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Ricardo Morales Navarrete

John Simkin

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Ricardo Morales Navarrete seems to be an interesting character. A supporter of Fidel Castro, in September, 1959, he joined G2, the political police. Navarrete became disillusioned with Castro's government and left in July, 1960. After going into hiding he took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy before escaping to the United States.

Soon after arriving in Miami, Villaverde joined Operation 40. One member, Frank Sturgis, claimed "this assassination group (Operation 40) would upon orders, naturally, assassinate either members of the military or the political parties of the foreign country that you were going to infiltrate, and if necessary some of your own members who were suspected of being foreign agents... We were concentrating strictly in Cuba at that particular time."

Navarrete also became a contract agent for the CIA and according to his own testimony received training in "mapping, patrol, raids, jump school, communications and demolitions, counter insurgency, insurgency, clandestine movement, inclandestine movement, covert actions and survival." In 1964 he was attached to the 5th Mercenary Brigade that served in the Belgium Congo. 

In February, 1968, Navarrete was arrested and charged with placing an explosive device in the building of a company trading with Cuba. He was eventually released on this charge but the bombings continued and he was arrested again in 1973 and charged with first degree murder.

Once again Ricardo Morales Navarrete was released and on his own admission he worked as an informer for the CIA, FBI and the DEA. He also went to work for the Venezuelan government's counter-intelligence unit, the Direccion de los Servicios Inteligencia e Proteccion (DISIP). After attending an Israeli Counterintelligence Course he was promoted to head of Division 54.

In October, 1976, the midair explosion of Cubana Airlines plane flying out of Barbados killed all 73 people aboard. This included all 24 young athletes on Cuba's gold-medal fencing team. Police in Trinidad arrested two Venezuelans, Herman Ricardo and Freddy Lugo. Ricardo worked for Posada's security agency in Venezuela and admitted that he and Lugo had planted two bombs on the plane. Ricardo claimed the bombing had been organized by Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch. When Posada was arrested he was found with a map of Washington showing the daily route of to work of Orlando Letelier, the former Chilean Foreign Minister, who had been assassinated on 21st September, 1976. Navarrete later confessed that he was part of this bomb plot.

In April, 1978, the Miami Police Department he was charged with possession of marijuana. The following year he was arrested once again and charged with carrying a concealed firearm.

Navarrete went to work for the DISIP in Venezuela. In October, 1976, the midair explosion of Cubana Airlines plane flying out of Barbados killed all 73 people aboard. This included all 24 young athletes on Cuba's gold-medal fencing team. Police in Trinidad arrested two Venezuelans, Herman Ricardo and Freddy Lugo. Ricardo worked for Posada's security agency in Venezuela and admitted that he and Lugo had planted two bombs on the plane. Ricardo claimed the bombing had been organized by Luis Posada and Orlando Bosch. When Posada was arrested he was found with a map of Washington showing the daily route of to work of Orlando Letelier, the former Chilean Foreign Minister, who had been assassinated on 21st September, 1976. Navarrete later admitted that he was part of this bomb plot.

In April, 1978, the Miami Police Department he was charged with possession of marijuana. The following year he was arrested once again and charged with carrying a concealed firearm. He was soon released and it appears that at this point he agreed to work as a FBI informer. He infiltrated a Miami based group that were importing cocaine from the new military rulers of Bolivia. The group included Frank Castro, Rafael Villaverde, Jorge Villaverde and 50 other right-wing anti-Castro Cubans. In an interview with Jim Hougan, CIA agent Frank Terpil claimed that Ted Shackley, Thomas G. Clines and Richard Secord were also involved in this drug operation.

Rafael Villaverde vanished on a fishing trip after bonding out after his arrest in 1982. According to Edward Jay Epstein, Villaverde's "speedboat exploded off the coast of Florida". His body has never been found. Soon afterwards Ricardo Morales was killed during a bar brawl in Key Biscayne. As a result, all charges concerning this drug-smuggling group were dropped.

I am interested in any other information on Ricardo Morales and any possible links with the assassination of JFK.


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The following appeared in the January 1982 issue of Harper's. It was penned by John Rothchild.



Like many of his fellow Cubans, Ricardo Morales supported Castro at first. He was trained as a Castro secret-police agent, and his last job in Cuba was handling security investigations at Havana airport. He was in his early twenties when he defected in 1960. When he got to Miami, he was recruited by the CIA, which taught him about bombs and about the recoilless rifle, and he took part in various secret missions following the failure of the Bay of Pigs. When the CIA refused to sponsor future raids, Morales left the agency in disgust. That was in 1963. But he returned to take a special assignment in the Congo during 1964-65, partly out of respect for a couple of colorful CIA operatives and partly because he needed the action. When Morales left the Congo, he had acquired a reputation for intensity that exceeds the normal civilized limits. He had the courage to go to the edge of Africa to support his friends, and he had the ballistics training to dispatch them if they became his enemies. Morales had been impressing Miami with high-voltage performances ever since.

A man I know once made a surprise visit to Morales's apartment. He told Morales' girlfriend, who answered the door, that he wanted to have a friendly chat with Ricardo. He was invited to sit in the living room while Morales finished taking a shower. When Morales entered the room, he marched directly to the visitor's briefcase and opened it without asking permission. The visitor was too startled to object. Morales dredged up the tape recorder, which was already running. He removed the tape cassette and put it in his shirt pocket; he shook out the batteries and placed them at opposite ends of the mantelpiece, like trophies. Then he returned the neutralized recorder to the briefcase. So far, Morales had not said a word. Then Morales pulled out his revolver and laid it on the coffee table. He had disarmed his visitor, and now he was offering up his own concealed weapon for the visitor's inspection. My friend lacked the wit to empty the gun and place the bullets on the mantel piece, next to the batteries. Morales got out a couple of glasses from a cabinet and poured some Chivas Regal. His mood had shifted from menacing to jovial. "Now," he said, "we can talk." That's the Morales style.

