Burned at Both Ends

A background in hauling pot gives you the skills and chutzpah to become a Medicaid mogul

Lopez chuckles, claiming that Boyd was always in on the schemes. "Darrell is sitting out there not charged for King's Point. We were the ones that took the hit — just myself and his girlfriend." It wasn't long before Gootgeld moved out of Boyd's house, and Lopez become the prosecution's key witness against him.

Despite their falling out, there is one thing that Boyd and Lopez — and others, including the Florida bar — agree on: a Miami attorney named Eduardo Cantera is one shady dude. Boyd's experience playing Roadrunner to federal drug enforcement agents' Wile E. Coyote never prepared him for dealing with sharky lawyers like Cantera.

c. Stiles
John Darrell and Tracy Boyd in the 1970s — just your everyday friendly international drug traffickers!
Courtesy of john darrell boyd
John Darrell and Tracy Boyd in the 1970s — just your everyday friendly international drug traffickers!

When Lopez and Boyd were arrested in relation to Safety Drugs, they sought legal services from Cantera, who had a reputation for defending people accused of Medicaid fraud. "That was the end of my life as I know it," Boyd says.

Former associates describe Cantera as a short, round, talkative man. "A little runt of a guy — a kind of a weasel-looking guy," one attorney says. "If you look at him, you would probably see the devil," one of his old clients says.

"I nicknamed him 'The Penguin,' " Boyd says, caricaturing his tortured relationship with the lawyer. "He'd go, 'Bah-bah-bah-bah.' I tried to strangle him, but he'd run away just so he could keep on talking!"

Cantera (who declined to comment for this article) was known to have close relationships with investigators inside the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (MFCU) — the very group that was arresting and prosecuting his clients. At first, these connections seemed like a good thing. "He maneuvered dealings with agents," one former client explains. "He promised that he had contacts who would help me out and make my case disappear."

If anyone doubted Cantera's connections, he need only look to his beautiful daughter Yasmin, who worked in his office. She was dating Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Louis Martinez — the prosecutor working against Boyd and Lopez. Cantera "would brag that a prosecutor was dating his daughter," Cantera's former law partner later testified. "Like he could expect preferential treatment."

"It certainly looked like he pimped her out," another attorney says.

Martinez himself later testified that he once went to Cantera's home office to take Yasmin out to lunch. Who was there at the same time? Boyd. "I wasn't sure if it was set up," Martinez said, but he asked to be taken off the case to avoid a conflict of interest. He later stopped dating Yasmin and left the Attorney General's Office to go into private practice.

Boyd says he had given Cantera an initial $45,000 to start work on his and Lopez's defense, but months passed without so much as a deposition being taken. When Boyd asked for an accounting, he says, Cantera told him only that the money had been spent. Boyd says he then discovered that Cantera was passing confidential information to the MFCU investigators working against him.

"These are the same people that have sworn to put me in jail for the rest of my life that he is giving information to!" Boyd exclaims, calling Cantera "a quisling."

Jose Lopez concedes that initially Boyd had paid the legal fees for both of them. But Lopez eventually raised $120,000 for his own defense. That's when, Lopez says, "Cantera approached me separately and said he'd been able to work out a deal for me. He could arrange for the two of us to be separated. I could arrange a plea on my own." Essentially, Lopez says, Cantera was offering to give up one client in favor of another. It looked, Lopez says, like he would defend whoever could show him the money the quickest.

Both defendants got new attorneys. Lopez's attorney (who asked not to be named) says it was wrong for Cantera to have represented both men in the first place, because "what might be good for one might be bad for the other." In other words, one defendant could get a reduced sentence by pleading guilty and testifying against the other. Despite Lopez's initial reluctance to testify against Boyd, he has become a witness for the prosecution and received a sentence of 15 years' probation — no jail time.

Meanwhile, Boyd fired up his computer and started dashing off letters to the Florida bar. His multipage missives went something like this: "Apparently Cantera missed the Money Laundering 101 class in college. He did, however, pass the one on How to Misuse and Redirect Your Clients Funds for Your Personal Use $45,000."

By the time the Florida bar received Boyd's colorful complaints, it was already investigating several earlier ones by other clients, alleging that Cantera misused funds and failed to account for missing money. On September 1, 2005, Cantera was disbarred (though Boyd never got his $45,000 back). The bar felt compelled to point out: "An attorney shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation."

Cantera's license to practice law may have evaporated — but that didn't make the Medicaid fraud allegations against Boyd go away. He still had a trial coming.

However, a funny thing happened on the way to the courthouse: In the course of gathering records against Cantera, Boyd believes he stumbled across possible wrongdoing in the Attorney General's MFCU.

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