By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Local police notified the FBI a day later that they suspected Sandini in the killing. But Mitrione downplayed the homicide to his superiors. Internal reports reveal that the FBI higher-ups basically ignored the murder. When questioned by New Times in 1999, Mitrione admitted that he suspected Sandini had Esposito killed to keep Airlift going. "It was Sandini all the way," Mitrione declared.
(Mitrione didn't return phone calls from New Times placed to a family home in Virginia for this series.)
Soon, Mitrione and Sandini relocated to the smaller Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, a place rife with smugglers. Their first major targets were Paraguayan government officials who were working with the Medellin cocaine cartel. Mitrione told his superiors that, to build trust with his Colombian contacts, he would have to let 50 kilograms "walk" into the United States, according to FBI reports. But top bureau officials, fearing political fallout, refused his request.
"A lot of time and money went down the drain, and Dan seemed to be very disappointed and turned real sour on the whole deal...," Sandini later wrote in prison. "It was at this point that Dan really changed... [He] had severe moods of depression and cursed Washington for having people that knew absolutely nothing about the drug business and knew nothing about working undercover. Shortly after the turn-down, he let me understand that from this point... he wanted in on the big money."
Sandini also wrote that Mitrione told him "the only reason he went with the Bureau was to find out who had killed his father or who had ordered the killing."
"Dan asked me to secure several guns with silencers, including a machine gun," he wrote, adding that Mitrione had assembled an unofficial "assassination squad" of friends who would kill his father's murderers.
Operation Airlift, born of murder, hidden motives, and lies, was about to really take off. And Mitrione would soon discover what big money was all about.
Tammy Krugh had the night of her life. It was October 9, 1982, when her brother Randy chartered a 65-foot yacht called the Zaca, named for Errol Flynn's famous schooner. He loaded it with caviar, shrimp, champagne, and high-end liquor and hired a captain to run it up and down the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale.
All this was for her 30th birthday. She felt lucky to have a brother like Randy. He even set her up with a good-looking, dark-haired man he introduced as Danny Micelli. As if to suggest the possibilities, her brother bought a cake from a specialty store. It was decorated in the shape of male genitalia. Tammy thought that was gross but otherwise found the night to be magical: "I remember that night like it just happened: the dancing, the stars shining. We just went down the Intracoastal and enjoyed the view, you know, where all the nice houses are? And these people on the boat were dressed to the nines, and there was all kinds of gold jewelry. It was over-the-top, first-class."
Danny was charming, unlike his older, blustery friend, Sandy, who wore a huge gold medallion around his neck and acted like he owned everything. Danny was sweet and caring and asked lots of questions about Convoy, her hometown in Ohio. They hit it off so well that Krugh flew them to the Bahamas the following morning to go diving. While she and Mitrione swam, her brother went spearfishing.
"There was blood in the water, and that was weird," she recalls. "I kept thinking that sharks could come."
One exchange during her time with Mitrione really stuck in her memory.
"Do you have any idea what your brother is involved in?" her birthday date asked her under the stars on the Zaca.
"No," she replied.
"Well, it's really bad."
And so it was. Krugh was routinely flying loads of marijuana from Jamaica and cocaine from Colombia for Sandy and Danny. All of it went through Andros Island in the Bahamas, where it was picked up in boats and brought to Fort Lauderdale and Miami. In charge of the boats were a couple of smugglers named Stanley Combs and Rex Foster, who today says he made $5 million smuggling drugs during a five-year period. "I partied all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," boasts the Georgia-born Foster, who is 66 years old and retired in Wilton Manors. "It was easy money."
Sandini and Mitrione put the deals together and arranged for distribution of the drugs, usually in Pittsburgh, a city where Sandini had contacts in organized crime. They conducted their business in Hangar 24 at the executive airport, where Mitrione usually sat in a front office while Sandini, playing the role of godfather, sat in back. For his undercover role, the FBI put up the married Mitrione in an oceanfront condo on Galt Ocean Mile that Sandini called the "playpen." They chased women and frequented prostitutes, and on at least one occasion, the agent snorted cocaine. Their favorite haunt was the Laughing Fish Pub, which was located in a since-closed Holiday Inn in Fort Lauderdale.
They were big tippers.
"On birthdays and Christmas, they were more than generous with me and the other girls," says Marie Locie, who was one of Sandini's favorite cocktail waitresses at the Laughing Fish. "Sandy gave me a thousand-dollar watch for my birthday, and he put my roommate through nursing school. He'd grab you by the arm and say, 'Marie, we need more drinks.' He was a big guy, a control freak. You could tell by his nature."