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Information frees drug kingpin

Published Sep. 27, 2005

A drug trafficker who once hacked a federal informant's body to pieces is free after serving only 12 years of a 100-year sentence for helping convict other narcotics traders.

Federal agents and the informant's widow are angry about Mario Tabraue's release, saying 100 years was an appropriate sentence for a man whose organization imported $75-million worth of cocaine and marijuana and killed to protect the enterprise.

"My balance sheet says he got 100 years, and that's exactly what he ought to do," said Dan McBride, a retired agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who began the four-year effort in the 1980s to destroy Tabraue's gang. "He epitomized the most ruthless and violent of all the drug dealers during that time. I don't care who he's helped convict."

But Assistant U.S. Attorney M. Patrick Sullivan said Tabraue deserved a reduced sentence because his testimony helped build cases against murderers, high-level drug traffickers and money launderers. His help was apparently so valuable prosecutors ignored their own rules that informants' sentences should not be reduced by more than half.

In the 1980s, Tabraue ran a drug-smuggling ring from a $1-million Coconut Grove mansion teeming with exotic animals, including cheetahs, toucans and even a two-headed snake.

Arrested in 1987, Tabraue went to trial two years later on a sweeping federal racketeering indictment that included murder, drug trafficking, corruption and obstruction of justice charges. He was convicted of racketeering and 13 narcotics counts.

Under his original sentence, Tabraue was not eligible for parole until 2047. But with Sullivan's blessing, Tabraue's attorney, John Maddes, asked Judge James W. Kehoe in 1997 to reduce the sentence to 15 years.

Kehoe denied the request, but he died in 1998 and last year Sullivan persuaded another judge, Shelby Highsmith, to reduce the sentence.

The widow of Larry Vance Nash is outraged that Tabraue is free. A Tabraue associate murdered Nash, but he helped dismember the body with a machete and circular saw. They then burned it.

The woman is particularly angry that they didn't tell her Tabraue was to be released.

"They had no trouble talking to my husband," she told the Herald, which did not reveal her name. "They had no trouble persuading him to do the surveillance. They used him, and all I got back was "We lost him,' a thousand dollars for my trouble and that was it.

"I haven't heard from them since."