Depending on who you listen to, Enrique “Ricky” Prado was one of the highest-ranking CIA spies and an integral part of our war on terror, or a mob hitman who continued to kill for a Miami kingpin while he was working for the CIA. In Evan Wright’s new book, “How to Get Away With Murder in America,” he tracks the career of Prado, which allegedly took him from Miami mob hitman to the CIA and finally onto Blackwater.
“In protecting Prado, the CIA arguably allowed a new type of mole — an agent not of a foreign government but of American criminal interests — to penetrate command,” writes author Evan Wright.
Below is an excerpt from the new “How to Get Away with Murder in America,” published by Byliner Originals.
In 2008, Jon Roberts, a convicted cocaine trafficker, made a startling claim to me: that more than three decades earlier he had participated in a murder with a man named Ricky Prado, who later entered the Central Intelligence Agency and became a top American spy. The murder to which Roberts referred was one of Miami’s most infamous, that of Richard Schwartz, stepson of the legendary mobster Meyer Lansky. Schwartz was killed on the morning of October 12, 1977, behind a restaurant near Miami Beach. He was exiting his car when a person unknown approached him and fired twice with a shotgun, at such close range that cotton wadding from the shells impregnated Schwartz’s flesh. The murder has never been solved.
Roberts claimed that Prado was the shooter, provided by a local Cuban drug kingpin named Alberto “Albert” San Pedro, for whom Prado worked as an enforcer and occasional hit man. Roberts confessed to planning the murder with two mafiosi, Gary Teriaca and Robert “Bobby” Erra. According to Roberts, the three of them waited near the scene of the shooting in his boat, in order to take Prado’s weapon and dispose of it in Biscayne Bay.
The politics of Roberts’s story made sense. Months earlier, Schwartz had fatally shot Teriaca’s younger brother in a dispute at the Forge restaurant, in Miami Beach. As Roberts explained it, the three of them participated in the murder to avenge the death of Teriaca’s brother. Prado entered the picture because his boss, San Pedro, was eager to prove his loyalty to the Mafia.
What made Roberts’s story unbelievable was his claim that four years after the shooting, Prado joined the CIA. In Miami, thugs often claim ties to the CIA. The agency recruited hundreds of Cuban immigrants for the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, and many of them later became drug traffickers. But Roberts’s story was different. He claimed Prado was a criminal first and then became a career CIA officer. This seemed doubtful until I discovered that there was a CIA officer named Enrique Prado (“Ricky” or “Ric” for short), whom federal agents had targeted in a 1991 RICO and murder investigation into his alleged career-before he entered the agency-as an enforcer for San Pedro.
The investigators had obtained evidence implicating Prado in the murder of Schwartz and several others, as well as in numerous acts of extortion and arson undertaken in support of San Pedro’s drug-trafficking enterprise. Prado was interviewed by federal investigators at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and served with a subpoena to appear before a grand jury.
But somehow the subpoena was quashed. No charges were ever filed against him. Within a few years, the CIA promoted Prado into the highest reaches of its Clandestine Services and made him a supervisor in the unit tasked with hunting Osama bin Laden in the late 1990s. At the time of the 9/11 attacks, he was the chief of counterterrorist operations. With the rank of SIS-2-the CIA equivalent of a two-star or major general-he was among a small circle of officers who helped implement the CIA-led invasion of Afghanistan and directed SEAL Team Six on missions there. Throughout his later years at the agency and then at Blackwater, the private military contracting firm where Prado held a senior position, he worked closely with J. Cofer Black, now a top adviser to Mitt Romney.
The story Roberts told, and the two halves of Prado’s life in the 1990s-murder suspect/stellar CIA officer-made no sense. When I initially searched for the case files of the investigation into Prado -conducted jointly by the FBI and the Miami-Dade Police Department-I discovered they’d disappeared from the MDPD’s records bureau. When I located them elsewhere through a tip from a federal investigator, they were far more extensive than I had expected. There were some three thousand pages, including interviews with eyewitnesses who placed Prado at numerous crimes. I eventually interviewed more than two dozen people involved with the investigation-cops, FBI agents, federal prosecutors, and witnesses-who provided a disturbing portrait of a case abandoned because of CIA intervention, political maneuvering, and possibly corruption. The evidence against Prado was so compelling that one investigator from the case described him as “technically, a serial killer.”
“It was a miscarriage of justice that Prado never faced charges,” says Mike Fisten, the lead homicide investigator on the case. “The CIA fought us tooth and nail, and basically told us to go fuck ourselves.”
Another investigator from the case, who is now a Florida law enforcement official, said, “You can’t indict people like Prado. It doesn’t work that way.”
Later he e-mailed me: “Your target is bad news and dangerous. Be careful.”
When I phoned him, he said, “Forget this story. I dropped Prado’s name on a friend of mine from the CIA and he said, ‘Leave this one alone. You don’t want to fuck with this guy.’ “
“What do you think?” I asked him.
“You’re going to get whacked.”
No public official I’ve interviewed had ever made such a comment. Yet his warning is in keeping with the amazing story of Ricky Prado and his rise from the criminal underworld into the top echelons of the national-security establishment. It’s a story you’d expect to encounter in the twilight stages of a corrupt dictatorship, but this one takes place mostly in Miami. It centers on Prado’s long relationship with San Pedro, and on the cop who began pursuing them more than two decades ago and still hopes to put them in prison for murder. In protecting Prado, the CIA arguably allowed a new type of mole-an agent not of a foreign government but of American criminal interests-to penetrate its command.
“How to Get Away with Murder in America” is available for $2.99 as a Kindle Single at Amazon, a Quick Read at Apple’s iBookstore, and a Nook Snap at Barnes and Noble.
Evan Wright is the recipient of two National Magazine Awards, the author of the bestselling “Generation Kill” and “Hella Nation,” and the co-author of “American Desperado.” His reporting has also been included in “The Best American Crime Writing.” He co-wrote the HBO series “Generation Kill,” based on his book.