Bombs and babies

One does not grow up hoping to be an informant. Morales got his first opportunity after his arrest in 1968. His fingerprints' matched those found on the remains of a bomb that had detonated in the office of a firm that sold medical supplies back to Cuba. The newspaper clipping shows a handsome young man with a crew cut, looking more like Ricky Ricardo of "I Love Lucy" than a veteran of the Cuban revolution and the Congo wars. The CIA might have lost interest in blowing up Castro, but its Cuban ex-operatives were still practicing on small stores, police stations, and travel agencies in Miami. Ad hoc military brigades formed, broke up, and reformed, often claiming to be following orders from the Invisible Government.

Morales was an important early arrest in the FBI's pursuit of the elusive groupings. But his fingerprints were barely dry before the charges were dropped and Morales was on the temporary FBI payroll. In the lingo, Morales was "flipped." The FBI wanted to use him to get somebody else. The salvation of informants in Miami is that there is usually somebody else to get.

In this case, the somebody else was Orlando Bosch, the terrorist pediatrician. Yes, an exploding baby doctor. Morales got himself a job making bombs for Bosch. He made phony bombs while reporting details of Bosch's upcoming missions back to the FBI. Bosch couldn't understand why his bombs didn't go off, but he kept trying. He and some associates were arrested in the act of shelling a Cuba-bound Polish freighter in the Miami harbor. Morales's testimony at the trial helped convict Bosch and send him to prison in late 1968.

By 1972 the terrorist pediatrician was walking the streets again, and the scowl on his cadaverous face would not make an infant coo. The local prediction was that Morales would replace ships headed for Cuba as Bosch's favorite target. A bomb did explode under Morales's car in 1971, driving shrapnel an inch into the asphalt of West Flagler Street. "I'm not saying it was Dr. Bosch," Morales said as he surveyed the damage. The Monkey reacted with nonchalance, as if his car had suffered a flat tire.

It was a period of narrow escapes for the Monkey. Only a few months before the bombing incident, Elidio Ruiz had been found dead at Morales's front door. Morales had recently informed on this Ruiz character to Sgt. Raul Diaz over at the county police department. Ruiz and Diaz. I know these names begin to sound alike, but reputations depend on our keeping them clear in our minds. Diaz, now a lieutenant, has been one of Morales's favorite informees. Morales informed Diaz that Ruiz had murdered another man who had informed on Ruiz. Exonerated on a technicality, Ruiz went to visit Morales and fell dead. Morales was then arrested for murder himself. But he was exonerated when a witness couldn't identify him in the courtroom.

So by 1971, Morales had survived a bombing and an attempted murder, had helped send the bomber to jail, had outlived the man who'd tried to kill him, and had deflected bombing and murder charges against himself. These are impressive results. But it was still early in Morales's career. Morales observers were not yet ready to speculate that he might have bombed his own, car to cover up a secret alliance with pediatrician Bosch. The Rolando Otero case was the one flat really made the Monkey's reputation in Miami.

Otero was another anti-Castro zealot. In 1975, he and Morales were such good friends that Morales had his own key to Otero's apartment. Meanwhile, more bombs were exploding around the city, including one in the men's room at the state attorney's office, one at the FBI building, and one at Miami police headquarters. Sgt. Raul Diaz and FBI agent Joe Ball, who had approved the original Morales flip in 1968, had several meetings with Morales. Once again, the Monkey came to the aid of law enforcement and declared that Otero was their bomber. This was in December 1975.

Having informed on his friend, Morales went back to Otero with some useful advice: leave the country. Otero took it. Then Morales told the understandably upset police that the leak to Otero had come from FBI agent Ball. Then Morales disappeared. In fact, Ball had to execute an affidavit denying that he helped Otero flee. It was impossible to tell who had done what, and whose side Morales was on. Morales at this time was commuting between Miami and Venezuela, where he was developing some new interests.

Otero went to Venezuela looking for work. He had a friend there who was head of airport security for the secret-police agency, DISIP. The friend's name was Ricardo "the Monkey" Morales. Don't ask me how he got that position. But Otero still trusted him enough to show up in his office, looking for a job. By February 1976, two months after informing on him, Morales had hired him in Venezuela and sent him to Chile on some DISIP mission. In Chile, Otero was arrested and extradited back to America to stand trial on the charges Morales had fingered him for. Twice Morales promised American authorities that he would return to Miami to testify against Otero, and twice he didn't show. After an acquittal on federal charges, Otero was convicted of one of the bombings in Florida state court, without Morales's help.

During this Venezuelan period, Morales exhibited some gray hairs and had raccoon rings under his eyes. The rumor was that he was under great strain trying to keep his personal affairs in some kind of balance. There was his delicate relationship with Otero, and also his relationship with our old pediatrician friend, Bosch. Bosch was now suspected of blowing up a Cuban airliner in mid-flight, killing all seventy-three people aboard. He also found his way to Venezuela, prompting speculation that he and the Monkey had made up, or perhaps had been collaborating all along. Then Bosch was jailed in Venezuela on a warrant signed by Morales, prompting further speculation that Morales had fooled him again, the way that Lucy fools Charlie Brown every October with the football. Or perhaps the warrant was only a ruse. Who knows?

