New details emerged on Thursday about drug trafficking activities in a Miami home where U.S. Senator Marco Rubio lived for a short period with his family when he was a teenager, raising fresh questions about what he knew at the time.
In the mid-1980s, Rubio spent a month living in a house where a major drug ring stored kilos of cocaine in a spare bedroom, packaging the drugs in cigarette cases for distribution to dealers, once missing court documents show.
The new allegations about Rubio’s youth were revealed Thursday by the weekly newspaper the Miami New Times, citing extensive federal court records.
At the time, the future Florida senator was 14 and living temporarily with his family in the house, which belonged to his brother-in-law, Orlando Cicilia, the leader of a $75 million cocaine ring. Cicilia was arrested in 1987 in a federal sting operation, dubbed Operation Cobra, and sentenced to 35 years in jail.
He was released early in 2000.
It’s unclear how the latest revelation could impact a tight senate race in which Rubio’s challenger, U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy has questioned the honesty of the Republican incumbent. Rubio was previously forced to correct false details he gave about his family’s arrival in the United States from Cuba.
Rubio has consistently denied that he or his parents knew anything about the criminal gang. "Like my parents, I had never suspected Orlando was involved in a criminal enterprise," Rubio wrote in a 2012 autobiography, titled ‘An American Son.’
A spokesperson for the Rubio campaign, Olivia Perez-Cubas, dismissed the Miami New Times report saying “this has been widely covered before.” Rubio was 16 at the time of Cicilia’s arrest, and wrote in his book that he was “stunned by the news,” she added.
Univision first published details in 2011 about the drug trafficking past of Rubio’s brother-in-law. Univision Investiga reporter Gerardo Reyes was never able to locate the court files in order to corroborate details of the story.
Cicilia is married to Rubio’s sister, Barbara, who is 12 years older than the Senator. In 1985 the Rubio family moved to Miami from Nevada and stayed with Cicilia for about a month until the family moved into their own home, according to Rubio’s autobiography.
At the time Cicilia was conducting part of his drug operations out of the house, court records say.
“There's nothing necessarily wrong with having a drug-dealing relative,” wrote Miami New Times award-winning reporter Tim Elfrink. “But previously unreported testimony — taken from a review of more than 700 pages of federal court records — casts doubt on his story.”
Two law enforcement officials who worked on the case told the Miami New Times that it was unlikely anyone could have been living there without noticing suspicious activity and the unexplained wealth. Larry Loveless, a former DEA agent who personally arrested Rubio's brother-in-law, told the Miami New Times: "Is it possible? I suppose. But is it likely that you wouldn't notice anything? Definitely not."
Michael Fisten, a former Miami-Dade homicide detective who's writing a book about the case, told the paper: "For anyone to argue that teens or adults living at this time in Miami didn't know their family members were in the coke business is total horseshit."
The 1989 court testimony in Cicilia's trial details how the West Kendall home was used by the traffickers.
Cicilia was already a major player in a large and ruthless international drug ring, part of Miami's booming cocaine trade, led by Mario Tabraue. The gang was notoriously violent. Tabraue allegedly ordered the murder of a federal agent who was hacked to pieces with a machete and a saw.
Two witnesses testified that Cicilia kept and cut the drugs in a spare bedroom at the West Kendall house. One of them, Randy Chatfield, said Cicilia kept cocaine in his house between March 1985 until January 1986, when he moved the drugs to a warehouse, the Miami New Times reported.
After the family moved out in July 1985 Rubio continued to return to the house weekly to wash Cicilia's dogs, according to the Senator's memoir.
“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 [Dolphins] home games in 1985," he recalled.