Drug Kingpin Returns to Animal Dealing

Mario Tabraue is a convicted felon who is supposed to be in prison. In 1989, a federal judge gave Tabraue a 100-year prison sentence. The government agents who worked on the case thought he would be in the penitentiary for the rest of his life.

Not so. Tabraue is out of prison. He has returned to the exotic animal business, in which he was involved before he served time. Tabraue runs Zoological Imports 2000, Incorporated, out of a Miami warehouse with hundreds of exotics including 28 varieties of venomous snakes, pythons, sloths, crocodile monitors, Paraguayan Agatis, turtles and tortoises. The web site for the business boasts "…a proven track record of successful importing, exporting and captive breeding of exotic wildlife….We know what it takes to get the job done."

In 1987, Tabraue was arrested and charged in a federal racketeering indictment that included murder, drug trafficking, corruption and obstruction of justice. His case went to trial 2 years later. Tabraue was described by a Miami prosecutor as the "Chairman of the Board" of a drug ring, recognized as one of South Florida's most prolific and violent. He bribed police in Miami and Key West and committed an execution-style murder to protect his smuggling operation. The person killed was a government informant. At the trial, witnesses described how Tabraue and an associate dismembered the informant's body using a circular saw, after finding that a machete wouldn't do the job. They then placed it in a horse trough and burned it using charcoal and lighter fluid.

The case was called "Operation Cobra" in reference to Tabraue's exotic animal business that served as a useful front for his drug dealing. Tabraue's ring allegedly smuggled thousands of tons of marijuana and hundreds of pounds of cocaine into the United States and was said to have made $75 million in a decade.

Tabraue was found guilty of 61 acts of racketeering. He was cleared of only one charge—complicity in the murder of his estranged wife, Maria, who was shot 10 times. The two were getting a divorce, and according to testimony, Maria had threatened to expose her husband's drug dealings. The jury could not agree on his guilt in this murder.

Though he was to have served 88 more years in the penitentiary, Tabraue was freed because he was used as an informant. The Miami Herald noted that the federal agents who worked on the case against Tabraue "question the logic of freeing a general in the drug trade only to capture corporals, and whether the price of justice often runs too high."

—The information cited was obtained from a series of Miami Herald news stories which ran from 1989 to 2000.