I first met Morales during his sojourn in Caracas. In late 1976, two other journalists and I found ourselves on the same plane to Venezuela as Sgt. Raul Diaz, whom you already know, and Florida state attorneys George Yoss and Hank Adorno. We journalists were going to interview Bosch in his Venezuelan prison; the officials were going to talk to Bosch, and also to Morales, in their second futile effort to get his cooperation against Otero. They were hardly off the plane before they were offering Morales an ingratiating tidbit of information. They told him that some officious journalists had come to Caracas and were poking into international terrorism.

On of the other journalists, my friend Taylor Branch, had declared at the start of the trip: "If we have problems in Venezuela, I know a Cuban named Morales who runs security at the airport. He will help us out." We did have problems. A car followed our taxi to the hotel, and from the window of our room there we could see armed men hiding in the bushes outside. Branch and the third journalist, Hilda Inclan, tried several times to call their old friend Morales and ask for his help.

At 5 a.m., a burly little man broke into our hotel room, grabbed our passports off the bureau, and began to holler like a boot-camp sergeant. Branch whined in plaintive disbelief, "Ricardo, is that you?" Branch had told me the stories of Morales turning on Bosch and Otero, but even this wary reported had never imagined that the monkey might do it to him. Yet it was obvious that the goons in the bushes belonged to Morales. Morale pushed us out of the hotel room, refusing to acknowledge Branch's overtures of recognition.

We were driven to the airport by armed chauffeurs and held in a private office from sunup until about 8 a.m., when Morales returned to invite us to breakfast. Terrifying at 5, he was all charm at 8. We strolled casually down the crowded airport corridors to the dining room, but when Morales sensed that one of us might bolt for a nearby telephone, he stiffened and scowled, and this was enough to hold us back. At the breakfast table, he relaxed and told jokes and carried on a witty monologue about world affairs. Every time Branch marshaled the courage to ask Morales about our mistreatment, he would wither pretend Branch was no longer sitting at the table, or else he would say: "I don't know anything about this Bosch you came to see. Is that his name? Maybe I have read it in the papers." Our involuntary departure from Caracas had a typical Morales result. We felt betrayed, yet we did not completely dislike the abuser. Perhaps he had protected us from darker forces. Like Otero and Bosch and half the Miami legal establishment, we had no idea whose side he was really on.

Narcs and finks

After 1976, the anti-Castro business went into recession. Our hero returned from Venezuela to Miami, but instead of renewing his old connections, he was frequently seen at the Mutiny Bar with a new friend, Carlos Quesada. The Mutiny is to the apres-deal what Sardi's is the apres-theater, and Quesada was a familiar patron with a big bankroll and lizard-sized shoes. The tables are surrounded by wide-leaved plants and venal waitresses in leotards. There are phone jacks at the tables so people can do business in these jungle-like surroundings.

Quesada was an apolitical Cuban with an apolitical arrest record: 1969, violation of narcotics laws, three years probation; 1971, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, no action by state attorney; 1972, breaking and entering, disposition unknown; 1972, assault with intent to commit murder, victim didn't prosecute; 1974, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, case dismissed; 1977, breaking and entering, three years probation. The association between Quesada and Morales was considered a step up for Quesada, but a step down for Morales. The gossip around town was that the savvy Cuban who once traded secrets with Israeli and European spies was reduced to gossiping with silk-shirted drug punks. But genius can work with any raw material, and Morales found plenty of raw material at Quesada's $100,000 stucco house at 1724 SW 16th Street. It is the standard one-story Miami residence, surrounded by a wall and decorated with security improvements. When Morales first entered the house in November 1977, police were already hiding outside and taking pictures.

Lt. Raul Diaz calls the visitors to the house on 16th Street "a convention of informants." Diaz should know. Fausto Villar, a familiar presence at Quesada's table, was talking privately to Lieutenant Diaz. Quesada himself was known to drop a hint or two to the police, and so was Francisco Tamayo. Franklin Sosa had cooperated with the DEA. Jose "Pepe 70" Gonzales was blabbing to another department. Rudy Rodriguez was talking to several departments, according to Lieutenant Diaz.

You might suppose, if you don't live in Miami, that drug smugglers operate in secrecy, and that police agencies operate in ignorance until they learn of the smugglers' activities and arrest them.

Actually, the system of the relations between government and industry in America's drug capital is more complex than that. Each of several local, state, and federal police agencies has its own informants, who inform on other informants, who undoubtedly are informing on them. The informants are also the smugglers. In return for their information, they are sometimes allows to continue in business. So if you get enough informants in your network, like the diverse collection at Quesada's table, you are protected not by secrecy by selective prosecution. One can imagine that Ricardo Morales felt right at home in this new environment.

It's hard to fathom how the police decide when to take action and when to just listen. In this case, police say they were getting reports from two informants at Quesada's table - Fausto Villar and Pepe 70 Gonzales. Morales himself had introduced Villar to Sergeant Diaz some years earlier, and Diaz had introduced him to other officers. Now Villar wanted to tell on Quesada, possibly because he resented the feeling that Morales had usurped his position in the drug hierarchy. Pepe 70 was about to be sent to jail for selling a silencer to an undercover police officer. He was willing to tell on Quesada to secure a shorter sentence.

Pepe 70 was something of a sentencing expert. He got ten years for narcotics in Kansas in 1970, and - moving with remarkable speed - another ten years in California in 1971. Nevertheless, he was on the streets of Miami in 1977.

Leaks form Villar and Pepe 70 were the reported basis for a wiretap on Quesada's phone. Quesada changed the number four times between the summer of 1977 and the winter of 1978, which shows that smugglers are not completely indifferent to detection, even though a new number does not stop a wiretap. Quesada also made a half-hearted attempt to disguise his business through conceit, just in case somebody was listening. The most popular conceit was a fishing trip.

