A man investigators call the last of Miami's "cocaine cowboys" appeared in federal court Tuesday after 26 years as a fugitive and will plead not guilty to drug trafficking conspiracy next month, his attorney said.
Gustavo Falcon, 55, said nothing at a brief hearing but appeared to have grown a moustache and goatee. His hands and ankles were shackled and he wore the standard-issue tan jail jumpsuit. Falcon was arrested earlier this month in a quiet suburb of Orlando, where he had been living under a phony name with his wife.
"The passage of time does not lessen the government's commitment to justice," Acting Miami U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg said in a statement. "Those who are charged federally cannot evade the law."
Defense attorney Howard Srebnick said Falcon will plead not guilty May 11 to the drug smuggling charge, which carries a potential life sentence. Srebnick agreed with prosecutors that Falcon will remain jailed without bail.
"We'll be back in court on May 11 to enter a plea of not guilty and demand a trial by jury," Srebnick told reporters outside the courthouse. "Between now and then, we'll have an opportunity to review the charges. I have no feel for the case right now."
Falcon vanished in 1991 when he, his older brother Augusto "Willie" Falcon, Salvador "Sal" Magluta and seven others were charged in a major federal grand jury indictment. The gang was accused of smuggling at least 75 tons of cocaine into the U.S. and making some $2 billion in the hyperviolent 1980s "Miami Vice" era.
During all those years as a fugitive, investigators figured Falcon had fled overseas. Then U.S. Marshals caught a break: Records from a 2013 car accident in Kissimmee, Florida, included a driver's license issued to someone named Luis Reiss. That name traced back to a house in Hialeah, Florida, linked to Falcon.
Investigators were able to locate Falcon, living as Reiss, in the Kissimmee rental house, where they arrested him April 12 while on a bike ride with his wife. Falcon was then transferred to Miami to face the original 1991 indictment. His wife was not arrested.
His attorney said Falcon seemed in good spirits and ready for whatever comes next.
"He was OK," Srebnick said.
Falcon's brother and Magluta were acquitted of all charges at their first trial in 1996. Later, it emerged that the pair had bought off witnesses and bribed the jury foreman.
Magluta, now 62, was tried a second time, convicted of drug-related money laundering in 2002 and sentenced to 205 years in prison. That was reduced to 195 years in 2006.
Augusto Falcon, now 61, then accepted a plea deal in 2003 on similar charges. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison and is scheduled for release on June 17.