Tuesday, November 29, 2016

San Diego disbarred lawyer arrested in Haiti in drug plane scheme

Falcon 10, Maule Group LLC, N720DF: http://registry.faa.gov/N720DF

A Rancho Santa Fe attorney who at one point represented Florida mom Casey Anthony and was last year disbarred and imprisoned for a San Diego-based fraud scheme has been arrested in Haiti on suspicion of conspiring to smuggle up to 1,500 kilograms of cocaine in a plane.

Todd Macaluso was arrested Nov. 14 in Haiti along with two other men, Carlos Almonte Vasquez and Humberto Osuna Contreras.

The arrest comes while Macaluso is on supervised probation in his San Diego fraud case. An experienced pilot himself, he built his career on aviation-related cases and became known for his high-award verdicts.

According to the complaint filed in New York federal court, an unspecified drug trafficking organization in October began looking for a plane that would fly from Haiti to pick up cocaine in Ecuador and then fly the drugs to Honduras.

It is a common technique used by traffickers, according to the New York police officer, a member of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Task Force, who wrote the affidavit attached to the criminal complaint. Smugglers often use aircraft registered in the U.S. because they think the planes attract less scrutiny.

Planes often pick up drugs in the source country, or a country near the source, and then fly them to a transshipment point, often Central America, the affidavit states. From there, drugs can be smuggled to the U.S., usually through Mexico.

On Oct. 25, in a conversation recorded by law enforcement, Almonte is heard saying his partner would be traveling to Haiti to inspect a plane for the trip, according to the complaint. In another conversation the next day, he is recorded saying during a meeting in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, that the load would be between 1,500 and 1,800 kilograms.

A few days later, a plane that had been chosen, a Gulfstream II, was in Florida and ready for the flight to Haiti. Problem was, it could not leave the U.S., the complaint says.

The search was on for another plane, and on Nov. 13, a co-conspirator announced he’d found a Falcon 10 registered in the U.S. that would be piloted by Macaulso. He said a crew member known as “Mateo” — later identified as Osuna — would be on board to represent investors who were to buy a portion of the drug load.

On Nov. 13, flight records and other tracking show Macaluso flew the Falcon from Orlando to Port-au-Prince, with Osuna on board, according to the complaint.

In a recorded conversation the next day, Almonte confirmed the “chauffer” would be arriving and that the “captain” knew “everything” but the copilot did not, the complaint states.

On Nov 14., the three men and others allegedly met to discuss the plan. They agreed to on their payment for transporting the drugs on the plane, including $35,000 in Haiti plus $150,000 at a later time, a portion of which Osuna agreed to be paid in New York, the records state.

Macaluso was recorded instructing the others on the structure of the plane, an older-model business jet made by French manufacturer Dassault, and confirming that it could hold 1,500 kilograms of cocaine, the complaint says.

Haiti law enforcement officers arrested the men after the meeting. They were expelled from Haiti and flown to New York for prosecution.

They were arraigned in a New York courtroom on Nov. 19 on a charge of conspiracy to possess cocaine with the intent to distribute on board a U.S.-registered plane. A judge ordered the three to be detained without bail.

Federal Aviation Administration records show the plane is registered to the Maule Group LLC in Connecticut.

The arrest adds to Macaluso’s colorful and troubled legal history.

Macaluso gained some notoriety as part of the defense team that represented Casey Anthony, the young Florida mother who was acquitted of killing her 2-year-old daughter in 2011. After her release from jail, there was speculation that she was whisked away from Orlando aboard Macaluso’s private plane, which was based in Carlsbad.

He also represented former San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman in a battery case involving reality star Tila Tequila. Prosecutors declined to file charges in that case.

Last November, Macaluso was sentenced to five months in federal custody and a $100,000 fine for orchestrating an investment scheme. The attorney sought investors to keep his downtown law practice afloat. In return, the investors would have claim over a portion of the winnings in his clients’ personal injury cases.

Macaulso made the funding agreements without the knowledge of most of his clients and forged their signatures, according to the plea agreement.

He admitted defrauding them out of more than $70,000. He began paying back investors when he found out about the federal investigation, prosecutors said.

His lawyer in that case told the San Diego federal judge at sentencing that he’d paid back about $1.3 million of the $1.5 million total he owed.

At the sentencing, Macaluso said the venture was a “huge error in judgment on my part” and that it had an “absolutely profound” impact on his family.

Macaluso has been investigated for other misconduct, including misappropriating funds he was supposed to keep in a trust account for clients, state bar records show.

Story and comments:   http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com 

San Diego attorney accused in international cocaine smuggling plan: Federal agents arrested Todd Macaluso in Haiti

A San Diego attorney is being held in a New York jail for his alleged involvement in a cocaine smuggling plan.

Attorney Todd Macaluso, who is an avid pilot, is accused of using his passion for flying to help cocaine traffickers shuttle 1,500 kilograms of cocaine between two destinations in South America, according to an arrest warrant unsealed by a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York.

The arrest warrant stated Macaluso was arrested in Haiti before a deal occurred.

According to the warrant, Macaluso and Humber Osuna Contreras, also known as "Mateo", flew from Orlando, Florida, to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Nov. 13. The warrant stated the men met with Carlos Almonte Vasquez the next day, and the conversation and many others were electronically recorded.

Macaluso told the other two men the Falcon 10 plane he was flying could hold 1,500 kilograms of cocaine, according to the warrant.

Team 10 learned the plane with the tail number N720DF is owned by the Maule Group, LLC, out of Danbury, Connecticut. Team 10's calls to people associated with that group were not answered.

Macaluso is not named in ownership documents filed with the Connecticut Secretary of State.

Haitian law enforcement officers arrested the three men before they could carry out their plan. The suspects were expelled from Haiti and sent to New York to face charges.

Macaluso has had legal problems in the past. He spent five months in prison this year for defrauding clients and investors by entering into funding agreements that put cases up for collateral without their knowledge.

If convicted of conspiracy to smuggle cocaine, Macaluso could get 10 years to life in prison.

Macaluso's wife, Tonya, declined comment for this story.

UPDATE (Nov. 28, 2016): A group of investors are calling Macaluso's arrest "karma."

"I don't know how he thought he could have gotten away with it," said David Paquin, an attorney who represents several frustrated investors.

The investors say Macaluso didn't use their money the way he promised and never paid it back.

"Their position was look, this guy stole our life savings and if we can't get our money back, we at least want to see him go to jail," said Paquin.

Story and comments:  http://www.10news.com

 Pilatus PC-12/47,  N950KA

"It's a horrible tragedy. We are really, really upset by this and we hope that we can determine what the cause of the crash was," said Todd Macaluso, the plane's former owner.

Macaluso may be a familiar name. He was one of Casey Anthony's defense attorneys and says used the aircraft to fly Anthony out of Florida when she was released last year.  

Macaluso says his company owned and operated the plane for two years.

"The plane did go through an annual inspection before it was sold to those buyers, so it should have had a clean bill of health," Macaluso told 10 News by phone from his home in San Diego, California. 

In a strange twist, Macaluso also often represents families of aircraft crash victims.  The plane was often used to transport his law firm's team of investigators across the country.

He says he even used it to take his own family on vacation and on relief missions to Haiti after the earthquake.

Read more here:   http://www.kathrynsreport.com

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