Police were not fooled by the following typical conversation between "C" (Quesada) and "W" (an associate):

C: How are you doing, inspector?

W: I went fishing.

C: Yeah?

W: Yeah, and I arrived last night.

C: Ah, it doesn't matter. I went by there but I didn't see you.

W: We had an accident yesterday and we had to come back.

C: Ave Maria.

W: With Julito.

C: Yeah?

W: Yeah. Perforated his hand with a kingfish hook.

C: Who?

W: Julito.

C: There, at the kingfish store?

W: No, there fishing. Out there for kingfish.

C: Aha.

W: [garbled]

C: Aha.

W: He perforated his hand with a big kingfish hook.

C. Ave Maria.

In the spring of 1977, the police spent hundreds of hours recording and deciphering these Ave Marias and references to kingfish hooks. Morales tells us now that he completed a marijuana transaction out of the Quesada house in November 1977, and then didn't return to the house until late March 1978. The timing is very fortunate, because by March the police had already stacked up the tapes and gone out to arrest Quesada and Rudy Rodriguez and seven other people, seizing $913,000 and fifty-six pounds of cocaine in the process. Assistant police chief Philip Doherty said it was "like winning the Super Bowl." But Morales wasn't even on the field. He and his friend Franklin Sosa both stayed away during the critical phase of evidence collection and were not implicated. How did Morales know when to stay away? Good question.

And why did Morales go back to Quesada's tainted house after the bust? That one's easy to answer. This is the drug business. The best time to deal, in fact, is after the organization has been busted. The post-bust deal has a great chance of succeeding, because police have already completed their investigation. Besides that, money is needed to pay the lawyers, and perhaps to bail out some partners. As Morales later recollected to the police, he, Sosa, and Quesada (out on bail) were at Quesada's house, "and out of the blue sky, Franklin Sosa got up some sort of a connection with this guy Roberto who claimed he was going to give us 20,000 pounds." The Quesada group had momentarily tired of cocaine, since they had just lost fifty-six pounds of it to police, so this 20,000 pounds refers to marijuana. Sosa used the Quesada phone, which he knew had been recently tapped, to make his arrangements.

But police had not yet turned off the tape recorders, and they picked up the Sosa conversation as an epilogue to their surveillance. Officers were sent to the place where the bales of marijuana were to be loaded, and who did they find in the procession's lead car but Ricardo Morales. Sgt. Raul Diaz was dispatched to the scene and began intense discussions with the veteran informer. Meanwhile the Monkey's car and person were searched. This turned up an illegally concealed weapon - as common as Kleenex in many Miami glove compartments. More interesting was a membership card from DISIP, the Venezuelan Secret Police. Most interesting of all was a list of confidential radio frequencies from the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Coast Guard, the FBI, and Secret Service, the Florida Highway Patrol, and the Miami and Miami Shores police departments. Was Morales allied with all of them? How did he get the list? "It baffles me," a DEA spokesman told the Miami Herald.

There was a difference of opinion among the various state and U.S. attorneys s to the Monkey's reliability. Sam Smargon, the prosecutor assigned to this case, argued that this ethereal defendant might vanish if allowed out of jail. "I wanted a high bond on this man because of his international contacts, Smargon says. At least one of Smargon's superiors, however, was called by the Defense to vouch for the Monkey, even though Morales had not shown up at the Otero trial despite two promises to do so. There were still prosecutors willing to trust Morales. Smargon didn't and neither did the judge, who set bond at $350,000. Later, Smargon also contracted Morales fever.

Word got out that Morales, froth his jail cell, had figured out that Pepe 70 and Fausto Villar were the informants responsible for the Quesada wiretap. It may have been spontaneous deduction on his part, but he certainly had enough possible sources. In any event, Morales's perception was disturbing to both Villar and Pepe 70. In the words of Sergeant Diaz, they were "scared xxxxless." Villar was loose in Miami and Pepe 70 was stuck in an Indiana prison for the silencer. Both suddenly forgot that they had ever talked to police about Quesada, Quesada's house, illegal drugs, or Ricardo Morales. Actually, Villar did remember that Morales was a "valiant man," and said so to the Miami Herald.

The fee for defending a major drug case can be substantial. In Miami (as elsewhere), the prosecutor's office tends to be underpaid basic training for the other side. Morales was represented by Pollack, Spain & O'Donnell, a firm with some canny ex-prosecutors who had left the world of seeking convictions for the more lucrative one of seeking acquittals. (Even the defense world is not all sunshine. Pollack sits all day in crepuscular darkness with a shotgun propped behind his desk.) Morales's lawyers argued that if the informants had never discussed Quesada with police - as they now claimed - then police had no business using them in as the basis for the wiretaps, and the wiretaps should be thrown out of court.

There were two police agencies involved in the Quesada bust, and they squabbled over some of the procedure, and the state attorney's office did riot necessarily make the best moves, and the result was that the judge ruled for Morales: the wiretaps were stricken. The new stories told by the frightened Villar and Pepe 70 were given more judicial credence than their old ones, which were supported by tape recordings, sworn affidavits, and the word of at least five police officers.

The principal defendant was acquitted without ever taking the stand. Morales had spent a hundred days or so in jail awaiting the trial, but now (July l978) he was free, and the two informants had been mortally terrified, and the police were humiliated, and the vanquished prosecutor, Sam Smargon, had suffered a coronary. Smargon says the heart attack was incidental to his judicial defeat, put he does remember that he felt great pressure. Perhaps he could have charged Morales with the concealed gun, in order to win at least something. By the end of the trial, it was too late for that, and besides, Smargon was getting Morales fever. "My request for the man had increased tenfold," Smargon recalls. "He could have taken the stand and said any number of things, but he didn't. The man doesn't lie."

