An admitted drug smuggler who carried millions of dollars in hash oil and marijuana in the keels of sailboats through the Florida Keys will spend the rest of his life in prison, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The life sentence of Juergen Heinz Williams, also known as Juergen Werthmann, was the last chapter in a bizarre trial that harkened back to the days when Keys waters teemed with "square grouper."
Prosecutors convinced a jury in January that Williams spearheaded a conspiracy to smuggle hash oil from Jamaica into Monroe County, and then north into Canada, where it was distributed.
The same jury acquitted two co-defendants -- Morgan Lynch, owner of MD Custom Cycles in Key Largo, and Howard Bornstein, a Key Largo online seafood purveyor.
A September 2009 trial for the three men ended in a hung jury, prompting a retrial that began Jan. 4.
Williams surprised prosecutors when he took the stand in the latter trial and admitted he took part in the conspiracy, even correcting government witnesses who understated the scope of his operation.
Some witnesses testified that there were a total of two or four loads of hash oil, but Williams testified that the true number was closer to seven.
One witness testified that one drug run brought in about $1 million for the conspirators, but Williams said he made closer to $5.5 million in the venture.
Williams also raised eyebrows when he admitted under oath to smuggling drugs, but did so, he testified, while acting as an operative of the U.S. State Department. He later fired his attorney, Joel DeFabio of Coral Gables, for not arguing that point before jurors.
DeFabio officially left the case earlier this year, before Williams was sentenced. Miami attorney Eric Cohen replaced him in March. Federal Judge Jose Martinez did not explain why he sentenced Williams to life, the maximum allowed in the Williams case under sentencing guidelines, Cohen said.
DeFabio had argued during and after the trial that a life sentence was disproportionate.
"I'm not surprised by the life sentence," DeFabio said Tuesday. "I still think it's pretty excessive, but permissible under the guidelines. We're talking about marijuana and hash oil. When are we going to move into 21st century?"
The trial included the testimony of Michael "Mechanic Mike" Tognaci, who claimed to see ghosts, an ability he can switch on and off at will, he told jurors.
Another government witnesses, Michael "Tattoo Mike" Tollin, showed up for court wearing a Jolly Roger pirate patch over his eye, and a Canadian medical-supply salesman named Cameron Curry said he had been looking for adventure south of the border.
Williams' runs involved sailboats hauling thousands of pounds of drugs from Jamaica to Marathon and Key Largo, where they were loaded onto trucks driven into Canada, where Curry distributed them.
U.S. attorneys painted Williams as a cash-loving and astute smuggler with a penchant for expensive cars who ran extensive counter-surveillance operations. He also was a picky boss who schooled co-conspirators on how to prepare secret compartments in the keels of sailboats to evade law enforcement searches, prosecutors said.
Tognaci is serving a five-year sentence as part of a plea agreement for his role in the smuggling ring. Tollin is serving an 11-year sentence, and Curry accepted a plea that included a seven-year sentence.