By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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Late one morning Connie Anguiera, age 40, appears at the front door of the house she bought in 1984, when she was still married. The doorjamb is splintered near the lock where police kicked it in several months ago, she says. "I'm not talking to anyone until the police fix my door," she says. She's wearing a white Nike sweatshirt, her straight black hair framing an elegant, narrow face. Her brown eyes glare under her neat bangs.
"Frankly, they're telling me I'm making the area unsafe," she says. "They want my family out of here."
Anguiera describes herself as a single mother, a former PTA member, and a Boy Scout leader. Police allege that she's a den mother to thugs. Not surprisingly, she's wary about discussing the accusations against her, the activities in her home, even her own past. "I don't have to defend myself against anything," she says, leaning on the fence bordering the sidewalk. "I haven't done anything wrong."
True enough. She is not linked to any of the crimes in which the Mitsubishi Boys are suspects. Many of the boys who have been arrested over the years don't even live at her house. "Why don't you write about their houses?" she says, cradling a bag of limes she just bought at an open market.
Figuring out exactly who lives in her house is nearly impossible for an outsider. Connie has a daughter, three sons, and three nephews, whom she took in after her sister died. But on any given night as many as fifteen teens, mostly male, will gather there. These boys, she notes, know her because she was a Boy Scout leader for six years in Allapattah. "That's me. I love kids."
Police offer a different version. "This is a loosely banded group of kids -- I won't call them a gang -- who are using this address as a meeting place," Miami Police Chief Donald Warshaw contends.
"The theory is, that's a safe house," adds Lt. Albert Vila, who's in command of the section of the city that includes Allapattah. "Around Tenth and Twelfth avenues and 36th and 39th streets, they always bail out there. It's just too much of a coincidence."
"That is a bunch of cockamamie," Anguiera growls. "It is not a safe house. I let those police in. They don't even have to ask. If they see somebody go into the house, I tell them they can go in."
In fact, Anguiera recounts, she gave police permission to search her house just a week earlier, on January 29. While this may indicate she's willing to work with the police, it doesn't much bolster her contention she's being unfairly targeted. Inside police found boxes of sneakers from a recent shoe store burglary. The thieves drove a black Honda Accord through the front of the store. Police arrested one juvenile, whose name they wouldn't release because of his age, after a chase that started at the corner of Tenth Avenue and 38th Street. They say he was living at 1024.
Anguiera heads across the street to give some limes to a neighbor. When she returns, she's still defensive, but soon softens and offers a tour of her home. A floor-to-ceiling rack by the front door glistens with school sports trophies garnered by her children. Gold and silver statuettes for football, basketball, and tennis also cover a coffee table. On the far wall, over an upright piano crowded with family photos, is a picture of her son Henry Fuller, who died when the car he was riding in was broadsided in 1995. He was eighteen.
Anguiera's green and yellow cockatiel Pete sits in a large cage. "He likes to whistle 'The Halls of Montezuma,'" she says.
Connie plunks the bag of limes down on the coffee table and slumps in a chair. She picks up a cookie left on the table and nibbles. Instead of complaining about her, she says, neighbors and police should help her get jobs for these boys. Lord knows she spends enough of her time taxiing them around to warehouses and nursing homes filling out applications.
"I don't have a life of my own," she laments. She doesn't say what she does for a living.
Soon she's offering some of the limes. She insists on giving them away. "Don't worry." She sighs. "Nobody has to know I gave them to to you."
"You listening to me? I don't want you to just go look at it. I want you to talk to them." Albena Sumner is working the phone in her bedroom/office. Manila file folders are stacked next to her bed. Oprah is on TV. "Do your neighborhood policing if you don't mind." She hangs up the phone. "People get so intense about their trash." Sumner is mediating a dispute between two neighbors; one is accusing the other of dumping trash on his property. She wants the city's new local Neighborhood Enhancement Team to get involved.
"I have to talk to the mayor the same way," she says matter-of-factly. "You see why they call me the mayor of Allapattah. Because I have to deal with all the damn problems."