Morales went back to Quesada's house to develop more drug deals. "I was broke, you know," he confided in a later affidavit. "We stared dealing right away." Rehabilitation is the judicial ideal, but the only apparent effect of Morales's encounter with the courts was to remind him of the advantages of cocaine. "Never in my life am I going to touch grass again," Morales declared. "It was getting on my nerves to see a house loaded with bales."

Things were looking up at the Quesada residence. Morales's legal moves had a devastating side effect on the prosecutions of Quesada, Rodriguez, and the other defendants. Their cases were transferred from state court to a federal court. Prosecutors hoped that a fresh judge might accept the wiretap evidence. But a federal magistrate also rejected the wiretaps, and the prosecutors had no phone conversations to connect Quesada and friends to those fifty-six pounds of cocaine. U.S. attorney Jerry Sanford appealed the magistrate's ruling in a final and desperate effort to rescue the prosecution.

Jerry Sanford has entered this saga before. He was the prosecutor who lost the first Otero case after Morales failed to appear, and now he stood to lose the Quesada case because of Morales's machinations, and yet his friendship with Morales had strengthened. Sanford was a frequent visitor during Morales's time in jail, and his goal was to make Ricardo's stay more pleasant. "I would say, 'Ricardo, do you need anything?' or, 'Ricardo, do you want anything?' and he would always answer no," Sanford told me. After Morales was released, "We would bullxxxx about the KGB and the CIA; about who did this and who did that." Sanford insists, "I believe Ricardo Morales is one of the few people who never tried to use me."

One of Morales's abiding talents is to arrange things so that nobody ever feels completely defeated on his account. Perhaps he worried that prosecutors would blame him for the rejection of the wiretaps.'' Now he would give the prosecution a way out. "I remember we were walking clown the hall," Sanford says. "It was just before a hearing on the wiretap appeal. Ricardo came up to me and said, 'What would you do if Quesada flipped?' I couldn't believe it." Morales was offering a spectacular cooperator, the second most important defendant in the case, behind Rudy Rodriguez.

Quesada was understandably eager to accept government immunity for all his crimes. He would have to testify against the other defendants, but he and Rodriguez had preen feuding anyway, and his Datsun 280 Z had been strafed with machine-gun bullets. Many believed that this attack came from Quesada's co-defendant, though others speculated that the machine-gun tattoo, which Quesada had escaped from intact, may even have been arranged by Morales to give the flip some dramatic impetus. The government was eager to accept Quesada's cooperation, so the deal was approved in less than twenty-four hours. "Like a bolt out of the blue," said Judge Sidney Aronovitz.

The wiretaps were finally admitted as evidence, with Quesada to verify their authenticity, and all the other defendants were convicted. Rodriguez got fifteen years. He and the other convicts weren't happy, but everybody else seemed delighted with Morales's choreography. The prosecutors had won a major case. They talked as if Rodriguez was the hardened criminal they wanted to put away, while Quesada was just fluff that could blow back onto the streets for all they cared. The police were vindicated. The defense attorneys got a fat fee. Rudy Rodriguez got back $450,000, half the money seized in the case. The IRS got the other half. Morales agreed to help the U.S. Attorney's office by appearing in front of a couple of grand juries pondering other unsolved crimes.

Quesada was free but had a tax problem, having testified under immunity that he had made $3 million in the drug business. Morales recommended a good lawyer to him. Guess who? Why, Jerry Sanford, who had gone into private practice following the Quesada conviction. Quesada also had a security problem, with Rodriguez threatening revenge, but the police department assigned him a bodyguard. Morales must have been gratified, with the agency that arrested Quesada now protecting him, and his former prosecutor now defending him, and nobody asking why a lesser defendant hadn't been flipped instead of Quesada, and the troublesome Rodriguez legally detained so that Morales and Quesada could get back to business. It was the fall of 1978.

Operation Tick-Talks

In December 1980, an important law-enforcement conference was held in a police car in the parking lot of Monty Trainer's dockside bar, and then moved to the parking lot at Zayre's, and formally reconvened at a room in the Holiday Inn on LeJeune Road. Crime watcher Ricardo Morales was telling two policemen, D.C. Diaz and Raul Martinez (neither to be confused with Raul Diaz), and later the assistant state attorney, Rina Cohan, that drugs were bought and sold out of Carlos Quesada's house at 1724 S.W. 16th Street. Can you imagine? Police should do something about Quesada, Morales said. He and his partners were flirting with heroin, which tested Morales's moral patience. "Heroin … goes against, you know, my own belief and religion, and, you know, I … flatly refuse to go along in this new kind of business."

Morales was ready to give a fifty-page deposition. But first he reminded prosecutor Cohan that "I was found not guilty by the jury, which you should be aware of," for earlier suspicious acts. All Morales wanted now was immunity for subsequent suspicious acts. In return, he would incriminate Quesada and many others. The same kind of immunity that Quesada got for incriminating Rudy Rodriguez back in 1979. Sgt. Raul Martinez helped Morales in his negotiations:

Sgt. Martinez: He will not be prosecuted for anything he did with … any of his co-conspirators?

Ms. Cohan: Correct. Includes Quesada…

Morales: Includes the whole organization. The whole family?

Ms. Cohan: That's correct.

Morales: I won't be prosecuted?

Ms. Cohan: No.

