Raul Prado is a marijuana trafficker who was serving prison time in Georgia when he escaped, set off a massive manhunt and was captured only one day later 600 miles away in Miami.
Jean Vernet Prado is a twin brother in Miami who insists he was wrongfully arrested under his sibling’s identity.
Or, so he claims.
The strange story of mistaken identity — or of an imaginative con by a wanted fugitive — unfolded this week in Miami-Dade’s criminal courthouse when a defense lawyer asked a judge to release the jailed man immediately.
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“Jean Vernet Prado is not a fugitive from justice in any jurisdiction,” Miami defense lawyer Jonathan Meltz wrote in a motion filed Monday.
If Jean Prado is indeed a real twin, he might have to take a trip to Georgia first so prison officers can officially compare his fingerprints to those on file for Raul Prado. But when he gets there remains unclear.
After three months behind bars in Miami, federal marshals on Tuesday morning whisked him away from a Miami jail before a judge could hear his case. Then, on Tuesday evening, marshals returned him to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in West Miami-Dade
What happened while he was in federal custody remains unclear. But his lawyer said he should be released because authorities did not get the proper paperwork completed to extradite him to Georgia within the 90 days mandated by law. “He’s being held illegally,” Meltz said.
Spokespersons for the U.S. Marshals and the Georgia Department of Corrections did not return requests for comment.
Miami prosecutors suggest Raul Prado, 63, may be trying a clumsy ruse: Georgia sent prints, which were compared to the man in a Miami-Dade jail. “Fingerprints taken here appear to match the individual sought in Georgia,” State Attorney’s Office spokesman Ed Griffith said.
The Prado being held in Miami claims to be one of a set of twins born in Havana, Cuba, in April 1955. He told his lawyer that he was a former Cuban military fighter-jet pilot who was living in Mexico, crossed the border in McAllen, Texas, a few months ago and was living with a cousin and a girlfriend in Miami.
Jean Prado said he had been working odd jobs and using a copy of his imprisoned brother’s ID when he was arrested by Miami-Dade Police.
“He seemed genuine. He was likeable,” said Meltz, who acknowledged he relied on his client’s word in shaping the potential alibi. “He wasn’t spinning tall tales.”
Side by side, mugshots of the supposed Jean Prado and Raul Prado look similar as any twins would — with just enough variations in wrinkles and hair line to lend a tiny shred of truth to the claim.
Relatives could also not produce any photos of the two together — all snapshots have been lost in Cuba, they told Meltz. And Florida public records show no male Jean Prados.
The wanted fugitive, Raul Prado, formerly of Hialeah, was first arrested in Georgia in 2007.
Deputies in Gwinnett County, just northeast of Atlanta, said he was part of a group of South Floridians who were running a string of hydroponic marijuana grow houses.
After posting bond, he fled Georgia in 2012 and went to Texas, where authorities believed he was going in search of a witness in the case against him. He was captured at a home in Mission, Texas, and was armed with two guns, police said.
A few months later, a jury in Georgia convicted him of armed marijuana trafficking. The sentence: 25 years in state prison.
He remained behind bars until May 7, when he walked off a work detail at a water treatment plant in Augusta. The escape led to a massive police search, with schools and even an airport placed on lockdown. Prado was last seen wearing his white prison jumpsuit with blue writing on it.
The prison warden told the Augusta Chronicle that Prado might have had help fleeing the state. If he did — and there is no twin — then he traveled to Miami fast.
U.S. Marshals and Miami-Dade police arrested him about 25 hours later at a cousin’s house on the 1800 block of Northwest 93rd Terrace.
Raul Prado, if it’s him, will face a new escape charge if he is eventually sent back to Georgia. Had he not fled, he might have been paroled in four years.
“I’m fighting for my client based on what he’s telling me,” Meltz said. “If he’s pulling a con on the system, he’ll have 25 years to think about it.”