What I Did on Jury Duty
The trial I'd been on Dec. 8, 1994 - Jan 23, 1995
(written Jan 24 1995)
Now that I'm off of Jury Duty, I can safely and without
any distortion of justice report on the events of the trial
itself and answer many a nagging question. I can't say what the
verdict is... it may not even be in yet! I was alternate #4 (
of an original 8.. eventually 5 alternates) and three alternates
were retained in case something happens during deliberation.
The basic case in a nutshell:
This case concerns the Caliche drug organization - a Queens based
group of Columbian cocaine traffickers. During the investigation
(conducted by the New York Drug Enforcement Task Force), about
32 cellular phones and beepers were monitored via court-warranted
wiretaps. Just under 300 Kg of cocaine was seized in three separate
seizures, and nearly $3 million in cash was similarly intercepted
by the NYDETF.
The Organization was run locally by Carlos Torres, aka Caliche
"the guy from Cali". The daily operations included accepting money
from lower level coke dealers, arranging for the transport of coke
from various suppliers, bringing money to various laundry operations,
yapping on cell phones, driving around with duffel bags of cash in
the trunk. Money was kept in "banks," which were ordinary houses
staffed with people pretending to be normal American families. Drugs
were stashed in "Hernias," which were along the same lines. The various
Banks and Hernias were kept ignorant of each other's locations
and the all personnel were referred to by nickname only.
Simple codes were used during the operations of the business -
for example, many words were made up almost like a Spanish version of
Pig-Latin - "Coban" meant Banco, or bank, "Tebille" meant "Billette" or
cash, "Tabogo" was Bogota... also some words were simple substitutions:
if someone was "sick", that meant they had been spotted by the police,
various numbers needed to be multiplied by several thousand to arrive
at the real amounts, depending heavily on context. "Five pesos" was
generally five hundred dollars, while "One Peso" was generally a million.
Some more peculiar shorthand was "Rock and roll" (in English) for car,
if they had a "Colibri", that was a tail, and handcuffs were referred to
as "engagement rings" in a few cases. Another code was used between the
drug lords in Columbia and Caliche to talk about phone numbers -
the word "CONTEMPLAR" was used to correlate the first letter of a name
with a number, e.g. "Tomas, Carlos, Olivier" would be "T,O,C" or
420. On top of this, each worker had a code number to identify himself
when beeping Caliche or each other to have them call back. There were
a few other beeper codes, like "51", meaning "A Successful round" or
transfer of cash or drugs, while "911" meant an urgent message.
Caliche had a day-to-day Operations Manager, Jesus Giraldo,
aka Mogoya aka Ephrain Gonzalez aka Julian who rented and changed the
cell phones and beepers, bought and registered the cars, and paid the
insurance on them, rented houses, paid for cable TV and magazine
subscriptions ("Get TV Guide - the Bible of American Culture," said
one of the bosses in Bogota). He also took some accounting records.
The man who looked after the money end of the business was Fernando
Landono, aka Raymundo (this was disputed in his defense, but I think
adequately proved). Raymundo set up the money transfers and accompanied
them as a lookout generally.
The corresponding job on the drug side was his brother Jorge Landano,
aka Zurdo (also disputed by his defense).
Other workers, who like Caliche plead guilty or blew town, were Tavo,
William (Caliche's Chauffeur and gofer), Yoli and Eida (two bank women),
Amparo (another bank woman), Grillo, Gordo and JJ. There was a loose
network of temporary workers and relations used for short lookout or
transfer jobs. And there was Blas Cadavid, aka 007 aka El Negro, who
was the organization's hit man. He's a fugitive, folks.
Of the above, Raymundo, Zurdo and Mogoya were the ones on
trial.The charges were for Drug Conspiracy (all three) ,
possession and sale of a controlled substance (Zurdo) , and
Kidnapping with intent to do bodily harm, torture,
terrorizing and /or other felonies eg. murder (Mogoya). These charges
were given in various degrees as fallbacks, ie. if 1st degree
kidnapping didn't stick, you could find Mogoya guilty of
second degree kidnapping (I think that's what he'll get).
