DeFede

Meet MIA's Own Barney Fife

By now everyone knows that Miami International Airport is a mess. Political cronies of Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas have plundered millions of dollars' worth of contracts from the facility, while the public has been stuck with $8000 toilet seats and an airport so mismanaged it took more than a decade to bring something as simple as luggage carts to the main terminal. Every now and then, though, a story comes along that makes even the most seasoned cynic scratch his head in amazement. Nelson Oramas is such a story.

Recently Oramas, who is director of airport security and a 23-year veteran of the Miami-Dade Police Department, not only lost his county-leased Jeep Cherokee, he lost his gun as well.

When I learned of this last week, I could only laugh. It must be a joke, I thought. Veteran cops don't lose their guns. But I was assured that the rumor swirling around the airport was a serious matter: Their security czar had pulled up to a bar in Fort Lauderdale, turned to the first black guy he saw on the street, and assuming he was a parking valet, tossed him the car keys and proceeded on his way. When Oramas returned to the parking lot a few hours later, he realized his car was missing and that -- surprise! -- the man evidently was not a valet. Complicating matters, Oramas had left a fully loaded Browning 9mm handgun in the rear of the Jeep, along with an extra clip of ammunition.

"Come on," I told my source. "Things like that only happen in the movies." After a few phone calls, however, I discovered it was all true. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department confirmed Oramas reported his Jeep and his gun had been stolen.

"I feel kind of silly," Oramas told me last week, gamely trying to brush off the incident. He said he pulled into a parking lot next to a bar/restaurant called Dicey Riley's around 9:00 p.m. Wednesday, May 10. He explained he was looking for some friends in the area. When he got out of his Jeep, he said, he saw someone standing nearby. "There was a young black male standing there, over by the curb," he recalled. "I asked him: 'Are you parking 'em?' He said, 'Yes.'"

Oramas, who is 46 years old and rakes in nearly $130,000 per year as head of security for the Miami-Dade Aviation Department (which includes Opa-locka and Tamiami airports in addition to MIA), said he gave the man his car keys and a five-dollar bill. "The guy looked legitimate," Oramas added.

Of course the precise meaning of "legitimate" is subject to interpretation. Valets and parking attendants in the area generally wear white shorts with shirts that feature the name of the valet company, or they wear orange vests and carry flashlights to guide drivers to parking spaces. And normally drivers see some sort of sign indicating valet parking. None of those things was present in this case. According to the police report, the man to whom Oramas tossed his car keys was wearing a white shirt and black pants. Did Oramas find it odd that the man didn't give him a receipt or ticket stub for his keys? No, he said, he didn't even think about it.

"I didn't do anything wrong," Oramas volunteered defensively. "I got ripped off in some kind of valet scam. It's embarrassing, and if it's something that you think is news, that's up to you." Oramas noted the car was found the next day. His gun and ammunition, however, are still missing.

Philip Eastman, owner of Dicey Riley's, was dumbfounded at the thought of someone turning over his car keys to a complete stranger on the street. "There is no way you could be that stupid," he scoffed. "There is no mistaking the valets around here. How could he just give his car keys to some guy? And he just left his gun in the car? What kind of cop is this guy?"

Oramas, I told Eastman, was a veteran of the Miami-Dade Police Department and now was head of security for the county's aviation facilities, including Miami International Airport. "Well, that certainly says something about Miami, doesn't it?" he replied.

It sure does.

A person would be hard pressed to find a better symbol of the incompetence of Miami-Dade County's administrators than the bumbling Nelson Oramas. After all, when the head of airport security blithely hands over to a crook the keys to his county-issued vehicle, it isn't difficult to understand why there have been so many security lapses at the airport. And if he can't even hang on to his own gun, how the hell is he supposed to protect the millions of people who fly in and out of MIA every year?

Eastman, the Dicey Riley's owner, was suspicious. There had to be something more to Oramas's blundering. One obvious question: Had the security chief been drinking that night? Oramas claimed he had consumed no alcohol either before or after turning over his car keys. But he was extremely evasive when asked where he had gone that evening, and he did not disclose the names of the friends he was looking for.

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