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Jury acquits 4 men in money-laundering trial

It was the same case that sent a much-lauded Tampa police officer to prison last year. But on Thursday, there was a very different outcome for the latest defendants in the Operation PROMO money-laundering investigation.

A federal jury Thursday found four men not guilty of laundering Colombian drug money from U.S. streets to Merrill Lynch offices in Panama City, Panama. And in a new twist for a money-laundering trial, one of the defendants successfully used an insanity defense, claiming his manic-depressive condition rendered him "unable to appreciate his actions."

"Although we are disappointed with the verdict, that is the function of the jury system," said Gary Montilla, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office and federal prosecutors James Preston and Robert O'Neill. "We had enough evidence to take the case to the jury, and we accept the jury's verdict."

Frank L. Greene, 71, a retired senior vice president with Merrill Lynch; Steven Mills, 30, a Merrill Lynch account executive in Panama City; Charles McFadden, 66, a former senior partner with Peat Marwick; and Ricardo Leyton, a Panamanian lawyer, were acquitted of charges they conspired to commit money laundering, Gary Trombley, Greene's attorney, said.

"It's an absolute 100 percent condemnation of government conduct," said George Tragos, McFadden's attorney. "They should be fighting crime in the U.S., not traveling around the world creating crime where there isn't any."

Tragos referred to Robert Mazur, the Drug Enforcement Administration agent who helped bring down the Bank of Credit and Commerce International in 1988.

Mazur launched the undercover Operation PROMO in 1991, acting the part of a Sarasota businessman representing Colombian drug lords to international executives in South America. The operation led to 28 indictments against people from the United States, Panama and Colombia.

Mazur's PROMO team included former Tampa police officer Javier Willie Guzman, 34, a one-time rising star on the force who eventually pleaded guilty to starting his own laundering operation with the Colombians he was assigned to investigate. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison in August.

Attorneys for Greene and McFadden said the government had no proof that their clients believed the $2.4-million in government funds offered to them for investment by DEA agents were actually cocaine profits.

"The agents told them they represented high net-worth people in Colombia, and that their clients wanted to be kept confidential," Tragos said. "To equate all high net-worth Colombians with drug-smuggling is, at the least, insulting."

O'Neill said during the seven-week trial that Mazur collected the money from dealers in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Puerto Rico, and that the defendants helped Mazur create fake companies and foundations in Liechtenstein to launder profits.

John Fitzgibbons, Mills' attorney, said his client was diagnosed as manic-depressive while a target of the government's sting operation. Because agents continued to work with him while he was sick, Fitzgibbons said, Mills could not be held responsible for his actions.

"We did not contest the issue of proof," Fitzgibbons said. "Our position was that Steven was sick."

If the men had been convicted, each would have faced up to 20 years in prison.