ORLANDO (CBSMiami) – Alleged “Cocaine Cowboy” Gustavo Falcon, caught after 26 years on the run, appeared briefly in court Thursday.
Falcon, 55, was arrested Wednesday in Kissimmee and booked into the Orange County Jail.
In court Thursday, it was determined the notorious drug smuggler agreed to be sent to South Florida to face charges of conspiracy to import cocaine into the U.S. Falcon, ordered held without bond, will appear before U.S. District Court Judge Federico Moreno.
Falcon was indicted in 1991 along with his infamous drug kingpin brother Willy Falcon, and his co-defendant Sal Magluta.
Federal authorities originally accused the Falcon-Magluta organization of smuggling 75 tons of cocaine, worth more than $2 billion, into the United States between 1978 and 1991.
Willy Falcon and Magluta were convicted in what was Miami’s biggest drug smuggling case and are both currently in federal prison. Convictions weren’t easy, however. Witnesses had a nasty habit of turning up dead.
West Miami Police Chief Nelson Andreu, then a homicide detective, investigated the murders.
“When their pipeline was threatened with destruction, they started whacking witnesses,” said Chief Andreu. “Hiring hitmen to prevent the witnesses from testifying against them at trial.”
While Willy Falcon and Magluta were found guilty, it took two trials because jurors were bribed in the first one.
Gustavo Falcon, nicknamed “Taby,” vanished and was a fugitive ever since.
Filmmaker Billy Corben featured him in the documentary ‘Cocaine Cowboys.’
“He fled but he didn’t flee alone,” said Corben. “He fled with his wife, his son and his daughter. So this family of four literally disappeared.”
He had been rumored to be living in Cuba, but he was arrested Wednesday afternoon in a joint operation involving U.S. Marshals from Miami and Orlando.
CBS4’s Jim DeFede reported first that Falcon had just returned from a bicycle ride with his wife when he was taken into custody. He had been living there with his wife and their two grown children, using fake identities.
According to the U.S. Marshals Service, the Falcons’ went by the names of Luis Reiss and Maria Reiss.
The Marshals caught a break in 2013 when Gustavo Falcon got into a car accident in the Orlando area and used his fake ID with a Hialeah address. That led the Marshals to trace him to his South Florida history.
Both Falcon and his wife had also obtained fraudulent social security cards under the fake names to hide their true identities.
“He had obtained a fraudulent Florida driver’s license under the name Luis Reiss,” said U.S. Marshal Inspector Barry Golden. “And he maintained that his name was Luis Reiss. Until the Deputy Marshals told him, look we’re gonna go fingerprint you. It’s just a matter of time, we’re gonna find out who you really are. At that point in time, he admitted his name was Gustavo Falcon.”
Gustavo Falcon and his family had been renting a Kissimmee home, which the Marshals had under surveillance.
When Falcon was first taken into custody after his bike ride, he maintained he was Luis Reiss. He later admitted his true identity, according to the U.S. Marshal’s office.
After his arrest, Gustavo Falcon told authorities he had been living in the Orlando area since 2009 and in the rental house since 2012. It’s not clear where he was during all the other years, but officials say it’s believed he was living overseas for some of that time. Authorities said they did not know if Falcon had a job. His wife was not arrested.
Gustavo Falcon was last seen in South Florida in 1991 shortly before his indictment.
His brother and Magluta were acquitted of all charges at their trial in 1996, leading to the resignation of then-Miami U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey. Despondent at the loss, Coffey and others went to a strip club where he got into an altercation involving the biting of a stripper.
Later, it turned out that Augusto Falcon and Magluta had bought off witnesses and at least one member of the jury, a foreman who did 17 years in prison after accepting $400,000. 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 from a Kentucky facility on June 17.