Sgt. Martinez: If all of a sudden you say in 1980 you murdered Juan Pepe …

Ms. Cohan: That's another story entirely.

Sgt. Martinez: That's what she is saying.

Morales: I didn't.

Sgt. Martinez: So you have to restrict yourself to the conspiracy.

Morales: To my activities, right? To my activities in the drug business, you know, for the past three years, right?

Morales's revelations were not shocking. D.C. Diaz was the man assigned to be Quesada's bodyguard after Morales arranged Quesada's flip. To stay close enough to Quesada to shield him, you had to drink with him, and D.C. Diaz had done that, both at Quesada's house and at the Mutiny Bar. In fact, on different nights during the summer of 1980, you could have found either D.C. Diaz or Raul Diaz or ex-prosecutor Jerry Sanford or a customs agent named Czukas sitting at the same table with Carlos Quesada and his new associates.

Chief among these associates was Rafael Villaverde, ex-CIA, a Bay of Pigs alumnus who was ransomed by President Kennedy for medicine and truck parts, a man who moved up from picking tomatoes to operating a $2 million antipoverty agency for the Latin elderly. Villaverde, weighing more than 200 pounds, knows the mayor, knows the police, knows everybody he ought to know in Miami. Villaverde's welfare agency has been called a front for terrorists, but Villaverde once said that if bombers and assassins did congregate among his elderly, it was only to apply for benefits in anticipation of their retirement.

Other frequenters of Quesada's table at the Mutiny were Villaverde's brother, Raul, and the two Condom brothers, who share an unfortunate name, a conviction for cocaine smuggling, and membership in the paramilitary 2506 brigade, a venerable anti-Castro group. Morales was often at the Mutiny, too. He had introduced Quesada to Sanford, and Quesada in turn introduced D.C. Diaz to the Condom brothers, who were brought into the group by the Villaverdes, who were themselves introduced to Quesada by Morales. For the Monkey, the Mutiny gatherings in that summer of 1980 were "This is your life."

Everybody knew what everybody else was up to. Policeman D.C. Diaz told me, "Quesada knew where we were coming from. And he would give us information about drugs, usually things we already knew; or else he would tell stories on his competition. We would visit his house, and if there was something going on that he didn't want us to see, he would come outside and talk. He even tried to bribe us with Rolex watches." For more than a year, police had viewed Quesada and partners with suspicion and at close range, and yet nothing had broken. Perhaps they were waiting for Morales to make a move.

But tensions surfaced occasionally. Jerry Sanford recalls one night at the Mutiny when "Morales kept saying that so-and-so killed the Chilean ambassador in Washington, and Villaverde kept saying he knew it was somebody else, and Morales stared throwing pats of butter at Villaverde. Every time he made a point, he hurled a pat. Villaverde tried to ignore this, and so did Quesada. They just sat there and pretended it wasn't happening."

By later October, relations had broken down - not between the suspects and the police, but among the suspects. The Godfather was on television again ("when The Godfather comes on … the drug people, they get steamed up somehow, and some people may have gotten killed because of that," Morales opines), and Morales didn't get an invitation to customs agent Czukas's birthday party, which upset him. In fact, Morales recalls, it was a lousy month. He claims to have spent several hours one evening fending off various hit men. He says he escaped by brandishing a dummy hand grenade. "I pulled the handle and said 'trick or treat' … so that was my Halloween."

So by the first week in December, Morales was sitting in the parking lot with the police, restructuring his alliances once again. One theory is that he had been kicked out of the Quesada organization and was retaliating. Jerry Sanford's theory is that the Condom brothers had proposed a legitimate stock deal to Quesada and that Morales mistakenly assumed that "stocks" meant heroin, since none of his friends read the Wall Street Journal. The Villaverde brothers, now indicted, said Morales first introduced them to Quesada and then created this drug investigation, in retaliation for something the Villaverdes did back in 1976. They thought they had a contract with the CIA to assassinate a European terrorist named Carlos the Jackal. When they discovered (such is life in the underworld) that the target was a Libyan dissident and the client was Colonel Qaddhafi, they patriotically backed out. Morales was also somehow involved, Villaverde has contended.

Once again, the law enforcement people went along with Morales. "We don't have the money to buy information, and so we have to work on favors," says Lt. Raul Diaz. "There are certain things you can do for some people and then they owe you a favor. That is the system. Sometimes, it breeds what looks like corruption." The state gave Morales his immunity and then used his testimony for wiretap applications, first on a suspected lesser distributor named Roberto Ortega and then on Quesada's phone and behind the wall clock in Quesada's living room. This was Operation Tick-Talks. Police listened to hundreds of hours of conversation through the spring of 1981, but then the clock fell off the wall and the bug was discovered, so they had to move in to arrest an assortment of schoolteachers, airline pilots, and accountants, plus the Villaverde brothers and the Condoms and Quesada, making forty-eight people in all. They have been charged with conspiracy to distribute cocaine, although no drugs were seized.

Much ingenuity went into the Tick-Talks surveillance. Police detained the caretaker of the Quesada house on a minor traffic charge so that they could make a copy of the house key in his pocket, which gave them entry so they could install the wall bug. The way they came back to change the setting for daylight savings time was very clever. But letting Ricardo Morales chart the course of a criminal prosecution is bound to create a few problems.

