Derrick and Yadira Santiesteban were busy packaging a load of marijuana at their southwest Miami-Dade home to transport to New York, authorities say. After the husband left to pick up more bags for the pot, several gunmen posing as police officers barged into the couple’s home and stole about 40 pounds of the drug.
Reviewing the June 2009 home-invasion on the family’s video surveillance system, Derrick Santiesteban recognized one of the robbers as a man named Fidel Ruz Moreno.
So Santiesteban hatched a plan, according to an associate-turned-snitch, “to detain, intimidate and basically beat [Ruz] up until the marijuana’’ was returned.
Three days later, Ruz’s body was found lying on the side of a road.
The alleged conspiracy to kidnap and kill Ruz would prove to be the Santiesteban clan’s undoing. Until then, the father and his four sons, all with criminal histories, had enjoyed an outsized share of luck in South Florida’s growing underworld of “hydroponic” marijuana.
The Santiestebans — headed by the patriarch, Mariel boatlift refugee Gilberto Sr., and joined by sons Derrick, Gilberto Jr., Alexander and Darvis — were charged last month with operating 20 hydroponic marijuana growhouses since 2004. The operation yielded at least 1,146 potent pot plants that produced millions in profits, authorities say.
With the exception of Darvis, who is a fugitive, the Santiestebans have been ordered held without bail at the Miami Federal Detention Center. Derrick’s wife, Yadira, also is being detained before trial.
“They operated under the radar for a long time,” Assistant U.S. Attorney William Athas said in Miami federal court, asserting that the family harvested the indoor pot in Miami-Dade and sold it in New York for up to $9,000 a pound.
The Ruz kidnapping and slaying — along with the possibility of a second, unrelated homicide, as well as suspicions that a Miami-Dade police officer was working with the Santiesteban clan — elevated the case beyond any routine pot-trafficking investigation.
At a detention hearing, Athas and fellow prosecutor Pat Sullivan described Derrick Santiesteban, the lead defendant in the case, as the “mastermind behind the [Ruz] kidnapping.”
Also charged with being involved: Gilberto Jr., Yadira, and relative Juan Felipe Castaneda, who remains a fugitive. A fifth defendant, Norge Manduley, is accused of pulling the trigger.
The Justice Department is considering pursuing the death penalty against the five.
Investigators also are zeroing in on a Miami-Dade officer who is suspected of playing a role in the family’s alleged drug syndicate.
The officer, Roderick Silva, worked patrol in the Hammocks area of West Kendall. He was suspended with pay in June 2009, records show. He is the brother of one of the Santiestebans’ accused growhouse caretakers, David Silva.
Homicide detectives are also trying to determine whether an unsolved April 2006 slaying of a teenager in West Kendall is linked to an alleged Santiesteban growhouse in the area.
After going to visit a girlfriend near Southwest 172nd Terrace and 153rd Place, Angelo Lopera, 17, was attacked and shot multiple times. Investigators believe Lopera may have been killed because he was mistakenly suspected of visiting the neighborhood to steal harvested marijuana plants from the Santiestebans’ house at 17231 SW 153rd Pl., according to sources familiar with the probe.