Caliche and his organization conducted most of their
business with beepers and cellular phones.
These phones were generally tapped and logged in a "plant"
at the task force headquarters. During the trial, about
five inches of transcripts (translated into English) were
entered as evidence (and read aloud by various witnesses).
This work - six months of translations and voice
identification - was done by Sylvia Garcia, an aspiring NYU
film student originally from Peru. In spite of the blustery,
stuttery nature of the untutored speech of the tapped
conversationalists, along with their natural reticence
toward out-and-out candidness as to the true meaning of
their conversations, as well as a liberal sprinkling of code
words and topping that off with less than stellar
performances during the hours of readings by various police
officers (for the most part), these transcripts formed a
good 40% of the conceptual bulk of the evidence. The rest
was given as physical evidence or testimony as to surveillance
and other police operations and testimony from three drug informants.
I was hoping to see a mountain of "snow" carried in in a wheelbarrow,
but it turns out that in any seizure of over ten kilos, all but ten are
destroyed (heh) and of those ten, samples are taken and analyzed for purity
and other scientific tests. They are warehoused in the special Narcotics
Vault at the DTF Headquarters. The money seized is counted by Brinks'
and recycled into some government operation or other. The agents also drive
around in vehicles seized in various drug busts, for surveillance purposes.
Nevertheless, 27 Kilos were on display. The price of a kilo at the time was
between $24,000 - $27,000 (I think that's wholesale), so that was about
$500,000 - $729,000 worth just in court. Thus stuff was tested 80-90% pure.
Actually, it might have been purer than that. So, no wheelbarrow, but they
nice little "Mah Jongg" wall out of the seized kilos at the final summing
up. They also had four big boards with all the photos in evidence which
kept falling off.
So, on to the various incidents logged by the police in this investigation.
Mind you, I'm doing this without notes. All these events took place between
January 4, 1993 and May 7, 1993.
- Two guys were driving near Omaha Nebraska (and they shipped in the
Nebraska Highway cop!) in a pickup truck with a camper top. They were pulled
over and were acting suspiciously, so the cops brought over a coke
sniffin' dog "Castor". In the back of the truck were a bunch of platforms
and drawers, most of them rather shallow. It turns out there were traps
holding 150 Kilos of coke in the truck. The drivers, being lowly middlemen,
cooperated and they were forced to do a "controlled delivery" to find out
who would pick it up. The whole truck was reassembled and flown via Air
Force jet to Newark, (so as not to be too late), where the arrangements
for transfer were made. The drivers were put up in a hotel room in Manhattan,
and the cops were put in an adjoining room, watching the bugs they stuck next
door. eventually, they caught the transporter who had hired them, who
also "turned" and testified in court. He was a sympathetic guy named
Lyle Sawicky, who had been a carpenter and musician in LA, but turned to
drug smuggling when the housing market went bad. He owned the truck and
built the trick cabinets. Anyway, he was instructed by his contact to
put the truck in a garage and hand the ticket over to a guy who he had
already met on the street that day. This guy turned out to be Zurdo.
However, Zurdo felt that particular garage was too hot, so he wanted it
moved to a garage further south. At that point, the cops called in Zawicky
and Zurdo didn't get his coke.
- There was a minivan intercepted on the street with a raised floor
that turned out to have 100 Kilos of coke in secret compartments there.
This was figured out by seeing a Houston number come over the beeper.
Houston seems to be one of the places where drugs coming from California
are switched or something like that.
