Anibal Mustelier, a legendary Cuban-born criminal who evaded police capture for more than a quarter of a century, was found guilty along with two other defendants by a federal jury following a seven-day trial in Miami federal court.
The three defendants — Mustelier, José Pineda Castro and his wife, Yamilé Díaz Bernal — were convicted of conspiracy to commit robberies, including of two jewelry stores in Hialeah, and attempting to break in at a third.
The jury’s decision served a major milestone in the long-running saga of Mustelier, who had the uncanny ability to avoid being captured for decades despite widely publicized manhunts for him here and abroad.
Before his capture in August, Mustelier racked up a criminal record that included assassination attempts, extortion, and one of the most spectacular bank robberies in Miami’s history. Some even suspected that he might have acted as Fidel Castro’s hit man in South Florida.
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Mustelier even figured at one time in an episode of “America’s Most Wanted.”
His trial was held before U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, who will sentence him and his co-defendants on July 19, according to a U.S. Attorney’s Office statement.
Mustelier, 67, Pineda Castro, 28, and Díaz Bernal, 29, face sentences of up to 20 years in prison for conspiracy to commit so-called Hobbs Act robberies.
Mustelier and Pineda Castro also face up to 20 years for the attempted robbery; and consecutive mandatory minimum sentences of seven and 25 years for two counts of brandishing a firearm “in the furtherance of a violent crime.”
Mustelier also faces up to 10 years for being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition.
According to court records, including evidence presented at trial, between May 30, 2015, and Aug. 8, 2016, Mustelier, Pineda Castro and Díaz Bernal robbed two jewelry stores in Hialeah. A third robbery failed when Pineda Castro accidentally cut the electricity to the shopping center where the jewelry store was located.
Evidence also showed that the defendants monitored the jewelry stores for months, focusing on their security features.
“Once they were ready to carry out the robbery, they would break into the adjacent business the night before the planned robbery,” according to the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. “They would then carve out a hole from the adjacent business wall and prepare to enter the jewelry store once the employees arrived the following morning.”
At that moment, the statement said, the group would burst through the drywall wearing ski masks and wielding guns.
“They would handcuff the employees and place all of the jewelry in large duffel bags,” the statement said. “Just before they left the store with the jewelry, they would take the video recordings and exit through the same adjacent business wall.”
An informant, the statement said, helped investigators capture the group. The informant, the statement said, taped a conversation between Pineda Castro and Díaz Bernal in which they talked about their participation in the robberies.
“In these conversations,” the statement said, “they implicated Mustelier as Pineda Castro’s mentor in committing robberies.”
Ultimately, the statement added, it was Pineda Castro who — unbeknownst to him — led investigators to Mustelier’s doorstep.