Jury threat disrupts drug smuggling trial

April 22, 2002 at 6:30 PM
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MIAMI, April 22 (UPI) -- Jury selection began Monday under tight security for Sal Magluta, an alleged drug dealer who is charged with ordering the deaths of three witnesses and bribery of a jury foreman in previous trials.

One panel of prospective jurors has been thrown out because of a death threat last week.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz ruled that the anonymous jury would be sequestered for the trial, expected to last at least three months. She said if a panel could not be selected under those circumstances the trial would be moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Her ruling followed a prosecution motion made by U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis, who made a rare appearance in court.

Seitz had ordered the identities of the current panel not only from the public but also from all members of the defense and prosecution.

Ernesto Lopez testified last week someone called his unlisted home phone Wednesday and warned his wife, a prospective juror, "to make sure she don't vote against this guy because there's going to be some consequences."

Defense attorney Jack Denaro said nothing and nobody have tied the call to the jailed Magluta or any of his associates.

Magluta, 47, and Willy Falcon, Cuban-born classmates at Miami High School in their youth, allegedly made $2 billion in the 1980s by running drugs from Colombia's Medellin cartel through Miami.

They were tried on drug charges in 1996 but were acquitted. The jury foreman in that trial was later convicted of accepting a $500,000 bribe to influence rest of the jury.

This time, Magluta and Falcon will be tried separately.

Magluta is charged with ordering the deaths of three witnesses who were killed by a team of Colombian hit men, bribing the juror, and laundering drug profits ordered frozen by the court. Falcon is charged with obstruction of justice and money laundering.

Magluta already is serving a 10-year sentence for a firearms violation, and Falcon nine years for jumping bond in another case.

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