Hecho en Miami

They look, smell and smoke like Cubans. So why not sell 'em that way?

Juan Penton stands amid the debris of his ruined shop, seething with anger. Hunks of ceiling are strewn about the floor, deck chairs lie turned on end, and piles of furniture rot in the corners. The air reeks of mold, and the dust has grown so thick that Penton's feet kick up small, swirling clouds as he walks. His rage is almost palpable. It seems to grow with each step.

Penton, 44 years old, is burly, with a round, nearly bald head, and a chubby, handsome face. His neat shorts and good silk shirt belie hands that are calloused and scarred from ten years of woodworking. He has the muscled arms and legs of a man who has labored his entire life. Opening a small door towards the back, Penton steps inside a small, crumbling room. "The humidor," he says, gesturing towards a wall where plastic-wrapped bricks of cigars are strewn across shelves and messily heaped inside a few cardboard boxes.

"They're all ruined, all of them," he mutters disgustedly, picking up a bundle, squeezing it, and watching the soggy cigars bend in his grip. There are a few hundred bundles in various stages of decay. "This is nothing," Penton adds dismissively. "This whole room was full."

Antonia Penton Figueroa says her husband's ongonig fight with Altadis is putting a strain on their family life
Jacqueline Carini
Antonia Penton Figueroa says her husband's ongonig fight with Altadis is putting a strain on their family life
Over six months, Penton's warehouse caught fire, got hit by a hurricane, and was raided by Miami-Dade Police
Jacqueline Carini
Over six months, Penton's warehouse caught fire, got hit by a hurricane, and was raided by Miami-Dade Police
Filiberto Marimon, proprietor of Dali Tobacco Shop Inc. in Little Havana. All charges against Marimon were dropped when the feds realized he had just sold unmarked cigars, a common practice
ISAIAH THOMPSON
Filiberto Marimon, proprietor of Dali Tobacco Shop Inc. in Little Havana. All charges against Marimon were dropped when the feds realized he had just sold unmarked cigars, a common practice
Right before he became a professional snitch, lottery winner Leo Gutierrez was a co-owner of Reel Smokers Cigar Distribution in Deerfield Beach. But then he got booted out
ISAIAH THOMPSON
Right before he became a professional snitch, lottery winner Leo Gutierrez was a co-owner of Reel Smokers Cigar Distribution in Deerfield Beach. But then he got booted out
Penton's dream was to produce and market his own brand of cigars: "Anything to hurt Fidel," he says
Jacqueline Carini
Penton's dream was to produce and market his own brand of cigars: "Anything to hurt Fidel," he says

He closes the door to the broken humidor — needlessly — and proceeds reluctantly into the south part of the warehouse. It is cavernous; mounds of cut cedar seem to stretch forever in the gloom. The whole room, Penton explains glumly, was for five years devoted to the making of cigar boxes: Here are precut sides, there are long stacks of the wooden sheets from which he made the tops and bottoms. Lying in a moldy pile on one table are the little green garantías, bills of authenticity that Penton included with each empty case.

But only one box in the room interests him now. Ignoring the others, Penton bends down and picks up a single case that bears on its lid the unmistakable image of a fiery Fidel brandishing a cigar. Inscribed in black letters beneath the figure is the brand's name, "El Dictador," with an epigram below it, reading, "Mas de 40 años de dictadura, robando, encarcelando, y asesinando al pueblo de Cuba." ("More than 40 years of dictatorship, robbing, incarcerating, and assassinating the people of Cuba.") Penton grins.

It's his own brand. For years his dream was to produce and market El Dictadors. He claims the cigar would have sold like crazy, especially in Miami. "Even the police loved it," he says, his smile widening. "They were all admiring the boxes."

It was a costly dream: Penton's wife quit her job as a dental assistant to help him with his business, while he poured his life's savings into El Dictador cigars. But on December 15, 2005, Penton's plans were summarily crushed: Miami-Dade police raided his warehouse on East Tenth Court in Hialeah, arresting and charging him with two counts of trafficking in counterfeit goods. Three months later Penton and four others were federally indicted, busted in the single biggest and most bizarre campaign against cigar counterfeiters in Miami history. Operation Smoke Ring, as it was dubbed, brought together a lottery-winning counterfeiter turned snitch, an undercover cop, a U.S. Attorney, and the Miami-Dade Police Department working hand in hand — or hand in purse — with Altadis U.S.A. — the richest, most powerful cigar conglomerate in the world.