- Another shipment came in, driven by "Danny" - about 70
Kilos. This one was mostly monitored by the police and not
intercepted, and was the source of Zurdo's possession and
sale counts. It was a little funny because the guy the truck
was delivered to couldn't figure out how to open the secret
compartments. This incident was also notable because some of the
conversation was in English, and therefore directly admitted into
- A call came in over a cell phone saying that a money transfer was going
to be attempted at a certain location. The cops, who had cloned beepers,
saw an address come over the beeper which confirmed the address. So one
of them, the major witness at the trial and the case agent, Det. Gerry
Speziale, staked out the location with a couple of other agents and
saw Raymundo waiting around on the corner, just as the beeper predicted.
He got picked up in a car and was taken to a mini-mall in Queens with
a few other which formed a little caravan. Some car keys were exchanged
in the Pergament store. A woman named Lucinda Dederle drove off in a
car with the money in it, and was tailed by the cops. She parked and
took the heavy bags out of the car. The cops took some of the
bags and helped her into her apartment, where they promptly arrested her.
(She was given a ticket and sent back to Columbia). In the bags? $500 G's.
In the apartment, another $100 G's.
- Another money transfer. Speziale intercepted a page which had a phone
number that looked like a hotel - which turned out to be the Hilton with
a room number. By checking with the hotel staff, he staked out the room
across the hall. Eventually the drug smuggler Mark White came out. White
went out of the hotel and met up with Raymundo. They walked a few blocks,
tailed by DETF agents, and eventually were picked up in a car, which went
back to the hotel. When he left the car, White had a little shoulder bag
with him. White went back to his room and got arrested. In the bag was
$100,000. Speziale, who was tailing Raymundo back to Queens, called off
his tail and went back to the hotel as well, and came up with an agreement
with White. It turned out that White had a couple of big deals brewing,
1200 Kilos of coke coming from the far east and in turn for absolution,
he would co-operate with the police as an undercover informant and operative,
which he continues to do to this day. White was taken out of there without
arousing the organization's suspicions. White, though only 47, looks a
good 60 years old with pure white hair and a beard. Certainly not the
usual profile of a drug smuggler as presented in the popular media.
- At some point, a cocaine shipment was lost or stolen from a guy named
Victor Navarette. Naturally, the bosses in Columbia were not happy about
this. So they ordered Caliche to find a guy to "send him to heaven." The
hit man was referred from another organization and a meeting was arranged
between the hit man, 007 or El Negro, and the victim, Navarette, or
"Code 25" at a tiny Spanish restaurant in Queens. But Negro didn't have a
cell phone, and the guys in Columbia wanted to hear 25's explanation
right before he would be murdered, and/or Negro's confirmation of same.
So Mogoya was called in in an emergency situation and delivered a phone
to him. However, the cops busted the place dramatically before the
violence could take place. They seized an operable gun from Negro and
sent him to Brooklyn with a $250,000 bail. Navarette was an illegal alien,
so they just sent him back to Columbia. Negro made bail and was back on
the street in no time. Caliche apologized to Mogoya for putting him in
such a tight spot. Caliche and Mogoya figured that the bar's phone
must have been bugged.
- Related to this event, Caliche was worried that Negro had
phone numbers in his pocket that would link up to the organization -
they'd need to know which phones to change. So Mogoya was sent to
Manny Fabian, the organization's mouthpiece, to get him some money
to procure the contents of Negro's pockets. Unfortunately for him,
he was tailed by the usual DETF guys, who caught him with $30,000
in a paper bag on the floor of the back seat. Mogoya was arrested
(Manny the lawyer came along - Mogoya was arrested in front of the law
office!) and he was released. But not before all the papers in the car
and his pockets were copied. Mogoya had lists of who had which car
and which phones etc., as well as all the phony names the cars were
After this, there were a few conversations about taking some of the
responsibilities away from Mogoya, since he was known to the cops now.
Touchingly, Caliche offered to learn how to pay his own rent and utilities,
and to make the others in the organization handle similar tasks on their own.
