MIAMI — You think Conservative Marco Rubio‘s liberal use of a Republican Party of Florida credit card is the only skeleton in his closet?
A close member of the family of the rising presidential candidate once transported and sold cocaine for a ruthless Miami-based drug-dealing crime syndicate compared by law enforcement to that of fictional kingpin Scarface!
Orlando Cicilia, 57, the Miami senator’s brother-in-law, was arrested in 1987 after being indicted by a federal grand jury.
In time, he was sentenced to 25 years in a federal penitentiary on racketeering charges.
Cicilia served just less than half and was released Nov. 9, 2000, according to federal Bureau of Prison records.
Cicilia and half a dozen other men were involved a $75 million-criminal enterprise that was active from 1976 to 1986, according to court papers.
They were taken down in an early 1987 DEA effort nicknamed Operation Cobra.
The syndicate used container ships to import millions of dollars worth of cocaine and marijuana from Baranquilla, Colombia, into Florida and Louisiana, according to news accounts from that era.
Cicilia, who married Rubio’s sister Barbara in 1980 according to Miami-Dade County records, was a spoke in a giant wheel of violence and corruption set in motion by then-drug lord Mario Tabraue.
Now 59 and a free man after serving nearly nearly 14 years in prison, Tabraue is a Cuban-American exotic-animal dealer who, in the gang’s heyday, allegedly tried to dismember the corpse of a federal informant with a chainsaw.
In time, he was convicted of 61 counts of racketeering, the same type of charges that once put Mafia bosses in prison.
According to the 62-page federal indictment unsealed in 1987, Cicilia, then 30 years old, became a part of the folklore surrounding the infamous Cocaine Cowboys mostly as a delivery man.
At times, Cicilia traveled the then-mean streets of the Magic City with as much as a pound of high-grade cocaine then worth nearly $20,000.
Cocaine by the pound
The indictment naming Cicilia showed the brother-in-law of the man who wants be leader of the free world was observed by federal authorities as he delivered 1 pound of cocaine to Tabraue’s Miami exotic pet store, which served as a front for the drug operation.
“On or about July 22, 1986, (co-conspirator) Jose Martinez met with Orlando Cicilia at Pets Unlimited in Miami, Florida, for the purpose of discussing a cocaine deal, and received a sample of cocaine from Orlando Cicialia,” one passage of the indictment reads.
Incidentally, the then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Janet Reno, who rose to become President Bill Clinton’s U.S. Attorney General, was part of the investigation team that nailed Operation Cobra.
What sparked comparisons with the 1983 movie with Al Pacino, in addition to the Cuban background of the syndicate makeup and the violence they used to get rid of enemies, was the luxurious living of the bosses.
Tabraue operated from a giant ranch on the edge of The Everglades National Park.
There, like Scarface’s Tony Montana, he kept big cats on the property to justify to his neighbors why his security men, which included area police officers, roamed with shotguns.
Months before the indictment, a federal informant named Larry Nash was murdered by the crew, although Tabraue was never convicted in the killing.
Machete then chainsaw then fire
According to testimony at Tabraue’s trial, Nash was killed by an accomplice and his body driven to the ranch.
There, Tabraue allegedly tried to hack it into pieces with a machete. But when he noticed it would be a lot of work, Tabraue ordered the killer to finish the job with a chainsaw then set the remains on fire.
Tabraue was eventually sentenced to 100 years in prison.
He was released in 2003 and now lobbies the U.S. Congress on behalf of exotic cat owners.
While Rubio has argued in the past that he was just 16 when his brother-in-law Orlando Cicilia was arrested, Rubio grew up in a tightly-knit family where his sister and Cicilia were around.
At one point, according to published reports, Cicilia has lived with Rubio’s mother, Oria Garcia, in her modest Miami house.
In his book, An American Son, Rubio mentions his sister Barbara and Cicilia in several passages.
The U.S. senator wrote he liked Cicilia’s country bumpkin ways.
While Rubio didn’t write about how Cicilia’s legal trouble affected his teenage years, he wrote about visiting his sister during holidays and traditional Hispanic functions as a boy, and getting paid by Cicilia to wash the couple’s dogs.
Rubio remembered one Christmas at Cicilia’s house as his fondest childhood memory:
“We celebrated a traditional Cuban Nochebuena that Christmas eve with Barbara and Orlando at their new house in a rural part of Dade County. Their house was small but had an acre of land.
“Orlando was from a guajiro family, a Cuban term for country folk …That Christmas is my fondest childhood memory …Only Veronica [Rubio’s sister] has unpleasant memories of it. She had been appalled to see a pig killed and butchered, and terrified when Orlando chased her around the house with the pig’s head.”
Rubio also wrote he liked helping Cicilia out with chores because there were often a few bucks coming his way.
“I wanted to attend every Dolphins home game, and needed money to buy the tickets. Barbara and Orlando owned seven Samoyed dogs, a beautiful breed with long white hair that was hard to keep clean. They paid me ten dollars a week for each dog I washed, and I used my earnings to buy tickets to all eight regular-season home games in 1985.”
Two years ago Cicilia, now a licensed real estate agent, was tasked with selling Rubio’s house in suburban Miami. At $675,000, however, there was no taker and Rubio pulled it off the market then re-listed it with another member of Cicilia’s family.
Documentary filmmaker Billy Corben, who directed and produced the acclaimed documentary about Miami’s 1980s lawless era Cocaine Cowboys, said the violence and corruption of the crew that Cicilia worked for didn’t set it apart in the drug trade.
“Unfortunately,” Corben says, “there was a time you could walk on Calle Ocho (the heart of Cuban Miami) and all you had to do to touch someone involved with the drug trade was to reach out.
“After tourism, drugs were the second biggest industry here.
“Does the fact that his brother-in-law was a part of that world make Marco Rubio unfit to serve?
“He was 16 at the time, and where he grew up, it’s inevitable he knew someone in the drug business.
“In Miami, we’re all guilty by geography.”
We reached out to Cicilian and Rubio’s campaign for comments but haven’t heard from them yet.