On December 21, 2006, after an eight-day jury trial, U.S. District Court Judge Federico A. Moreno sentenced Penton to five years' probation and five months' house arrest. But the Hialeah man maintains his innocence and is appealing. He is convinced that he was set up, and that behind Altadis lurks an older, even more powerful enemy. "Fidel Castro," he says with an anger he's cultivated throughout his entire life, "Altadis is Fidel."


The history of Cuban cigars is steeped in intrigue, blood, global politics, and greed. Wrapped in pungent leaves of tobacco is the story of the island herself. Cigars represent the richness of the soil, the fortitude of the people, the hope of the beleaguered economy — all rolled into a single perfect thing.

Cuba's love affair with cigars dates back at least a couple thousand years. When Columbus and his sailors landed in the Caribbean, they found the indigenous Tainos smoking dried tobacco rolled up in plantain leaves. The explorer took some back with him to Europe.

In the years that followed that voyage, Europeans settled the island. And, busy as they were decimating the Indians, they found time to acquire a voracious appetite for tobacco. A new industry was born: The first manufactured cigars were produced in the Seventeenth Century in Spain, using Cuban tobacco. But the leaves lost flavor when they traveled; a century later cigar production took off on the island itself.

Shortly after the revolution, Castro took over Cuba's cigar factories, nationalizing the industry and driving out many of the tobacco barons, who left and started new factories in Miami. At first Miami tabacalerosimported leaves from the motherland. But on February 7, 1962, President Kennedy announced an embargo on trade with the island. (Legend has it that days before the takeover, he put in a massive cigar order.) We were, it seemed, cut off forever.

And yet walk into any premium cigar shop in the United States these days and you can still buy famous Cuban brands: Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, H. Uppman — all made in the Dominican Republic. So who owns those brands? The answer is trickier than you might think.

In a series of lawsuits in the Seventies, families claiming original ownership of the Cuban names established new, "parallel" trademarks — essentially American versions of island brands. As the worldwide cigar market grew in the Eighties, many of the families sold the treasured names to a handful of mega-corporations who increasingly dominated the market. Of these companies, one has so far emerged the leader: Altadis. Based in Spain, it is the largest maker and distributor of cigars in the world. In 2000 Altadis S.A. — parent of American subsidiary Altadis U.S.A. — slyly obtained a 50 percent interest in Habanos S.A., an arm of Cuba's state tobacco monopoly, making it the only company authorized to sell Cuban trademarks internationally.

In 2002 General Cigar Company — a subsidiary of Swedish Match, the second-largest cigar seller in the world — sued Altadis, claiming the latter sought to establish a worldwide monopoly. A judge threw out the suit. Altadis has continued to grow: Recently the company declined an 11.5 billion-euro offer from British rival Imperial Tobacco to buy it.

The firm has been riding a resurgence in the premium cigar trade. Sales in the last five years have risen steadily from $3.9 billion nationally in 1999 to $5.6 billion in 2006. Starting in 2000 Juan Penton began trying to get his cut of the leaf.


Late on a warm Friday night in Little Havana, Calle Ocho is filled with revelers noisily making their way home from a night of drinking and dancing. Peter Bello, owner of Cuba Tobacco Trading Cigar Shop, stands at the door of his establishment. Tall, with slicked-back hair, a light silk shirt, and casually expensive pants, he scans the crowd for customers.

Inside the shop, but visible from the street through a large window, a few well-dressed middle age men stretch out on couches, puffing on long Robustos, reaching languid arms out occasionally to ash. Behind them, through a glass door, is another room, large and covered in wood paneling, which houses Bello's cigars. Arranged for display on a large central table are the premium brands. There are all sorts — long, fat Churchill's, petite coronas (short, thick sausagelike cigars made of black tobacco leaves). The room has a rich, delirious smell.

Bello leads the way to the back, offering this cigar and that. He has pudgy, boyish features that are almost friendly — but when a visitor mentions Juan Penton, his face goes rigid and his eyes sharpen. Days before, on the phone, Bello refused to speak a word about Penton. Now there is a faint note of menace in his voice. "I don't know him," he says. But when pressed, his answer changes. "I have nothing to do with that man," he growls. "Everything he says is bullshit, total bullshit."

Juan Penton was born in Havana on October 25, 1962, and spent a good part of his late twenties trying to leave Cuba — it ultimately took him ten tries to escape. "Something always happened," he says.

