Cocaine Case Falls Apart In Court

DATE: September 17,
1986 EDITION: FINAL

AL MESSERSCHMIDT And STEPHEN
J. HEDGES Herald Staff

Writers
The Miami Herald

Three Miami men who were accused of concealing 414 pounds of cocaine in a shipment of frozen yucca from Costa Rica were acquitted by a U.S. District Court jury Tuesday.

"All these guys were doing was unloading yucca," said defense attorney Richard Sharpstein. "They were in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The case began in January when a container filled with 1,327 boxes of frozen yucca was shipped to West Palm Beach aboard the cargo ship Azua. The container was moved, with shipping seals intact, to Miami by Seaboard Maine Ltd.

U.S. Customs agents searched the container while it was in storage in Miami. The agents drilled a hole in a bulkhead wall and found cocaine; then they waited and watched.

In late January, Jesus "Dario" Tabon, a shoe store operator and yucca importer, claimed the shipment. Defense attorney Doug Hartman said the frozen yucca was removed from the container and transferred to cold storage.

Tabon then changed his mind, told the storage company that he had sold 500 pounds of yucca and ordered delivery to a farm in Southwest Dade. When the yucca was repacked in a Seaboard container that still held the cocaine, federal agents placed a beeper inside.

The beeper went off on Jan. 23. The container was in a farm field at 12001 SW 236th St.

Five men -- Tabon; Dauge Morales, who owned the farm; Jorge Garzon-Acosta, a waiter and Tabon's son-in-law; Malcolm Robert Clark Jr.; and Gustavo Ortiz Cardona -- were charged with conspiracy and possession of cocaine. Ortiz Cardona jumped a $100,000 bond.

After a seven-day trial, U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings dismissed the conspiracy charges against Tabon, Morales, Garzon- Acosta and Clark. He dismissed the possession charge against Garzon-Acosta, who was represented by Sharpstein.

The jurors in Hastings' court deliberated two hours Tuesday before acquitting Tabon, Clark and Morales of the drug possession charges.

"When the police jumped in, none of the cocaine had been disturbed," said defense attorney Russell Spatz, who represented Clark. "Nobody was found in possession of cocaine and it was never removed."

Hartman said the cocaine was stashed in the container without Tabon's knowledge.

"I was very surprised that the jury acquitted Tabon and Morales," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Frank Tamen. "I've never heard of anybody losing or giving away $3 million worth of cocaine and not coming to claim it."