Mogoya kept on doing it, though, as far as I can tell. He certainly
kept paying the salaries and did all the phone work, as well as car
- Meanwhile, there was another seizure in Queens - the
transporter, Harvey, got cold feet and the DETF broke into
his car when Harvey abandoned it, making it look like a
robbery. A little old lady saw them smashing the car and
tried to stop them - ha! I think this was another $100,000
haul. They followed some of the guys back to another part
of Queens and arrested them, and Speziale at the same time called the
DETF plant over the cell phone they had been bugging!
- One morning, Speziale had reason to believe Zurdo would
be making a phone call from a pay phone near Penn Station,
so he staked it out and when someone made a call from that
booth, Speziale called the plant to see if Zurdo was
talking. He was. So the team tracked him all day and
followed him around to try to establish his identity.
Eventually, Zurdo went to a house in Jersey where the police
did a Utilities check to see who was paying the bills and
that's where the name Jorge Landono came from. (You see,
Mogoya only payed for the organization's houses ...). This
business was contested by the defense. There was also testimony
to the effect that Speziale was telling how to distinguish
Raymundo from Zurdo and he said that Raymundo had a"mole or
a zit on his face", which was not evident in court.
- There was another seizure - John Henao or "JJ" was
supposed to transfer One Million Dollars to Fierro, a
launderer. somewhere in Manhattan at about noon. However,
he was being tailed and he picked up the tail, mostly
because one of the cars was a black Porsche, driven by a
black detective. So he abandoned the car outside an
apartment, mashed some buzzers until someone let him in,
He took off his jacket and dumped his id in a mailbox.
sneaking out another door, he bought some picture frames and
put his jacket in the bag. He bought a new jacket and a cap.
He also dumped his beeper and cell phone. Fierro called Caliche saying JJ
was late. Meanwhile, Speziale popped the trunk lock and took out
the million bucks, making it look like a robbery. Mogoya and Mogoya's
brother "Flaco" was sent to look for the car and see whether they
could recover it. All they could see was that the money was gone.
JJ ran to his brother's house and shaved off his mustache.
- In Columbia, Don Francisco, one of the bosses, was not
happy to learn of this million dollar loss. Caliche felt
that it was a real robbery, but Don Francisco was sure that
John Henao had stolen it. He also thought Henao had stolen
$150,000 previously (which may actually have been stolen by
Caliche!). So he ordered Caliche to beat JJ to a pulp and
get a confession out of him (with the implication of murder
...?) JJ was taken with Caliche, Negro, Mogoya, and Flaco
and a (South American) Indian-looking guy to a couple of
places in Queens, stopping to call Columbia every few
minutes and repeat his explanation, ending up in an
apartment in Queens where they questioned him all night.
Actually, Mogoya and Negro went to look at JJ's house, on
the theory that if it were the cops or thieves, they'd want
to go there to get more money. Meanwhile Mogoya had to
rustle up $5,000 to pay Negro and his three workers, who
would do nothing without cash in their hands. Mogoya only
had $4,000 (in singles) on hand, and that sufficed. In the
morning JJ was taken to another house where Negro brought
three thugs to work him over. This whole business was
reported in detail to Caliche and the bosses in Columbia.
This is also where the references to "engagement rings"
(handcuffs) and "the bachelor party is about to begin"
(three guesses) came from.
They handcuffed him, started taping and threatened him with
some nasty looking knives and a gun.
And just before they started cutting, the police broke in.
Henao was in handcuffs in the basement and two guys ran out
the back and one of them was caught on the other side of
the expressway. Henao said the cops "were like angels from
Heaven". Caliche meanwhile dispatched a team to Henao's
mother's place to wreak some kind of revenge, but the cops
were all over it, having been forewarned via the beepers and
Henao himself. Negro, who was not at the house, escaped and
is still on the lam.
- Henao was given protection and set up by the government in a house in
Orlando, Fla. Henao has broken his parole when he relocated to New York,
since he had served about five years for carrying two ounces of cocaine
for a friend in the Miami Airport. After a few months though, he
thought the lock was funny and the blinds looked ruffled, he got scared and
blew town, leaving a note, but not telling where he went to the feds or
the Task Force. He was eventually found in Miami and sent back to jail
in New York. He has a new agreement based on his performance in the
trial as a witness.
