Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: Miami robbery victims say crime pays for relatives of criminals

Wonder what those lucky relatives thought Puma and his gang were doing for a living when they headed out for work at night in their black shirts and ski masks, packing heat and plastic handcuffs?

What’d they think when the boys returned home in the early morning hours with cash and jewelry and TVs and iPhones and laptops and other people’s credit cards?

The last night of their chosen vocation didn’t go so well. Four of them were gunned down in a police sting operation on June 30, 2011, including Puma himself, Roger Gonzalez-Valdez, 52; along with Jorge Lemus, 39; Antonio Andrew, 36; and Rosendo Betancourt, 39, the dodgy ex-con who had helped police set up the gang.

A fifth robber, Roger Valdez Jr., Puma’s son, survived the bloody night but pleaded guilty to a string of robberies and was sent away for 27 years in a federal pen. Junior told police that the gang had pulled off 100 home invasions -- their only source of income.

But that last fatal misadventure turned out to be their biggest haul. With the loot supplied by county taxpayers.

The Herald’s David Ovalle reported that Miami-Dade County has settled a wrongful death lawsuit with relatives of three of the dead thugs for $600,000. The family of Betancourt, the confidential informant who cops now think had been an active gang member before he turned snitch, is holding out for a bigger payoff.

The chaotic, frenzied police tactics that night in the Redland may have been questionable but there was no question about the gang’s modus operandi. “These were savage, sadistic criminals,” said the plainly disgusted Keri Lynda Horvat.

On Dec. 28, 2010, as Horvat was putting her two small children to bed, Puma and his fellow ex-cons invaded her Palmetto Bay home. They knocked her and the kids around. One brandished a pistol in her face. “I'll never forget that image,” she said. “It was like an old west revolver with a long silver barrel.”

While her children lay crying on the floor, they tortured her (now) ex-husband. They demanded the whereabouts of a non-existent safe. They made off with electronics, money, heirloom jewelry. It was typical night’s work for Puma and gang – terror, threats, torture. In other robberies, they pounded a victim’s toes with a hammer, sliced another’s scrotum.

Three years after the sting, none of Horvatd’s money or property has been returned. And her children remain traumatized. “The part I can’t forgive is that they stole my children’s innocence.”

Because the county didn’t inform her until last month that the robbers killed in the sting were the same criminals who robbed her house, it is now well past the two-year limit under probate law for claims against the robbers’ newly enriched estates.

“I feel like Alice in Wonderland,” Horvat told me Monday. She said the robbers’ relatives now benefit – courtesy of county taxpayers – from the doing of “sadistic criminals while the people who are the real victims get a swift kick in the ass.”