Just Say Uncle

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Arango was right, of course, but by then, it was too late to lower his profile. The feds had already built their case. Arango was one of Rayo's principal money launderers. He'd typically deposit cash in several South Florida banks, then invest the money in ventures such as a flower shop and a condo in Weston.

Still more money was spread around among Rayo's family and close friends in South Florida. DEA agents watched as Arango delivered cash to Sandra Orozco Gil, the mother of three of Rayo's children who has lived in Broward County since 1999. Investigators say Arango paid Orozco $5,000 a month and also paid her leases on a 2003 Jaguar and Lexus.

Orozco, 42, had been rearing her children in a Margate subdivision composed of two-story stucco homes that all look alike. Her front lawn is marked by a sign announcing that the house that Rayo bought is for sale again. The driveway is littered with copies of the Sun-Sentinel still in their delivery bags. There's a sticker on the front door for radio Voz Mundial, a Spanish-language AM radio program for evangelical Christians.

Orozco is the first defendant who has pleaded guilty in the case surrounding Rayo. That leap of faith was rewarded with a three-year prison term. This may be the shortest sentence that any of the defendants can hope for. She could not be reached for comment.

Pablo Rayo's nephew Victor Hugo Serna Rayo worked as a manager at a Crystal Liquor franchise in Pembroke Pines but lived with his mother in a gated community in Weston, spending his uncle's money. Federal investigators seized a half-million-dollar trust fund Rayo had opened for his nephew. Serna has pleaded guilty to money-laundering. He was sentenced to a three-year-and-ten-month prison stretch. (His mother, reached at their Weston home, declined to comment on his travails.)

Serna, like Arango, did not respond to a letter from New Times requesting an interview.

Hector Eduardo Aguilar lived in Kendall, between South Dixie Highway and the Don Shula Expressway, in a three-bedroom townhouse that he owned jointly with Rayo. The feds charged Aguilar with laundering drug money and with modifying yachts owned by Rayo's network to conceal drugs or money. At his sentencing hearing, Aguilar, 67, listened as Hoffman described the way he cared for three yachts that were moored in Coconut Grove, the 65-foot Hatteras and two 35-footers, the Albin and the Mirage, and controlled several bank accounts, all to serve Rayo's drug-trafficking business. "Wire intercepts established that Mr. Aguilar managed money for Mr. Rayo," Hoffman explained, "and that Mr. Rayo and Mr. Aguilar had several communications about Rayo depositing money into Aguilar's various shell accounts in order to pay for expenses associated with the management of these yachts, as well as communications about the general movement of Rayo's narcotics proceeds."

Monica Ruiz Matorel, a 34-year-old Colombian, pleaded guilty to laundering up to $7 million through Rayo's business. Trained as a dentist in Colombia, Ruiz, who was known within the organization as La Doctora, became involved with Rayo through a romance with a man named Mars Micolta Hurtado. Micolta was a key manager of Rayo's day-to-day drug-trafficking, the government contends.

"I made an innocent sin because I did what Mr. Micolta told me to do," Ruiz told the court at her February 2007 in Miami, "since I had a relationship with him and he is 23 years my senior. And I never thought that he would harm me."

Ruiz, who has a 12-year-old daughter, was arrested in Indiana, where her husband of four years lives. She asked if she could serve her seven-year prison sentence in the Midwest to be close to them. She remains in the Miami Federal Detention Center.

Micolta, 54, was arrested in Cartagena, the Colombian port that Rayo is alleged to have used as a base for his drug shipments. His brother, 42-year-old Domingo Micolta Hurtado, was arrested in Panama City, close by the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Sandra Orozco Gil's brother, 47-year-old Jackson Orozco Gil, an uncle of Rayo's children, was arrested in Cali, the Colombian city from which he could oversee oceanbound shipments departing from the Buenaventura river delta. All three were charged with abetting Rayo's drug network. Attorneys for Mars Micolta and Jackson Orozco deny that their clients were leaders in Rayo's organization. Domingo Micolta pleaded guilty to the charges this month and was sentenced to 11 years in prison, the longest sentence so far for any of the people charged in the case.

Mars and Domingo Micolta and Jackson Orozco had a slew of businesses in their names, many of which purported to be for fishing or legitimate importing and exporting. The employees of those companies have probably had their phones tapped or their photos surreptitiously snapped by investigators. "Any type of case like this, you throw a net out there and see what you catch," says an attorney familiar with the evidence marshaled against Rayo and his businesses.

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Thomas Francis