(Valdez's criminal defense attorney, Alexander Michaels, says he has no knowledge of his clients' activities in Mexico. Mia Roo, a spokeswoman for the Fort Lauderdale DEA office, says the agency will not discuss any of the allegations. Williams, who didn't return calls, can't comment on the Univision interview, Roo says.)

This much, at least, is clear: On July 4, 2011, days after the mission, Valdez returned to Miami International Airport, where U.S. Customs & Border Protection officers arrested him off his flight from Cancún on the warrant from his missed court date for the 2008 Home Depot theft.

Valdez sat in county jail until September and then pleaded guilty to felony aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and misdemeanor theft. He caught another break, though. Miami-Dade Criminal Court Judge Victoria Brennan gave him credit for the 74 days he had already spent in jail.

Raonel Valdez stole $2.8 million in gold from George Villegas (above).
Marta Xochilt Perez
Raonel Valdez stole $2.8 million in gold from George Villegas (above).
Raonel Valdez slipped through the cracks of a broken justice system, says private investigator David Bolton.
Miami-Dade Corrections
Raonel Valdez slipped through the cracks of a broken justice system, says private investigator David Bolton.

Free once again to wreak havoc, Valdez didn't disappoint. On April 30, 2012, he showed up at the West Miami home he once shared with Mairelys Carrillo, the mother of his 2-year-old daughter. Carrillo, who had recently broken up with Valdez, barred the door as he threatened to break the glass. Two days later, he returned and attacked her, grabbing her neck with one hand and brandishing a knife with the other, according to a West Miami Police report. (Carrillo declined to be interviewed for this story). He took Carrillo's purse containing her iPhone 4 and $300 cash before stalking off.

A few weeks later, on May 10, 2012, police set up surveillance on a four-bedroom house at 13362 SW 256th Terrace based on an anonymous tip. Investigators watched Valdez walk from the front door to the mailbox. Approached by cops, he claimed he was just "visiting" the house, but inside, police found a room packed with marijuana plants and 20 pounds of processed weed. Valdez was booked on state cannabis charges.

Four months later, on August 5, Valdez confronted his ex-girlfriend again, surprising her outside her new pad in Doral. He slapped Carrillo across the face and called her a whore, according to a Miami-Dade Police report. On August 7, Carrillo requested protection from domestic violence, claiming Valdez abused her, snorted cocaine, harassed her at the Pink Pony, and threatened to kill her. West Miami Police officers arrested Valdez on a felony armed robbery charge and, as a bail condition, strapped a GPS device to his ankle to ensure he stayed away from Carrillo.

A year after his bold but fruitless Mexican caper, Valdez's criminal run seemed at an end. Instead, he was poised for his biggest rip-off yet.

Twelve minutes after Valdez and his conspirators snatched Villegas' two suitcases full of gold, the ringleader walked back into his West Miami house and stayed put until 8:19 a.m. At 9 o'clock sharp, he rolled up to the apartment of Yuxibeidis Acosta, a doe-eyed brunet stripper from Hialeah whom Valdez had begun dating.

Such precise times are more than guesses: They're the exact data taken from the ankle monitor that Valdez amazingly wore throughout the whole caper. That detail, combined with the court system's breathtaking incompetence afterward, shows how he had learned to play the American criminal justice system like a concert pianist tickles the ivories.

"Raonel was scoping out the gold while out on bond for the marijuana charge and the armed robbery of his ex-girlfriend," says Bolton, the private investigator. "Of course he doesn't care about getting caught because he's always back on the streets."

Valdez certainly gave police and prosecutors plenty of chances to catch up to him. For days after the heist, he peddled his ill-gotten booty at pawnshops around Dade. Then, on October 17, he took Acosta to a car dealer and bought her a 2008 Toyota Yaris.

Five days later, he voluntarily headed to court to answer for his marijuana-trafficking charge. If he was worried about getting pinched for the gold theft, he didn't show it. He was on time, pleaded guilty, and received two years of supervised probation from Judge Victoria Sigler.

Coral Gables Police, meanwhile, finally connected Valdez to the multimillion-dollar heist thanks to an anonymous tip. Villegas quickly identified Valdez from a photo lineup. The day after his pot sentencing, he was arrested in West Miami.

"The fact that this guy has an ankle monitoring device made it easy to place him on the scene," says Dean Wellinghoff, a Gables Police spokesman. With all of that data plus Villegas' testimony, prosecutors had more than a solid case.

Yet at a December bond hearing, Valdez came out on top again. Prosecutors pointed out his prior probation violations, his chronic history of failing to appear in court, and the fact that he allegedly committed his most recent crime while wearing an ankle monitor.

But Valdez's lawyer, Alexander Michaels, convinced Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Leon Firtel that the evidence was mostly circumstantial. What's more, prosecutors hadn't tied Valdez to any organized crime ring. Quri Wasi's investigators now believe he belongs to a crew that participated in his alleged crimes in Mexico. (Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office spokesman Ed Griffith would not comment on the case, referring New Times to the court transcripts.)

"I have a duty to do here, and I call it the way I see it," Firtel said while setting Valdez's bond at $75,000 and — amazingly — ordering him to wear yet another ankle monitor. "If I'm wrong, I'm wrong."

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