Manuel Marin helped establish Miami's Presidente Supermarkets, which expanded into dozens of stores and is credited as one of the fastest-growing Hispanic grocery chains in the United States.
He is also a murder suspect — and has quietly been on the lam for years, the Miami Herald has learned.
Miami-Dade police and prosecutors believe Marin engineered the savage murder of his wife's secret lover in 2011, then fled to Europe, likely Spain. It was only within the past week that prosecutors unsealed charges against Marin and three suspected co-defendants, including Alexis Vila Perdomo, a mixed martial artist who once won a Bronze medal in wrestling for Cuba.
The group is accused of engineering the murder of Camilo Salazar, 43, whose body was found bound on a dirt road near the Everglades in Northwest Miami-Dade. He had been beaten, his throat slit, his groin burned.
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Marin, 64, is charged with murder, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder and kidnapping. Though he left South Florida not long after the killing, the company website still names him as a partner in creating the chain. Also facing the same charges are former MMA fighter Ariel Gandulla and fight trainer and promoter Roberto Isaac. Gandulla is also believed to be on the run and out of the country, while Isaac and Vila have pleaded not guilty.
Vila, who earned notoriety for crashing his car into a terminal at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in 2004, is accused of helping arrange the players in the murder and is charged with conspiracy. He will appear in court Monday as prosecutors seek to keep him behind bars pending trial.
His defense attorney, Eric Padron, said his client was in Las Vegas for an MMA fight on the day of the murder and has always cooperated with police. "He is eager to demonstrate his innocence regarding these crimes," Padron said Thursday.
It is unknown whether Marin has a lawyer in South Florida.
Salazar's death was a public mystery when his charred corpse was found in June 2011. A businessman, Salazar lived in Coconut Grove with his wife and newborn baby.
He was last seen alive on June 1, 2011, after he dropped off his 3-week-old child at the office of his wife just before 10 a.m. He was supposed to return 45 minutes later but he vanished and stopped answering his phone. That night, friends found his Chevrolet Trailblazer where he had parked it, less than a block away from his wife's office.
According to an arrest warrant, detectives quickly discovered that Salazar was having an affair with Jenny Marin, an old girlfriend. She was, at the time, married to Manuel Marin, who at the time was vice president of Presidente Supermarkets.
Marin and Pedro O. Rodriguez owned small grocery stores in the New York area in the 1980s. In 1990, they opened the Presidente chain in South Florida. They also founded a sister chain in New Jersey, Extra Supermarkets. On the company's website, he is touted as having established Presidente along with Rodriguez.
At the time he is believed to have left the country shortly after the 2011 murder, Marin was "active in the day-to-day operations of his supermarkets and [had] a significant financial interest in the businesses," according to an arrest warrant. State records suggest his son, Yaddiel Marin, runs some of the stores now.
On Friday, the company downplayed Marin's role in founding the company, insisting he was only a part-owner of a "few stores," and saying he had not been active in running the business since 2011. "The Presidente family is shocked by the allegations against Mr. Marin," the company said in a statement, adding: "The Presidente family stands with the community and is hopeful of a quick and just resolution to these claims."
In recent years, Presidente has expanded aggressively, operating nearly 30 locations in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. In 2014, the Presidente and Extra companies combined to generate $700 million in sales, the company's spokesman told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
"Our goal is to get to $1 billion," the spokesman told the newspaper in 2015. "We fill the parking lot with cars. We cater to everybody, but mostly blue-collar. People know they're getting value for the money."
When Marin fled South Florida, he was in the crosshairs of Miami-Dade's homicide bureau.
According to an arrest warrant, his wife told detectives that she and Salazar were meeting at a cafe in February 2011 when her husband suddenly appeared to confront them. Marin forced her into her car and drove off; however, she escaped and took a taxi to a friend's house.
Salazar later told Jenny Marin that her husband confronted him in the cafe parking lot, banging on his car window and demanding "he get out and they could settle it like men." He described Marin as "raged," according to the arrest warrant.
