Blood Diamonds

Violent South American thieves are stealing millions in precious gems ... and getting away with it

A law enforcement source who asked not to be identified says there was likely a problem with the legality of the stop. Ed Griffith, Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office spokesman, declined to release any information to New Times, even though the case appears to have been closed.


As Leon Rozio will tell you, "looking at getting these people off the streets" doesn't offer him or any other traveling jewelry salesmen protection.

The Cuban expatriate was fresh off the island when he put in his time with the U.S. Army, fleeing the Castro government and revolution threats on his life. He spent six years in the reserve. Then a friend introduced him to the jewelry business. It wasn't an easy way to make money, but a polite, earnest man such as Rozio could sell.

When John Travolta layered on gold chains in Saturday Night Fever, Rozio wanted to kiss him. "I told my wife: 'I sell chains like no tomorrow,' " he says.

During the oil crisis of the '70s and '80s, the gold business tanked. Rozio hung in there, making ends meet with a part-time job. Colored stones and diamonds made a comeback, and after a while, he could justify a $3,000-a-month salary — enough to pay the bills and then some. But he got hit in the early '90s — about $160,000 down the toilet. In broad daylight, thieves locked the doors of his partner's house with handcuff's and broke into his car, making off with a stash of diamonds. By the time Rozio and his partner shimmied under the rising garage door, their tires were flat and their livelihood was gone. Rozio sat on the front steps and wept. He was finished, he thought. So much progress, so many years of work building a successful business. Yet he kept at it, even when the danger and the insurance premiums were driving many of his fellow traveling salesmen out of the trade.

This last hit was all H&L Wholesale could take. The business Rozio spent 30 years building from the ground up was destroyed in less than a minute.

Now he will collect the outstanding debts he's owed by local jewelers and keep watch for the South American men he fears might come to exact revenge. As Taylor notes, these gangs are tight-knit. It's all about family.

On a recent day, Rozio stands on the front porch of his modest West Miami home. His arms are crossed over a white polo embroidered with the Air Force logo — his son's branch of service. Rozio scans the street. He is visible in the Cuban community, and he knows it. If they want to find him, it won't be difficult. It'll be awhile before he doesn't have to circle the block every time he drives home, eyes glued to the rearview mirror.

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