Crime

North Miami man charged in woman’s cocaine-overdose death

Jezebel Santiago
Jezebel Santiago North Miami Beach Police

Jose Prieto, a convicted cocaine dealer with a long rap sheet, was arrested in October on charges he drugged and raped a woman after a night of drinks in North Miami.

Despite concerns from prosecutors, a judge allowed him to remain free from jail on a $10,000 bond while awaiting trial.

Now Prieto has been arrested again for another drug-related crime — this time, police say, he allowed 24-year-old exotic dancer Jezebel Santiago to die of a cocaine overdose, refusing to call 911 and leaving her body to decompose inside a car for two days in North Miami Beach.

Prieto’s latest charge: felony murder.

“I knew she was OD’ing,” he told a detective, according to an arrest report. “I’m guilty.”

North Miami Beach police arrested the 60-year-old Prieto late last week for Santiago’s death. On Monday, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Rodney Smith revoked his bond from the October rape case — meaning Prieto will now remain jailed while awaiting trial.

His lawyer, Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Brian McCormack, declined to comment Monday.

Police believe Prieto may have targeted other women in similar fashion.

“Victims in these types of partying and nightclub encounters are often hesitant to come forward,” said North Miami Beach Police Maj. Kathy Katerman. “If anyone thinks they may have been victimized by this individual or anyone, they are encouraged contact their local PD and make a police report. They just may be saving another woman from becoming the next victim.”

Charging drug suppliers with overdose deaths is rare, but not unheard of, in South Florida.

Back in October, prosecutors charged Raymundo Rodriguez Fernandez with murder under a rarely used provision of the law that allows the charge when someone gives a user cocaine or heroin and it ends in the person’s death.

He is alleged to have fatally plied community activist Cheri Rollins with heroin, refusing to seek medical help for more than eight hours. Rodriguez Fernandez is awaiting trial.

There have been several notable recent cases. Miami Beach drug dealer Charles Greenfield was arrested in 2008 after one of his clients overdosed on heroin. Greenfield served six years in prison.

A year earlier, Miami Beach police also arrested Christopher Rodriguez, a security guard who sold ecstasy pills to a 15-year-old girl on her way to a party in South Beach. She became sick and died.

He, too, was convicted of murder and did six years in prison.

As for Prieto, he is no stranger to drug-related arrests. Since the early 2000s, he has racked up at least three convictions for cocaine possession and one for cocaine trafficking, a crime for which he served 364 days in jail.

In his most recent legal troubles, Prieto was first arrested on Oct. 30, after he and a woman began drinking at a North Miami bar. After they returned home, Prieto gave her a “white powdery substance” believed to be cocaine, according to police.

The woman suddenly became incoherent — she never remembered consenting to sex, and awoke to find Prieto raping her, according to an arrest report.

North Miami police immediately arrested Prieto on a charge of sexual battery on an incapacitated person. He was released on the $10,000 bond.

In December, prosecutors asked Judge Smith to revoke or impose a higher bond because Prieto was being charged as a “habitual offender.” But Prieto was allowed to remain free on the same bond.

On Feb. 8, Prieto and Santiago had their ill-fated encounter.

The two knew each casually from the Northeast Miami-Dade bar scene. At the gritty Point Lounge dive bar, the two “struck up a friendly conversation” — he asked if she and some friends wanted to return to his home to “finish the party,” according to a police report.

Several hours later, after he gave her cocaine, she began to appear “messed up and in the process of overdosing.”

According to police, Prieto panicked and put Santiago in the passenger seat of her black Volkswagen Jetta, driving around “for a period of time” before parking on a swale in the 1400 block of Northeast 157th Street.

Prieto admitted to North Miami Beach Detective Tracy Webster that “he just left her inside the vehicle and covered her up with a jacket and walked away from the location” without calling for medical help.

Santiago was not discovered until two days later, decomposing inside her car.

The Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office eventually ruled she died of a cocaine overdose. Prieto was not arrested until last week, when officers raided his house in a separate drug investigation.

According to North Miami police, Prieto sold cocaine to an undercover informant two separate times. Officers found an array of drugs inside his house.

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