For example, Sam Smargon, the state attorney who tried to keep Morales from getting bail when he way caught with the marijuana, and then lost the marijuana case, has moved over to the U.S. attorney's office, which Jerry Sanford vacated to go into private practice. Just before the recent flip, Morales requested that Smargon put him in the federal witness protection program. This program is for people who are helping the Feds, and Tick-Talks is a state matter. Morales had agreed to testify in a federal tax case against a reputed drug smuggler. But that case came arid went without Morales testifying. It seems more likely that Morales entered the federal witness protection program because he wanted to, for reasons having nothing to do with the tax case. Morales has been out of the federal program since July, but is continuing a witness protection program of his own by remaining out of sight of the U.S. marshals. Nobody will tell me where he is to this day.

Jerry Sanford, who was stood up by Morales in the Otero case and then flipped Quesada and later became Quesada's attorney, both on Morales's suggestion, signed on to defend Quesada against charges originated by Morales in Operation Tick-Talks. Sanford also sent Morales's request for federal protection to his friend Sam Smargon. Recently, Sanford simplified his life by stepping aside as Quesada's attorney. Tire last time I saw Sanford, he looked both relieved and tired.

The government couldn't get Morales to cooperate in the Otero case, and then lost the marijuana case against him because the wiretaps were thrown out and the informants were unreliable, and now it is going to try forty-eight new defendants in the belief that Morales will cooperate and the wiretaps will hold up. It has remarkable faith, and no physical evidence. Drugs were not confiscated in Tick-Talks, and the recorded dialogues between the suspected conspirators are much more befuddling than the old fish-hook exchanges on the previous go-round. The literal translation make it sound like the Villaverdes and Quesada were either milking cows, planting rose bushes, or collecting bazookas. Could they possibly not have known that they were being tapped, given all the lively barter of information in this town and the fact that Morales himself had disappeared?

It is now fall in Miami, and the heat had left the pavement. The only major character in any of the Morales episodes currently in prison is Orlando Bosch. He is still being held in Venezuela, even though he was acquitted there. Venezuela has a different system of justice. Rolando Otero is out on bond, and so is Carlos Quesada, and so are the Villaverdes. Rudy Rodriguez, the man they wanted to convict so badly that they flipped Morales and Quesada, spend about a year in jail awaiting the appeal because he couldn't make the bond of $1 million. Recently, however, the government changed its mind and agreed to let him use some property he owned as collateral on his bond, so Rodriguez is free again. Naturally, there is a rumor going around Miami about why the government let him out: Rodriguez has been flipped, and now he's an informant, too. The rumor doesn't say who is left to inform on.

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Members might be interested in this collection of documents on Ricardo Morales Navarrete:


It is interesting the role that the Israeli Secret Service played in training these terrorists.

The Miami deposition was a long read, but interesting. Interesting to note that in 1982, Janet Reno was Florida State Attorney. The lawyers deposing RMN seemed to be about as competent as the Warren Commission attorneys.

There was an interesting account by RMN about how he had a bomb placed under the air conditioner of the home of Cab Calloway. After the explosion, when the police came to investigate, they found 24 kilos of marijuana. RMN said he did this because he didn't like Calloway. Sounds like a deal gone bad.

No wonder all the exiles and their families in Miami seem to be anti-Castro. Anyone that evinced signs of support for the Cuban regime got their asses bombed. RMC said that there were five full time "bomb factories" in Miami at one time.

No doubt he was a stone cold killer. He spoke of all the dead bodies on both sides when he worked for the CIA in the Congo; then in the same breath he mentioned how much he loved war. Apparently he also loved blowing up people and places of business.

Got his roots in Cuban intelligence, trained by the Mossad in Venezuela, recruited by the CIA, "quit" when he realized they were no longer interested in overthrowing Castro, became an FBI informant, entered the witness protection program, arrested (as John mentioned) for bombing, attempted murder, drug trafficking, etc, yet couldn't get a simple job in New York as a convenience store clerk. As he put it, counter-intelligence was all he was qualified to do.

I also thought it interesting his characterization of double agents. In the midst of all this intrigue, they were everywhere. No one knew who was really working for whom. That's part of what makes investigating these guys somewhat problematical, in my opinion.

Even though he was granted limited immunity, his responses under oath were carefully crafted and guarded. That was probably due in no small part to his Company training. Most of the time, he seemed one step ahead of the attorneys that were questioning him.

Although I see the importance of searching for government documents on these guys, it also seems apparent that anything sensitive would have been sanitized, destroyed, or more likely.... never existed in the first place.

His children, if still alive, would seem to be one of the few remaining sources of information available, if he ever confided in them, and they were willing to talk. Seems highly unlikely on both counts.

This stuff makes Miami Vice look tame.

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Namebase entry for Ricardo Morales Navarrete:


Cuba 1959-1960 Zaire 1964 Venezuela 1974-1977

Branch,T. Propper,E. Labyrinth. 1983 (99-101, 133-5, 260-1, 302-3)

CounterSpy 1976-12 (12, 14)

Dinges,J. Landau,S. Assassination on Embassy Row. 1981 (248-9, 266)

Fonzi,G. The Last Investigation. 1993 (235-6, 345-6)

Freed,D. Death in Washington. 1980 (147-8)

Hinckle,W. Turner,W. The Fish is Red. 1981 (318-9)

Lernoux,P. In Banks We Trust. 1984 (100-2, 105)

Messick,H. Of Grass and Snow. 1979 (52-4)

Parapolitics (Paris) 1982-06 (1)

Parapolitics/USA 1981-10-31 (19-22)

Parapolitics/USA 1983-03-01 (25)

Parapolitics/USA 1983-06-01 (2, B6)

Scott,P.D. Marshall,J. Cocaine Politics. 1991 (27-8, 30-1)

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Ricardo Morales Navarette was interviewd by Douglas L. Williams in Miami on 5th April, 1982. It was an attempt to get himself of drug charges. It gives an interesting insight into the attitudes of the far right in America.

