It Was a Ruthless, Professional Hit, and It Was the Cops Doing the Shooting

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In 2006, that's just what he did, spending six months helping Miami-Dade detectives with a murder case. He continued working with cops for the next three years on various other cases, cutting nearly five months off his sentence in return.

Miami-Dade will not confirm whether Gonzalez worked as an informant. But it's clear from court records that when Gonzalez walked out of prison August 4, 2010, he had cops and prosecutors to thank for his early release.

He didn't waste much time. On August 30, a Miami woman named Onelia Machado was baby-sitting her infant nephew when an alarm beeped. She left the bedroom to find two men with bandannas over their faces and handguns drawn. They shoved her and shouted in Spanish: "Stay face down on the bed and don't move, or we'll kill you!"

Just as in 1997, the home invasions kept coming. On January 16, 2011, Gonzalez's son, Roger Jr., was released from prison for his own series of robberies. Now working as a team, they targeted drug dealers and criminals, police say, but also tied up innocent families. During one smash-and-grab, the thieves cut their victim's boxer shorts and then slashed his scrotum before stealing his Mercedes SUV. A few weeks later, one of them tried to cut off a victim's finger.

Cops soon caught a break. Rosendo Betancourt had recently finished a three-year sentence for cocaine trafficking. The wiry Cuban had past convictions for stealing cars and threatening witnesses. He also had connections to Roger Gonzalez Sr. Betancourt secretly approached Miami-Dade police and told them the Gonzalezes were responsible for the vicious break-ins, court records show. Cops began wiretapping the father and son's phones and planning how to bust the gang.

After years as an informant, Gonzalez Sr. wasn't going to fall for another warehouse trap. But police thought they could lure him into trying to rip off 20 pounds of pot from a marijuana stash house. On June 30, Betancourt gave him the address in the Redland. The trap was set.

It's a mystery when Andrew got involved. But on June 30, Andrew drove his '93 Oldsmobile from Opa-locka to a secluded ranch two miles southwest of the Redland stash house. There he met the Gonzalezes, Betancourt, and an ex-con named Jorge Lemus.

Andrew and the men piled into a microphone-wired SUV that cops had given Betancourt and drove to the Redland house. Police call what happened next a successful sting. Andrew's family has another name for it: a death trap.

Cops say stings such as the Redland operation take violent career criminals off the streets, one way or another. Gonzalez's crew alone was responsible for 19 robberies in six months, says Miami-Dade Police Maj. Raul Ubieta. The Street Terror Offender Program (STOP) has busted 53 home invasion gangs since 2005, Ubieta boasts.

As head of the Miami-Dade Police Department's robbery bureau, Ubieta ranks home invasions just behind rape and murder on his list of heinous crimes. More than anyone else, he is responsible for green-lighting the sting operation in the Redland. And although he says he can't discuss the details of that deadly night, he insists all the robbers had it coming.

"These guys were armed," he says. "They were going to do a home invasion, a rip. These guys had been involved in torture. Not a one of them was innocent going in. Not a one of them."

But three of those stings have gone wrong, and all in a disturbingly similar way: with suspects getting shot despite apparently never firing at police. In all three cases, cops chose the location and positioned dozens of officers with sniper rifles nearby. Each time, they seemed better prepared to kill than to capture their prey. And the same officers were involved in several of the killings.

The first STOP operation that turned deadly happened September 7, 2006. Detectives staged an elaborate setup. Using a confidential informant, they tricked six career criminals into thinking a tractor-trailer with 80 kilos of cocaine was parked behind a Medley warehouse. The robbers arrived wearing fake FBI and DEA shirts. Two of them, with guns in their hands, approached the truck and screamed "DEA" and "FBI." That's when the real cops opened fire.

Jorge Torres, 21, was shot five times and died at the scene. Joe Guevara, 23, was shot but survived. He and four other suspects were convicted of gun and drug charges. The Special Response Team (SRT) officers who fired their weapons said they saw Torres and Guevara raise their guns as if to shoot. All eight cops were cleared of wrongdoing.

A year later, STOP detectives planned another, nearly identical ambush. This time they targeted a seven-member gang led by three brothers. Again, a confidential informant suggested a drug heist, telling the gang that a tractor-trailer parked in another Medley warehouse was packed with 70 kilos of cocaine. Even better, he told them, the driver would be asleep on the job.

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Michael E. Miller