As soon as the courier carrying $2.8 million worth of gold exited the elevator of his Coral Gables apartment building, a red-hooded robber pointed a gun at his face and pushed him against a wall.
Two other robbers dressed in sweatshirts grabbed the courier’s pair of rolling suitcases filled with 110 pounds of gold flakes that had been bound for a refinery in Opa-locka.
“We only came for the gold,” the robbers declared in Spanish.
The early-morning heist on Oct. 12, 2012, at 430 Valenica Ave. would be over in seconds — the biggest precious-metal robbery in South Florida history — and the gold soon fenced at a fraction of its value. Now, the Gables caper is at the center of a new federal indictment that also alleges cocaine trafficking, firearm offenses and an armed home invasion in Broward County.
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The five defendants, all with histories of being in and out of state and federal prisons, are members of a reputed Cuban-American crime network targeted for years by the FBI and Homeland Security Investigations.
“This is a great example of the capabilities of Cuban gangs currently operating in South Florida,” said Miami private investigator David Bolton, who did work for the Bolivia exporter that had shipped the gold flakes from South America. “Unfortunately, in this case, they were able to wreak havoc on the good people of South Florida and the Caribbean for a decade before they were stopped.”
One of the robbers in the gold case, Raonel Valdez Valhuerdis, 39, was convicted in state court in January and sentenced to 10 years in prison as a “habitual violent felony offender.” Initially charged in 2012, Valdez was granted bail but then fled to Belize, where he was arrested two years later.
While on the lam, he tore off his GPS ankle monitoring device that he was required to wear while awaiting trial on charges of attacking his ex-girlfriend. He also violated his probationary sentence in a prior marijuana grow-house case.
Valdez was not charged for that same gold heist offense in the federal case, but he faces other criminal charges. His arraignment is set for Monday. His defense attorney, Ana Jhones, could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Valdez’s brother, Jorge Contino Valhuerdis, is also a defendant in the federal case — but he is a fugitive.
Two other defendants who joined Raonel Valdez in the gold robbery were easier to find: Jean Marrero Lara, 37, and Alfredo Kindelan Hernandez, 42, pleaded guilty in 2015 to a federal kidnapping conspiracy charge and were sentenced to prison for 20 years and 15 years, respectively.
The previous year, Lara and Hernandez joined four others in the abduction of the son of a travel agency owner in Cancun, Mexico. The group demanded $2 million from the father, who paid a $70,000 ransom for the son’s release.
The last defendant, Leonardo Miguel Garcia Morales, was not implicated in the gold rip-off, but he was charged with cocaine trafficking, an attempted armed robbery and firearm offenses in the federal case in Miami.
Morales, 46, joined Lara, Hernandez and Raonel Valdez in the attempted robbery of a Miramar home on Sept. 30, 2012. According to authorities, the men cut off the power to the house. Sensing an invasion, the homeowner grabbed his gun and opened fire as the four masked men barged through his front door. He shot Morales, but the other intruders fled. Morales suffered paralysis from the shooting.
The homeowner was not charged. Under a state law known as the “Castle Doctrine,” a person has the right to use deadly force in defending his home against an intruder.