MIAMI — Police continued to hunt Friday for a sniper who shot three people in what may be the latest in a series of professional attacks directed at potential witnesses against two infamous Miami drug-running suspects.
One man was killed late Thursday and two were wounded by a masked gunman who reportedly lay in wait on a factory roof in a warehouse district near Miami International Airport.
The killer escaped despite a dragnet by as many as 75 officers and several helicopters and the closing of a major state highway.
Police believe that the dead man, Miguel Roque, 32, was an innocent victim of an attack directed at Ray Cruz, the younger brother of a key witness in the upcoming drug trafficking trial of Augusto Guillermo (Willie) Falcon and Salvador Magluta. Cruz, 22, was wounded and was in critical condition and under heavy guard Friday in a Miami hospital.
Falcon and Magluta, both 38, are pals from Miami High School's class of 1972. They dropped out of school their senior year and went on to earn more than $2 billion by importing Colombian cocaine into the United States, according to a federal indictment. Both are accused of bringing 75 tons of high-grade cocaine into the country during the 1980s.
Since Falcon and Magluta were arrested two years ago, three people linked to the case have been shot and killed and two others have been wounded. One of those wounded was Lazaro Cruz, 35, Ray Cruz's brother and a confessed marijuana smuggler and former associate of Falcon and Magluta. Cruz was shot several times in the stomach in May, 1992, by a gunman who burst into his Hialeah, Fla., home.
He recovered and is now in the federal witness protection program.
Ray Cruz and several other employees of a manufacturing firm had returned from a training program and were getting out of a car near their workplace about 9 p.m. Thursday when the sniper began firing, witnesses told police. In addition to those shot, a fourth man fell while fleeing and broke his hip.
Federal investigators said that they suspect Falcon and Magluta of ordering hits on potential witnesses from their jail cells. Assistant U.S. Atty. Andres Rivero refused to comment Friday on the latest shooting but said: "We have previously stated in court that we do have a security concern and we're taking measures to address those issues."
Defense attorneys said the suggestion that their clients would be involved in killing is ridiculous.
"These men are charged with drug crimes," said Jeffrey S. Weiner, who represents co-defendant Orlando Lorenzo, a former point guard on the Miami High basketball team. "There is no evidence linking acts of violence to any of the defendants in this case. The government is trying to prejudice the case. It's nauseating and unprofessional and just wrong."
Falcon and Magluta were scheduled to go on trial in Miami Oct. 4 under some of the tightest security ever seen here. Days before the trial date, federal authorities brought in armored personnel carriers and issued M-16 assault rifles to guards at the prison outside Miami where both were being held.
But the trial was postponed indefinitely after U.S. District Judge Federico A. Moreno ruled that drug shipment ledgers seized from the opulent home shared by Magluta and Lorenzo were illegally obtained and could not be used as evidence. The U.S. attorney's office has appealed Moreno's decision.
Earlier this month, in a motion asking that prospective jurors' identities be kept secret, prosecutors described Falcon and Magluta as "dangerous, the leaders of a crime enterprise with the means and will to interfere with the jury."
Last month, a man described as a contract killer was arrested in Colombia and brought to Miami to face state charges that he was involved in the assassination of Juan Acosta, a Miami attorney gunned down in 1989 days before he was to talk to a grand jury about his work for Magluta and Falcon.
According to a report in the Miami Herald, the man arrested in Colombia--Juan Carlos Correa, 33--said that he also planted a pipe bomb in the van of a convicted drug dealer who worked with Falcon and Magluta. The man survived.
Correa is the first person to be arrested in connection with any of the attacks on potential witnesses in the trial.
Researcher Anna M. Virtue contributed to this story.