By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By July, he was living there for free, and by August, they were a couple. Eventually, he moved his clothes into her room. By the following November, he proposed to her "with a little Kmart ring." On March 31, 2006, they signed a marriage certificate. At a wedding in December, Susana's friends and family came by the dozens to Miami's Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, one of the city's most beautiful churches, just off the Venetian Causeway. But no one from Victor's side attended. I don't know much about his past, she thought. "I was so in love. Stupid me."
Adds Yvette Jimenez, Susana's cousin: "You know how movies show men sweating at weddings? It was worse than that with him. He was green."
Soon, Victor stopped doing things around the house and working. He blamed varicose veins in his legs, which he would wrap, like a mummy, with cloth. Meanwhile, Susana paid all the bills.
When Susana lost her job this past March, things changed. She pushed him hard to find work. On April 7, he brought home a paycheck for $823.48. When she asked him to help pay the bills, he told her he was sending the money to his family in Argentina. That's when the fight broke out in the bedroom.
The next week, he went missing. She called the design company he worked for and learned he had been granted permanent residency — which Susana claims he kept secret. "That's when I knew it was fraud," she says. About two weeks after he got his papers, he disappeared.
In mid-May, Victor left a message on her cell phone explaining that he'd moved to San Diego. Because he had gained status, he could remain in the United States legally even if they divorced. Susana was devastated. In early May, she took out an old silver tape recorder and dialed his phone number. The plan was to use the conversation to show ICE he planned to smuggle in his family. The following, Susana says, is an excerpt:
Susana: Victor, I took care of you for four years.
Victor: If you call me again, I will break that mouth of yours.
Susana: But Victor, I helped you out for so long... I'm asking you — as a friend — for money.
Victor: Money? I'm giving money to my son. I need $1,500 to bring my son over here.
Susana: To bring him here? Is he coming tomorrow from Mexico?
Victor: He's coming from Argentina.
The next day, she drove to the Miami ICE office in Doral and set the tape recorder down before Special Agent Robert Colon. She figured it was proof he planned to smuggle someone across the border. Colon, she explains, stated ICE isn't interested in individual cases. "I was dumbfounded," she says.
The agent said only, "We have handled cases individually."
Afterward, she took the tape to Victor's boss in northeast Miami. She was escorted out of the building, angry and distraught.
On May 22, Victor surprised her at home while she was cooking bacon. She says he crept quietly into the kitchen, grabbed her from behind, and threw her against a wall — again. "What did you do?" he yelled. "You almost got me fired!" Sizzling bacon grease splattered out of the pan and over both of them.
A week later, Judge Victoria del Pino granted Susana a restraining order and advised her to stay in a shelter.
As the sun sets on a recent Monday night, Susana grips a wine glass and a photograph of her and Victor. Raw pink burns from the bacon grease dot her arm like freckles. "I threw a whole box of these away," she says, holding up the picture. "I don't want this shit anymore."
At 3:50 a.m. on December 9, 2007, Eunice Lopez and her aunt, Loida Rodriguez, were cruising South Florida's wealthiest barrier island, Palm Beach, in a 1994 Chevy Astro van. After they passed Mar-a-Lago — the island's Taj Mahal — and headed toward the mainland, a cop pulled them over. According to the police report filed by Officer Bryan Wilkins, Loida was "consuming a 12-ounce can of Heineken."
The cop soon discovered an outstanding warrant for Eunice's arrest. The crime must have surprised him: bigamy. Nine counts of it.
Miami-Dade County Court Judge Mark King Leban set her bond at $75,000, and less than a week later, a mug shot of her plump, haggard face aired all over South Florida TV news stations. By the beginning of January, she had a court date. There, Judge Leban told Eunice: "Stay out of churches," a reference to her serial weddings.
Outside the courtroom, a pregnant Eunice dodged TV cameras and photographers and then said she hadn't married all of those men. "Maybe someone was using my identification," she explained.
The arrest of Eunice and her family would eventually make history. In the past ten years, bigamy charges, which carry a maximum five-year jail term, have been leveled 28 times in Miami-Dade. The last time was in 2004. "It's usually a guy with a couple of counts," says Brian Tannebaum, former president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.
But Eunice, three family members, and her boyfriend, Rodneys Gonzalez, were nailed on 32 bigamy counts. "I've been here 29 years, and I've never seen anything like it," says Terry Chavez, spokesperson for the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office.