Miami, FL – A former banker and Miami
attorney who was convicted of drug smuggling 26 years ago has been captured
by the U.S. Marshals with the assistance of Mexican law enforcement and
Immigration authorities. Manuel Lopez-Castro, a 61-year old Cuban national
who was naturalized as a U.S. citizen in 1977 was captured in Cancun,
Mexico. Once his exact location was discovered, a planned traffic stop was
coordinated on Tuesday February 12, 2013 by the United States Marshals
Service and the Mexican National Police. Information was developed in early
2012 by the U.S. Marshals that led them to believe that Lopez-Castro was
hiding out in Cancun. Mexico
Once the identity of the fugitive was confirmed, he was detained by Mexican
law enforcement and subsequently turned over to Mexican Immigration for
deportation. Lopez-Castro was placed on a flight from Cancun to Miami on
Wednesday. Local U.S. Marshals took custody of the wanted suspect at Miami
International Airport upon his arrival. Lopez-Castro will make his initial
appearance today before a Federal Magistrate in Miami.
In December 1984, Lopez-Castro was indicted along with five other
co-defendants by a federal grand jury in Miami. They were charged with
operating a large scale marijuana smuggling organization from January 1977
to 1984. This organization was also referred to as the Jose Fernandez
marijuana smuggling syndicate, which included importing and distributing as
much as 600,000 pounds of marijuana, laundering the proceeds and profits
from the drug sales, and investing the monies derived from the alleged
criminal enterprise through the use of foreign and domestic corporations.
Lopez-Castro worked as an attorney for the Sunshine State Bank in Miami.
According to the indictment he knowingly laundered large sums of currency
through the Sunshine State Bank and other banks in the State of Florida to
defeat the requirements for filing reports of currency transactions in
excess of ten thousand dollars as required by federal law.
Lopez-Castro was arrested by the Drug
Enforcement Administration (DEA) on December 12, 1984. He was released on a
$250,000 dollar bond pending his trial. At trial, Lopez-Castro was convicted
of marijuana smuggling, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. He was
sentenced to serve 27 years in federal prison. Lopez-Castro was allowed to
remain out on bond and was scheduled to surrender to the Federal
Correctional Institution (FCI) in Tallahassee, Florida. He was supposed to
turn himself in to begin serving his prison sentence on January 28, 1986.
Lopez-Castro never showed up at the prison in North Florida. Accordingly, a
warrant was issued for his arrest on January 30, 1986.
Lopez-Castro didn’t waste any time hiding out in the South Florida area, he
quickly departed the United States. U.S. Marshals developed information that
he had fled to Spain, then possibly to Costa Rica, Argentina, Venezuela, and
Panama. Lopez-Castro finally ended up in Mexico. By this time, the U.S.
Marshals fugitive case had become an international cold-case but that didn’t
stop Marshals from pursuing this very elusive fugitive.
Lopez-Castro’s $250,000 dollar bond was forfeited in February of 1986. The
government seized his home located at 8100 Old Cutler Road in Miami. On June
4, 1987, Lopez-Castro was disbarred from the Florida Bar by the Florida
Supreme Court based on his convictions and violations of criminal laws of
the United States. But losing his license to practice law was the least of
Lopez-Castro’s worries. He had remained out of reach of the U.S. Marshals
for over 25 years.
Then in 2012, the case was reassigned to personnel more familiar with
foreign fugitives. Information developed through these investigators led
them believe that the fugitive was in Cancun, Mexico. Local Marshals
contacted their foreign filed office in Mexico. With the assistance of the
U.S. State Department in Mexico, and the Policia Federal Ministria, also
known as the Mexican Federal Police (PFM), law enforcement began conducting
surveillance on possible associates, friends and family members of
Lopez-Castro. On several occasions, a person possible believed to be the
wanted suspect was seen. However with such an extraordinary amount of time
passed, they could not be sure.
A coordinated plan was arranged to hopefully capture the person believed to
be Lopez-Castro. After the fugitive departed a condominium in a vehicle with
other family members, the team of law enforcement which was comprised of
Mexican Federal Police, State Department officials and the U.S. Marshals in
Mexico conducted a traffic stop to identify and arrest the fugitive.
Lopez-Castro fled on foot from law enforcement but was quickly apprehended.
Lopez-Castro maintained that he was a Mexican citizen. Investigators learned
that he obtained a fraudulent Mexican birth certificate approximately ten
years earlier. Mexican authorities now knew his true identity and that he
was in fact a naturalized U.S. citizen and a fugitive from justice who was
wanted in the United States. Lopez-Castro was escorted aboard a flight back
to Miami accompanied by two Mexican INM agents. The fugitive who had eluded
the U.S. Marshals for years was certainly not happy to land at the Miami
International Airport almost 26 years to the day when he was scheduled to
surrender himself at a Federal Prison in North Florida. Lopez-Castro will be
housed at the Federal Detention Center in Miami pending court proceedings
and his transfer to the Bureau of Prisons.
information about the U.S. Marshals Service can be found at
America’s Oldest Federal Law