MIAMI – A pilot who once flew tons of drugs for Colombian cartels during Miami's "cocaine cowboys" era went on trial Tuesday in an auto fraud case, with his attorney insisting prosecutors can't prove he knew anything illegal was going on.
Attorney Rick Yabor told jurors in an opening statement there's little evidence that Mickey Munday created or dealt with the fraudulent paperwork used in the scheme to essentially steal more than 150 cars between 2008 and 2015.
"All he was doing was transporting cars," Yabor said. "What they're going to feed you is a ghost story. And just like those ghost stories, it's going to be full of holes."
Munday, 72, spent most of the 1990s in prison after pleading guilty to drug smuggling charges involving tons of cocaine from Pablo Escobar's Medellin cartel and also the Cali cartel during the 1980s. He frequently brags about his exploits in media interviews, social media posts and in a starring role in the 2006 documentary "Cocaine Cowboys."
"If it flies, rolls or floats, I can drive it," Munday has often said.
This time he's looking at up to 20 years in prison if convicted on each of six counts of mail fraud and conspiracy. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anne McNamara told jurors Munday was deeply involved in the scheme and was brought aboard in part because of his well-known past as a smuggler.
"He brags about his ability to take advantage of law enforcement's weaknesses," she said.
Prosecution evidence includes a videotaped interview between Munday and a police detective that McNamara said he gave voluntarily so he could find out what investigators knew about the scheme. In it, she said, he appears to admit knowing about the fraud.
In addition, several other people who have already pleaded guilty are listed as prosecution witnesses.
According to an indictment, the scheme involved obtaining cars that were about to be repossessed by a bank or other financial institution or through purchases at dealerships by straw buyers. Using tow truck businesses as fronts, the group created a trail of paper that ended with them having clear ownership of the vehicles, which they then sold at a profit.
"It was a scheme to basically steal cars," said Detective Michael Goldsworthy of the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, who was the first prosecution witness. "They can do anything they want with it."
Banks and other financial institutions lost more than $1.7 million, Goldsworthy said. In some cases, financially strapped people who sold the group their cars at discounts without paying off their loans had their credit ruined.
Munday's main role was transporting the cars from all over the country to South Florida, and then hiding them either at his own Miami-area house or at warehouses operated by the other conspirators, prosecutors say. Some of his past as a cocaine smuggler will come up in this trial because of the similarities in the work, they say.
The trial is expected to wrap up next week.
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