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Win at all costs
Written by Bill Moushey Part 5 of 10

A crowd on this ‘bus’

November 30, 1998
By Bill Moushey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Federal prosecutors wanted to make sure Israel Abel didn’t get off the hook.

Abel said that among the dozens of witnesses who testified against him at his 1992 Miami drug smuggling trial were several people he’d never laid eyes on. They were there to "jump on the bus," earning sentence reductions by testifying about things they’d never seen having to do with a person they’d never met, he said.

It wasn’t until several years after Abel was sentenced to life in prison that he learned where the witnesses had come from. Abel’s family found in a court record a copy of a letter that a government informant named Jorge Machado had written to his sentencing judge.

Abel knew Machado but not most of the others whom Machado lined up to testify. In his letter, Machado apologized to the judge for being a cocaine smuggler, lamented that he’d spent 34 months in prison and told him he was actively pursuing cases that could help him win a sentence reduction.

In support of his plea, Machado provided a summary of his cooperation. "I have recruited [confidential informants] in four different cases," wrote Machado, even though, as he pointed out, he’d only been a gopher for drug barons and would know little about a smuggling ring’s inner workings.

In the government’s case against Abel, "I recruited the following people: Joaquin Guzman, Jorege Cardenas, Jose Ledo, Carlos De La Torre, Carlos Betancourt. Mr. Betancourt recruited Mr. Catano." The letter went on to list people Abel says he’s never met.

During his trial, Abel’s lawyers had no reason to believe Machado or any of the other witnesses were phony and so the lawyers never questioned them about how they came to testify. They wouldn’t find out until much later.

Abel, who has been imprisoned for seven years, hopes one day to be able to point that out in an evidentiary hearing, if one is granted, to show that many of these witnesses were nothing more than liars trying to buy their way out of jail.

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