiss with his wife. Investigators tracked down Falcon after the false name surfaced in a 2013 car accident near Kissimmee, Florida, and was linked to a house in Hialeah, Florida, once owned by Falcon.
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Falcon was arrested April 12 in Kissimmee while on a bike ride with his wife, Amelia, who was not charged. Authorities were surprised to find him living in a Florida rental house because other information pointed to him likely hiding out overseas.
“Nobody thought Gustavo Falcon was still in the United States,” Marshals Service spokesman Barry Golden said at the time.
The case was sensational from the start, especially after Augusto Falcon and Magluta were acquitted at their 1996 trial. It turned out that the pair had bought off witnesses and at least one member of the jury, who was sentenced to 17 years in prison after admitting taking a $400,000 bribe.
Magluta was tried a second time and convicted of drug-related money laundering in 2002, receiving a 205-year prison sentence later cut down to 195 years.
Augusto Falcon took a plea deal in 2003 and was sentenced to 20 years behind bars. He is scheduled for release from a Kentucky prison on June 17, according to the Bureau of Prisons.
Gustavo Falcon’s current trial date is July 24 but that is likely to be delayed since the defense is only beginning to go through the government’s evidence.
Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt