DeFede

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His actions after discovering his car was stolen only fueled the suspicions. Oramas told Fort Lauderdale police he realized his car was missing at about 1:00 a.m., but he did not actually report the vehicle stolen until almost 9:00 a.m. His explanation: He simply decided to go home, go to sleep, and then report the car and gun missing in the morning. "I waited until that morning, until I could get my personal car to go to the police station to report it," he said. (That, naturally, raises the question why was he driving his county-issued vehicle instead of his personal car while off-duty and enjoying a night on the town.)

Was he afraid that if he summoned police to the scene they would see he had been drinking? Once again Oramas denied he had been drinking that night.

Even if he is telling the truth, his actions are inexcusable. As a long-time police officer, he should have known the risk he was taking by waiting eight hours to alert police that his car and gun had been stolen. Suppose a cop had spotted Oramas's vehicle that night and pulled it over for some minor traffic violation. Approaching the Jeep, the officer wouldn't have realized the car was stolen. More important, the officer would not have known the driver was armed. And that driver, fearful he was about to be arrested, could have tried to shoot the unsuspecting officer. Luckily that didn't happen.

At the very least, if he had immediately reported the car and gun stolen, there would have been a greater chance the thief would have been apprehended and the weapon recovered. As it stands, thanks to Oramas there is a gun on the street -- unaccounted for, waiting to be used, ready to inflict suffering.

Nelson Oramas's irresponsible conduct may be inexcusable but it also is indicative of the neglectful manner in which nearly every department at the airport has been managed, a trend Alex Penelas has done little to reverse during the four years he's been mayor. If Oramas cared about anything other than adding cash to his pension, he would resign. But it's apparent he doesn't, so he should be fired or at the very least demoted. But he'll probably come out of this without much more than a slap on the wrist. (According to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records, Oramas still is officially listed as an employee of the Miami-Dade Police Department. But Miami-Dade police officials say they no longer are responsible for his actions. As a result it doesn't seem likely Oramas will face disciplinary action for failing to properly secure his gun as required by the department's rules and regulations.)

Here's another reason Oramas will probably emerge from this unscathed: He is one of those politically connected airport employees. "Nelson has always been a big name-dropper," says one senior airport source, who requested anonymity. "He brags all the time about the advice he gives Penelas, and his close ties to [Commissioner] Natacha Millan." Oramas also has told people around the airport he's interested in applying for the job of aviation director, though he denies he is interested in the top job. Now, there's something to be thankful for.

Oramas's tenure at the aviation department has been rife with problems. Even his transfer from police to aviation wasn't without controversy. It is widely believed that Oramas, who was a division chief with the Miami-Dade Police Department, was shuffled over to MIA because he clashed with Carlos Alvarez, the department's director. Oramas said he is well aware of those stories, but claimed he and Alvarez have a good relationship. (Alvarez declined a request for an interview about Oramas.)

Since Oramas's arrival at the aviation department, MIA has been awash in security-related scandals. Federal agents discovered a brazen ring of baggage handlers that was smuggling drugs through the airport. During a sting operation last year, federal agents were even able to bribe a baggage handler to smuggle a hand grenade aboard a plane. The Federal Aviation Administration also has been highly critical of lax security measures at MIA. During much of this time, Oramas has been an absentee security chief. Airport officials says he frequently calls in sick. Oramas blames "stomach trouble" for his repeated absences.

Despite these major problems, Aviation Department director Gary Dellapa and Mayor Penelas have continued to place their confidence in Nelson Oramas. Penelas recently attended an airport press conference in which Oramas unveiled the department's answer to the widespread smuggling: Airport employees will now be required to carry their belongings in clear plastic bags. This way if an employee is toting a kilo of cocaine or a bomb, Oramas's crack security staff will be able to see it inside the bag.

Penelas applauded the introduction of the plastic bags and hailed the measure as just the type of proactive, innovative initiative citizens can continue to expect from his administration. Sadly that's probably true.

In the meantime let's just hope the criminal genius who conned Oramas out of his car keys and gun doesn't go to work for the Colombian drug cartels or a band of international terrorists. Lord only knows how we could possibly defeat such a cunning outlaw.

jim.defede@miaminewtimes.com

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