- The news over the phones looked like the series of setbacks (mostly due
to police action) were going to force the Caliche organization out of business.
Jobs were being reassigned and the like. So the cops moved in and arrested
everyone they could on May 6, and made some "pedigree information" tapes
of each of the twelve arrested that night. They also had each of them read
a few paragraphs from a Spanish newspaper. These were later used by
Sylvia Garcia to match the voices she knew from her endless transcriptions and
monitoring, although, as the defense pointed out, some people gave their
pseudonyms and others may have been deduced via process of elimination.
Caliche plead guilty and was sent up for 28 years (pretty small sentence
perhaps?), but this was revealed to me only after the trial. Lots of records
from the various banks and residences were seized, confirming information
deduced by the police.
Of course, the jury could not discuss these things as they were being
presented over the weeks.There was a little "bonding", but this jury was
less youthful than some of my other juries. A couple of people had
more personality than others and they're probably bullying some of the
quieter ones as I write. We got these cool passes that let us in
without going through the metal detector. There's a court officer named
Fred who is bald and thinks he's in Vaudeville or something. Some
people appreciate the schticky humor, but it's pretty wearing.
It was pretty clear that with all the precautions the organization took,
they mad a big mistake to trust their Boy Scout-style codes and assume
the phones and beepers weren't tapped - even though they changed them
every few weeks or after an incident. Mogoya, although seriously charged,
was a pretty sympathetic character since he was clearly doing the most
mind numbing detail work in the organization. The defense contended that
Raymundo was not Fernando Landano but someone else, and Fernando was
doing him a favor that day outside the restaurant in Queens, and all the
other incidents had niggly inconsistencies. Similarly, Jorge's defense
was that he was not Zurdo - and since he was not seen often or for long
in this case, he might get off on that - except for the voice evidence.
without hearing the real tapes, it's hard to make a judgement on that,
but the tapes are not evidence which can be released to the jury, except
for the ones Zurdo speaks in English. The jury has nothing to compare them
to, though - I think the "pedigree" tapes with voice examples are not
allowed to be heard either.
There was a big delay one morning that I think had to do with the playing
of the tape that the kidnappers made with JJ. Obviously, the prosecution
would have liked to play the whole thing, and the defense, nothing. It
turned out that there was a tiny bit of English at the end - as the
police broke down the door, so that was played to the jury. Technically,
these tapes are played through an infra-red broadcasting device like those
used in theaters. The same system was used by a simultaneous interpreter
translating for the defendants. The headsets are real comfy!. However,
the staff were somewhat technically inept. There were numerous miscues
and other problems (like cross talk between the two systems). There was also
a short videotape shown of Lyle Sawicky and his drivers which was pretty
baffling because of the camera placement and lousy audio due to a blaring
TV set. The tape, again, was not cued up and that was a bit embarrassing.
On the other hand, some maps of Queens would have been really useful,
especially describing which directions various cars were coming from
during surveillances, which were gone over and over by the defense hoping
to trip up some cop in some inconsistency. Another point that was given
(undue?) emphasis concerned the destruction of police notes used in making
various reports - it's not illegal or necessary to keep them, since their
information is edited down into the reports - reports which themselves are
not in evidence - but there is this lawyer thing about primary sources.
Jan 28, 1995
Anyway, one of the jurors called me today and told me the scoop - they
were sequestered till Thursday and then they called a mistrial because
the voting was 11 to 1... there was one stick in the mud juror who
refused to believe anything of the prosecution's case. Mogoya would have
gotten off the kidnapping charge though. At the mistrial proceeding (?)
Zurdo plead guilty, so only Raymundo is going to get a fresh new trial.
Perhaps a leaner, cleaner version of the already heard evidence. My
friend the juror was naturally unpleased. Ditto the three alternates that
were kept in reserve.
That's Law Biz!
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