Cuban-born Willie Falcon was a cocaine kingpin in the 1980s who made billions from his base in Miami after dropping out of high school. At the peak of the Miami Vice-era, he became the go-to smuggler for the Colombian cartels, ferrying cocaine from the Bahamas to Florida in his fleet of speedboats. Eventually he was busted and sentenced to prison, despite a protracted legal battle, and just recently got out after completing a 20 year sentence for money laundering related drug activity.
During his incarceration it was made public that Falcon was secretly funding CIA-run, Cuban exile paramilitary groups with drug money. The ultimate goal being the assassination of Fidel Castro. A goal that was in line with the US government’s policy at the time. But now with freedom in grasp, that same government is trying to deport him back to Cuba, where he will likely be killed upon arrival. An enemy of the state, who dared to go against the revered Cuban icon and leader. From Miami drug baron to prisoner in the War on Drugs to political refugee, the man known as Willie Falcon has lived a charmed and dangerous life.
“Falcon started dealing cocaine in the mid-1970s.” Scott Deitche, the author of The Silent Don: The Criminal World of Santo Trafficante Jr., says. “At that time a new wave of younger Cuban gangsters were moving in to replace the older generation bolita bankers and drug kingpins, many of whom came over in 1959 after Castro took over Cuba. In Miami these early Cuban gangsters worked closely with Mafioso, like Tampa boss Santo Trafficante Jr.
“But by the late-70s, the Cubans in the drug trade were partnering up more with Colombians. Falcon was a high school dropout and started dealing small-time. He was first arrested in 1979, but was let out while his case was being appealed. He, and [his partner Sal] Magluta, graduated to working directly with Colombia suppliers. Through some contacts he knew at a local bank, he was able to leverage those financial connections to grow his drug empire.”
By the mid 1980’s they’d built an empire founded on cocaine, which included real estate, racing boats, exotic cars, and legitimate businesses to “clean” the millions of dirty dollars. The racing boats weren’t just for fun in the sun either; it was a clever “hidden in plain sight” scheme. Racing boats were often used to run dope from the Bahamas to Florida, therefore making racing boats part of their “legitimate” endeavors was a smart way to perhaps “throw off” any suspicion of why they owned so many racing boats, Christian Cipollini, the author of Lucky Luciano: Mysterious Tales of a Gangland Legend, relates.
“The offshore powerboat racing circuit was a magnet for drug smugglers in the late-70s and 80s.” Deitche says. “Many of the biggest smugglers were also champion racers, akin to how NASCAR was formed out of the Prohibition-era drivers who evaded the law. Falcon and Malguta raced under the Team Seahawk name in South Florida. Flacon also raced under the name Team Cougar. Some boats, like a 26″ racing boat that was for sale on Craigslist a few years back, were built specifically for Falcon.” Avid participants in the sport, Magluta won a number of national championships and Falcon won a Florida Keys offshore race in the mid-1980s. Partying in the aftermath.
They would rent out whole floors at the infamous Mutiny Hotel and throw wild parties with women galore, cases of Dom Perignon, and a cocaine supply that never ran out, Roben Farzad relates inHotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami. The drug lords became royalty at the hotel. Treated like rock stars and when Brian De Palma wanted to film at the Mutiny for scenes in the Al Pacino film Scarface (1983), he was refused and had to simulate his own Mutiny, which was represented in the Tony Montana flick as the Babylon Club.
“Magluta and Falcon, aka Los Muchachos or ‘The Boys,’” Cipollini says. “Were the living breathing manifestation of what a film like Scarface or a show like Miami Vice was built upon. Two Cuban immigrants in Miami [that] quickly begin to live the American ‘Underworld’ Dream. According to one of the prosecutors at the time, Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta were the reigning ‘Kings of Cocaine’ in Miami and responsible for importing 75 tons of the high priced powder in the United States from the late 1970’s up to the time of their arrest in 1991.”
In one of the most high profile drug cases in Florida history the drug barons, who prosecutors said made over 2 billion dollars, beat the government at their own game in 1996, paying almost half-a-million to buy a jury foreman to make sure they didn’t get convicted. The prosecutors were mad, but decided to get even instead. Eventually convicting the pair, but Falcon ended up with the sweetheart deal, pleading out for only 20 calendars. His partner Magluta went to trial and lost, getting sentenced to 205 years in prison.
“Falcon got out of jail in June.” Farzad says. “His brother was caught while being on the lam for 25 years and effectively kind of gave himself up in May. I believe it was so the government doesn’t take revenge on his brother, maybe he fell on his sword, but the point is the government is trying to deport him right now to Cuba. Which is almost like a death sentence for a person who left Cuba as a young child, who left Castro, who was an anti-communist activist, and a doper. It’s amazing to me that this the Willie and Sal story continues to dominate the headlines in Miami.”