A $2.8 Million Gold Heist Shows Cuban Gangs Still Rule Miami

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"She participated by driving him around and then helping him cover up his crime," Bolton says. "When she went to visit him in jail, he spoke to her in code about getting rid of incriminating evidence inside her apartment."

Yet when the Coral Gables detectives handling the investigation wanted to obtain a search warrant for Acosta's apartment in Hialeah, their bosses refused to do it, Shedd claims. "I just shake my head at the don't-give-a-shit attitude coming from the higher-ups," Shedd says. "They don't care because our client is in Bolivia."

(James McKee and Velier Zacheco, the Gables detectives working the case, referred calls to spokesman Dean Wellinghoff, who declined to comment because the investigation is open.)

Shedd also blasts Firtel, the judge who let Valdez walk free after his bond hearing. "He should recuse himself from the bench for the rest of his life," Shedd grouses. "He was fucking wrong, all right."

But Michaels, Valdez's attorney, says equal blame belongs to prosecutors for presenting a weak case. "The State Attorney's Office screwed up," he says. "Now they're trying to blame the judge for their ineffectiveness. A person is still presumed innocent until the state proves its case in court."

Bigger picture: Had law enforcement treated Valdez and his freelance crew of criminals the way it had treated the Battle organization and the Santiesteban clan of pot growers, Matojo and his gang might have been busted before they could walk away with millions of dollars in gold. Michael Levine, a former federal undercover agent and law enforcement consultant in New York, says the most effective way to build a case against an organized crime ring is by using racketeering or conspiracy charges.

"It is much easier to convict a bunch of people together than individually," he says. "A racketeering or conspiracy case opens doors to evidence like hearsay. You can take a statement of one conspirator and use it against another."

Instead of connecting Valdez to the larger organization suggested by his ties to grow houses, human trafficking, and Mexican conspiracies, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office assigned the gold heist case to the crime victims unit.

Quri Wasi has certainly made that connection, though. The company has filed a lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleging that Valdez, his girlfriend Acosta, and cousins Marrero Leal and Marrero Lara plotted and participated in the gold heist. (Marrero Leal and Marrero Lara, who haven't been criminally charged despite investigators tying them to the crime in their incident reports, did not respond to notes New Times left at their last known address.)

Valdez, meanwhile, was reportedly seen in New Providence, a town near Nassau in the Bahamas, during the first week of June. The Royal Bahamas Police Force issued wanted posters with Valdez's face throughout its precincts.

Villegas admits he's still afraid Valdez will come back. "I'm the only witness, after all," he says. "I thought about moving, but then I said no. I'm not going to live in fear of this guy."

In case Valdez does return, Villegas points to a can of Mace sitting on his table. "I'll be ready for him this time."

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.