Miami man gets 3 1/2 years in prison for extortion in gold-heist case

IN OPA-LOCKA: Republic Metals Corp., victim of the gold heist. Its acre-sized building boasts of being among the biggest precious-metals refineries in the world.
IN OPA-LOCKA: Republic Metals Corp., victim of the gold heist. Its acre-sized building boasts of being among the biggest precious-metals refineries in the world. The Miami Herald

The springtime robbery of 275 pounds of gold valued at nearly $5 million is still not resolved, but a Miami man who tried to fence one of the stolen bars probably has a good idea who pulled it off.

Soon after the highway heist in North Carolina, Miguel Bover approached a Miami pawn shop broker and asked him to try to sell the bar — one of a stolen shipment of 10 — to a local precious-metals refinery.

The scheme backfired when an off-duty police officer working at the refinery grew suspicious and called the FBI. Agents confronted the pawn broker and confiscated the 26-pound gold bar, which didn’t go down well with the suspected thieves. In April, agents quietly arrested Bover, who they suspect was working with the robbers to threaten the pawn broker to pay them off or give back the stolen bar.

Bover, 49, who pleaded guilty to the charge of aiding and abetting an attempted extortion, was sentenced to almost 3 1/2 years in prison on Tuesday by U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom in Miami federal court. His defense attorney, Rick Hermida, arguing his client played a “minor role” in the extortion attempt, sought 1 1/2 years. But prosecutor Cristina Moreno pushed for more than twice that punishment, saying Bover “chose to help the criminals ... to make quick money.”

At Tuesday’s hearing, Bover told the judge that he got involved in the fencing operation when someone contacted him to see if he could sell some gold bars. He said it was like a “call from God” because he figured he could use his fee from the illegal sale to help pay for his 10-year-old son’s college education.

Bover, who has been in custody since July, told Bloom that he was puzzled that none of the suspects in the gold-bar heist have been apprehended. “I keep seeing these people have not been arrested,” he told the judge, expressing concern for his family members. “These are very dangerous people.”

The FBI said the investigation is not over and declined to comment about Bover, a Cuban national who has been detained without bond since his arrest because a magistrate judge found him to be a “danger to the community” with a prior criminal record. Bover and the unnamed pawn broker are now at center stage in the still-unresolved caper.

After Bover was contacted in April, he reached out to the pawn broker about selling the gold bar. It bore the seal of the heist’s victim, Republic Metals in Opa-locka, one of the largest precious-metals refineries in the world.

The fencing attempt unfolded this way: The pawn broker, identified as “G.M.” in court papers, went to another refinery, NTR Metals in Doral, and said he obtained the bar in an international transaction. NTR executives did not want to do the deal because the seller lacked the proper documents, and they also thought the bar was too big and expensive, with an estimated value of $500,000.

So, the pawn broker left with the gold bar. Meanwhile, an off-duty Doral Police Department officer working at NTR Metals reported the incident to the FBI. As agents hustled over to the precious-metals refinery, the broker returned to NTR with a “smaller piece of gold” that “appeared to have been cut by hand from a larger gold bar,” according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

G.M. told the agents that an “unknown individual” — later identified as Bover — had given him the gold bar to sell and took his cellphone number to contact him to collect payment.

The pawn broker also let the agents search his residence, where they found the gold bar. It “appeared to have been cut by a hand saw, chisel and hammer” and contained a “unique identifying number that matched a unique identifying number from one of the gold bars that was stolen” during the March 1 robbery on Interstate 95 in North Carolina. G.M. admitted he had used the tools to cut off about one quarter of the gold bar.

The pawn broker later told the FBI that “unknown Venezuelan individuals” who gave him the gold bar would be expecting payment, according to the affidavit.

Then the threats started. Three men — Bovar, and two others unidentified — showed up at G.M.’s father’s house looking for him. A male left text messages on the pawn broker’s cellphone, saying “you’re full of s---, you have the bar.”

G.M. sent back a series of text message, saying he was detained by the FBI and that agents seized the gold bar taken in the robbery.

“G.M. also stated that he did not know the gold bar was stolen, and that he did know the people who gave him the gold bar,” the affidavit said.

Agents tracked the cell number that contacted the pawn broker to Miguel Bover’s smartphone, and G.M. later identified him as the person who had given him the gold bar.

The same phone was used to send other threatening text messages under a different cell number. The unidentified “individual” who sent them demanded that G.M. pay $810,000 or return the gold bar, saying “reply right now or the heat start now.”

Agents eventually caught up with Bover at his residence in Southwest Miami-Dade and arrested him in April.

In a statement filed with his plea agreement, Bover said he gave his smartphone to unidentified “individuals” but did not participate in writing the threatening messages to harm the pawn broker.

“Bover knew it would help them to use his phone number because G.M. would recognize the phone number,” the statement said. “Bover allowed them to use his phone because he thought it would help them get the money from G.M.”

If there were any doubts that Bover was helping the suspected robbers, his lawyer, Hermida, put them to rest when he wrote in a recent court filing: “On April 11, Mr. Bover gave the individuals responsible for the gold heist his cellular phone.”

The fencing effort followed a daring rip-off in early March of a Miami-based armored truck courier, which had picked up the gold shipment and headed north on I-95 to a destination in the Boston area, according to the FBI and North Carolina investigators. But the highly valuable load, which belonged to Republic Metals in Opa-locka, never got delivered.

That evening, as the TransValue couriers from Miami stopped along a dark stretch of the highway in North Carolina, three armed robbers pulled up in a white minivan and confronted them at gunpoint, yelling “Policía!”

The two courier guards got out of the tractor-trailer without their guns. The robbers gave instructions in Spanish, tied the guards’ hands behind their backs and led them into nearby woods. The thieves cut the padlock on the truck’s trailer and offloaded five-gallon buckets that contained 10 gold bars. They put them in their van and fled.

Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.