Q. Have you ever now that you mention it, either fabricated or assisted in the fabrication of an explosive or placed or assisted in the placement of an explosive that blew up an airliner? Have you ever done that?

A. Say that again?

Q. Have you ever...

A. I'm going o cut it short for you. Yes.

Q. Oh how many different occasions?

A. One.

Q. When and where?

A. Barbados.

Q. When, please, sir?

A. 1976. Let me correct myself, so I won't have to do it tomorrow. The craft involved was a communist Air Force plane from the Republic of Cuba.

Q. How many people were on board?

A. There were, including North Korean spies, Gwyenas, Cadres, DGI personnel, and Air Force officers of the Cuban Air Force, and assorted members of the Cuban Communist Party. There is a big discrepancy, which I believe that the government of Cuba is the only one who can come up with the exact figure.

Q. What is the best information you have?

A. According to the Press, which is, to the best of my knowledge, is wrong, 73.

Q. Did you place that explosive device on the aircraft, or did you fabricate it?

A. No, I did not place it, and I did not fabricate it.

Q. What part did you have in that incident?

A. In that incident?

Q. Yes, what did you do?

A. Oh, I was part of the conspirators.

Q. What specific part did you play that resulted in the blowing up of that airplane?

A. Oh, surveillance of the regular flights of that Cuban Air Force plane, providing by a third party the explosives.

Q. Is that to say that you made available the explosives to the people who actually did the manual work through a third person as intermediary?

A. Yes...

Q. At the time that you furnished the explosives, did you know that they were going to be used to sabotage or blow up that airplane?

A. Not at the beginning, and the source of explosive, Mr. Williams, was a result of the search that was executed by agents of my division in a house that suspected of being used by foreign intelligence enemies, and there was a lot of material that was seized there, and there was some explosives that they were found there, which were, of course, turned over to the Explosives end and Disposal Division of the DISIP, and that's where - that's from where, later on, the explosives found their way into this Cuban Air Force plane.

Q. Were you responsible either directly or indirectly for the explosives finding their way eventually into the airplane?

A. I share.

Q. Did you know at the time that you -

A. I share the responsibility.

Q. I understand. Did you know at the time that you took whatever steps were necessary in order for the explosives to be put on their path that eventually wound up inside the airplane?

A. Of course.

Q. Did you know that they were going to be used to explode the airplane?

A. Of course.

Q. Dr. Bosch was specifically charged with either perpetrating that incident, himself, or having assisted in putting it together; wasn't he? Wasn't he charged with that in Venezuela?

A. He is still in jail.

Q. My question to you, sir, is whether he was charged with responsibility for that incident?

A. That is why he is still in jail...

Q. Did you ever come to have knowledge of the published passenger manifest indicating the people who, according to the public media, were passengers on that airplane?

A. Yes.

Q. Didn't you learn that there were on board several women who ostensibly were traveling as spouses or mates or partners to some of the men on board?

A. They fall in the category of assorted communist party members.

Q. Give me a yes or no? Yes, you did, but...

A. That there were women aboard?

Q. Yes.

A. Yes.

Q. Did you also learn, sir, that there were children under the age of eighteen on board that airplane?

A. I didn't know that there were any children on board.

Q. You haven't learned that?

A. No, I haven't learned that.

Q. If, in fact, there were children under the age of eighteen on board that airplane, would you still regard them as being communist sympathizers under any circumstances?

A. I will consider them - that is preposterous because I have no knowledge about that, but that is preposterous, but to please you, Williams, I will say that they will belong to the Youth Communist Organization, and in due time, they will become full-fledged communists.

Q. Not anymore.

A. Well, not anymore in their cases.

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Here are two CIA reports that help to explain the role that the CIA played in the assassination of Orlando Letelier and the bombing of Cubana Flight 455.


(1) CIA, Secret Intelligence Report, Activities of Cuban Exile Leader Orlando Bosch During his Stay in Venezuela (14th October, 1976)

A source in Venezuela supplied the CIA with detailed intelligence on a fund raiser held for Orlando Bosch and his organization CORU after he arrived in Caracas in September 1976. The source described the dinner at the house of a Cuban exile doctor, Hildo Folgar, which included Venezuelan government officials. Bosch was said to have essentially asked for a bribe in order to refrain from acts of violence during the United Nations meeting in November 1976, which would be attended by Venezuelan President Carlos Andres Perez. He was also quoted as saying that his group had done a "great job" in assassinating former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier in Washington D.C. on September 21, and now was going to "try something else." A few days later, according to this intelligence report, Luis Posada Carriles was overheard to say that "we are going to hit a Cuban airplane" and "Orlando has the details."

(2) CIA, Secret Memorandum to the FBI, Information Regarding Anti-Castro Figures Possibly Involved in Neutrality or Other Violations of Federal Law (9th December, 1976)

In the aftermath of the bombing of the Cubana flight, the CIA ran "traces" on dozens of anti-Castro exiles who might be linked to this atrocity. This document records the summaries of traces on the two exiles who had by then been arrested in Caracas, Orlando Bosch and Luis Posada. The CIA noted that agents had had multiple contacts with Bosch in 1962 and 1963; and the Agency acknowledged that it had employed Luis Posada starting in 1965 and that he was a "demolitions expert." The CIA also noted that he provided information to them on the activities of other exile groups. It censored a section of the document that described the services he performed for the CIA while a high official in the Venezuelan secret police, DISIP, between 1967 and 1974. Other CIA records show that the Agency continued to have contact with Posada until June of 1976, more than eleven years after he was first recruited.

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