Salazar and Jenny Marin continued to see each other, secretly, according to police. Then on May 29, 2011, Jenny Marin and her husband went on a long-planned yacht trip to Bimini. During the voyage home, she noticed Marin "made and received a noticeably large amount of telephone calls."
On the afternoon of June 1, 2011, the yacht docked back at the Marins' waterfront Lighthouse Point home. He immediately rushed off the boat, met by one his employees, Antonio Hernandez, according to the warrant. Meanwhile, Jenny Marin tried calling Salazar, but he did not answer.
That evening, Marin returned home, now wearing a baseball cap, while Hernandez was wearing different clothes and appeared to have showered, the warrant said.
Three days later, Jenny Marin saw her husband leave the home. She thought he was going to work. He never returned home — ever, according to the warrant. She later found his passport was missing.
As she was going to interview with homicide detectives, Jenny Marin told them she had gotten a phone call from an overseas number; it was her husband, who spoke to her only briefly.
The investigation kicked into full gear. Hernandez, the employee, told police that his boss asked him to pick him up after the yacht trip and the two went in search for Marin's car — which had been parked at a Tamarac strip mall, police said. The car had been towed; blood was later found smeared on the driver's seat, although it did not match the victim's and it was unclear whose it was, the warrant said.
Hernandez admitted that days later he drove his boss to the Palm Beach airport, where he boarded a flight for France.
For homicide detectives, Marin's cellphone records were key evidence.
They showed he was in constant communication with Isaac, Gandulla and Vila the day Salazar was kidnapped, the warrant said.
Analyzing phone records, investigators placed Isaac and Gandulla in proximity to the cell tower near the victim's home in Coconut Grove and from where he was kidnapped, the warrant said. The fingerprint of Gandulla, also an MMA fighter and trainer, was found on Salazar's truck, the warrant said.
Throughout the morning of the kidnapping, Marin, Vila, Isaac and Gandulla repeatedly called each other. Records also placed the victim's phone with Isaac and Marin's phones in Broward County later that day, suggesting the victim was taken north to Marin after he left his yacht, according to the warrant.
That night, Marin and Isaac's phones were used in the same area where Salazar's corpse was later discovered, police said. Florida Sunpass records also showed Marin in the area where the body was found east of Okeechobee Road near Northwest 137th Avenue, the warrant said.
Marin is believed to have fled to Spain "because he has family who lives there," according to the warrant. He occasionally calls his older children from an earlier marriage, and sends packages from Spain.
"It is believed that Marin fled to avoid arrest and prosecution for the kidnapping and murder of the victim," Miami-Dade Detective Christopher Villano wrote in his arrest warrant. If Spanish authorities find him, he could be extradited to Miami to face trial.
As for Vila and Isaac, they were arrested last week and remain jailed.
Vila, 47, has been in the news before. He won the bronze medal at the 1996 Olympics, defected from his native Cuba the following year and went on to coach at Michigan State University. In 2004, he plowed his Lincoln Navigator through the Fort Lauderdale airport terminal, a crash that sparked fears of terrorism. He insisted it was an accident, but wound up serving three years in prison.
Vila began a career in MMA after his release from prison, fighting on the Bellator and other circuits. He's compiled a 15-7 record, according to his online profile, most recently a Titan Fighting Championship win in Pompano Beach in 2016.
The Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office has asked Circuit Judge Martin Zilber to keep Vila behind bars because he may flee to his native Cuba.
"The United States does not have an extradition treaty with Cuba," Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine wrote in her motion to the court.
His lawyer said Vila knew Marin, a fight junkie, through MMA circles. Isaac's lawyer said his client also knew Marin through the fight scene. But he insisted that Isaac was on the phone with Marin only to ask for a part-time supermarket job during the lull in the fight training scene.
"My guy has nothing whatsoever to do with it," said lawyer Michael Walsh, adding that Isaac was interviewed by detectives shortly after the homicide.
Walsh filed a motion with the court late Thursday asking that Isaac be released from jail to await trial.