As a child, Michael Gonzalez’s wide grin and dimpled cheeks catapulted him to local acclaim as he and his father, Claudio Gonzalez, worked in tandem promoting two Kendall Toyota dealerships.
They were the businesses' most successful salesman and saleschild, plastered on and buses and billboards throughout South Florida. Gonzalez’s adorably accented “Papí! Quiero un Toyota” brought him stardom on Spanish-language radio.
The ads wound down as Gonzalez aged. Now 17, Gonzalez has been brought sharply back into the public eye after a botched robbery put his alleged drug dealing on the radar of the Aventura police.
On Friday, he went before judge Victoria Del Pino, pleading not guilty to charges of tampering with evidence and selling drugs. Bond was set at $50,000.
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Gonzalez appeared stoic, the shaggy blonde hair that made him instantly recgonizable as a youth now cropped and swooped back. His once toothy grin was exchanged for a clenched jaw.
His father, the public face of Kendall Toyota throughout the 2000s, stood beside him.
Del Pino agreed to keep the 17-year-old on "total house arrest" with a GPS monitor until the trial. Exceptions will be made for school and a summer job.
"Don't do anything that would cause me to have to put you in custody," Del Pino warned, adding that she'd taken people into custody in the past for testing positive for marijuana.
On Jan. 19, police say Gonzalez was planning to sell $800 worth of marijuana oil to Silas Spence, 18, and Lucas Seeger, 19. The two boys had reached out to Gonzalez through Snapchat, scouting for cartridges for their electronic cigarette. They just didn’t want to pay.
A teenager identified in the arrest report as E.B. had told Spence and Seeger that Gonzalez “would be an easy person to rob.” So the two rolled up at their agreed meeting spot in a parking lot outside an Aventura LA fitness to meet their target.
Instead of forking over the $800, Spence handed Gonzalez a bullet. “I’m going to pay you with this,” he said, according to the arrest warrant.
Gonzalez tried to dash out of the car but not before Spence saw Gonzalez’s friend from high school, Omar Darwish, 18, who was standing outside with a black BB-gun holstered in his waistband.
“He has a gun!" yelled Spence, according to the warrant, before firing a single bullet outside the car window. Darwish was hit in the neck and died on scene. Police believe Seeger drove the getaway Mercedes-Benz.
Afraid of getting caught with the oil, authorities say, Gonzalez proceeded to discard the 25 vials he’d planned on selling onto his friend’s body.
He was apprehended at the airport returning from a trip to Argentina. On Monday's court appearance, the judge said Gonzalez will have to surrender his passport.
Though the judge noted the charges against Gonzalez were not as serious as those against Spence and Seeger — both have been charged with armed robbery and felony murder — she warned that "this is a very serious case."
"When you’re out on house arrest, don’t do anything. I don't care if you think that you can go out and get the paper from the front of the yard," she said. "Nothing can go wrong; you need to be a model citizen."
After his attorney agreed to a trial date in September, Gonzalez removed his blue blazer and was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs.