A Miami man awaiting extradition to face charges for a $2.8 million gold heist is still jailed in Belize because U.S. homeland security authorities have yet to sign the proper paperwork.
Raonel Valdez, 35, had been on the lam since May 2013, when he skipped town while awaiting trial for the Coral Gables armed robbery. Valdez was believed to have run to Mexico, but surrendered in February to authorities in Belize at a border crossing.
Since then, the U.S. Marshals Service has been working to extradite him from custody in Belize, said agency spokesman Barry Golden. The last step: a request to counterparts at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to “approve parole” for Valdez to be allowed back into the country to face the armed robbery charge.
The granting of parole into the United States is a routine designation that allows fugitives to return to the country under Marshals Service custody. Valdez is a Cuban national who had been living in the United States.
If the DHS does not approve his return, authorities in Belize could cut Valdez loose, said David Bolton, a Coral Gables private investigator hired by the victim of the heist to track down the fugitive.
“It’s no wonder criminals feel so free to commit serious crimes in South Florida,” Bolton said.
Barbara Gonzalez, a DHS spokeswoman, on Thursday night said the agency “has received the request and has not made a decision.”
Prosecutors believe Valdez was behind the stick-up of a courier for the Bolivia-based export company, Quri Wasi, which buys gold from small businesses in La Paz, then melts it down and sells it to South Florida refineries.
Investigators say say Valdez and two other men in October 2012 accosted the courier in an elevator of a Coral Gables apartment building, stealing two rolling suitcases filled with 110 pounds of gold flakes bound for Republic Metals in Opa-locka. The 79 percent pure gold was slated to be melted down, then resold for jewelry or electronic parts.
Detectives tied Valdez to the scene because he was wearing a GPS ankle monitor while awaiting trial on charges of attacking his ex-girlfriend. The courier has since died of natural causes, which could put the state’s case at risk.
After his arrest, a Miami-Dade judge — over objections from prosecutors — allowed him out of jail, again on the condition he wear an ankle monitor. But Valdez vanished and was believed to have fled to Mexico.
In February, he showed up at a border crossing in Belize and announced he was tired of running from the law.