Once, for his fifth or sixth escape attempt, Penton scraped together 150,000 pesos ($2000) to buy a boat and then assembled a small group, including someone with a working engine. They made it seven or eight miles out when the boat sprung a leak. It was sinking too fast to pump, so — much to Penton's dismay — someone threw the engine overboard. Then, seeing a Cuban police boat approaching, Penton jumped into the water. He swam back to the island all night, alone, reaching shore just before dawn and hauling himself up the steps of the first house he saw. "My arms and legs were trembling, shaking," he remembers. The owners took him in and fed him.

Penton describes himself as a rebel in Cuba. He belonged to the Alianza Democrática Popular (ADEPO), a human rights group. Among other things ADEPO members would author letters denouncing the Cuban president and take them to government offices to be notarized. "They would write, öI denounce Fidel for this or that,' and then they would get it stamped, so that it was official, so that they had to acknowledge it," Penton says proudly. He was often detained, he says, but always released.

In 1992 the Cuban government cracked down. Human Rights Watch reported the convictions of three ADEPO members for "illegal association," among other charges.

More determined than ever to leave, Penton traveled to Santa Clara, where he found a man who agreed to take him to the United States. "I went, and there was the boat, and it was incredible," he remembers, with the delight of a man who has himself jerry-rigged all manner of vessels. This "boat" was an assemblage of tubes of galvanized metal stuffed between bits of old, rusted iron grill work. A pump had been commandeered from an old power plant. "It was madness," Penton recalls, shaking his head, "but it had a motor that worked."

When it finally left the unlikely vessel had 42 passengers aboard. Amazingly the crew reached the Bahamas, where they were spotted by members of the Miami-based activist group Hermanos Al Rescate, who dropped supplies and notified the Coast Guard. Penton was detained for six months in Guantanamo, then released to the United States.

He arrived in South Florida on November 4, 1995, and began working immediately his first job was at a Pollo Tropical in Cape Coral. Within a few months he moved to Miami and began making cigar boxes at the Caribbean Cigar Company on Calle Ocho.

Penton had come to the United States just in time for the cigar boom of the mid-Nineties, and Caribbean was a boomtown business: In 1996 it went from a single store in the Keys to a publicly traded entity; its stock doubled on the first day of trading. By 1997 the firm had seven retail locations as far north as Fort Lauderdale, and was busy acquiring factories in Indonesia.

But the cigar bubble burst — and by the end of the same year, Caribbean reported $2.6 million in losses. Within months the company closed up shop in South Florida, moving its headquarters to Knoxville, Tennessee. On November 5, 1998, its listing was removed from the NASDAQ.

By then Penton had already left Caribbean to strike out on his own. He rented a warehouse in Hialeah and worked fourteen hour days, mostly making humidors and pool furniture. He bathed in a tub in the back, sometimes sweeping up the shavings and sleeping there. But his time at Caribbean stayed with him — he began dreaming of starting his own cigar company.

In 2000 Penton bought his current warehouse — 6600 square feet, complete with woodworking machines — for $100,000. It was there that he began making cigar "gift boxes," copies of top Cuban brands: Montecristo, Hoyo de Monterrey, Cohiba Esplendido, Romeo y Julieta, Partagas. Using pictures from books and originals, he made detailed copies, then sold them empty without cigars. Each was a kind of do-it-yourself kit that included the requisite green certificate of authenticity, and the necessary seals and anillos(the paper rings bearing the cigar's logo). On the back of each box, Penton stamped the words "Habanos S.A. Hecho en Cuba."

That same year Penton married his present wife, Antonia Penton Figueroa, a pretty woman with full, dark hair and tired eyes, four years his senior. Antonia, who was born in Havana and raised in Miami, says she recognized in her husband someone who had also struggled. Her 21-year-old daughter, Jenelly, suffers from what Antonia calls a mental "delay;" she functions normally, but is immature in some ways. "She can't do a lot of stuff by herself," Antonia explains. "She takes a bath and washes her hair, but sometimes I have to do it." Jenelly also suffers from seizures, for which she takes daily medication. "When I met Juan, my daughter was like thirteen — you can't just bring anybody into the house," Antonia points out. Penton was kind and patient with her daughter. "He's very respectable — he doesn't drink, he treats everybody with respect."

Penton moved into Antonia's tidy, three-bedroom house in Hialeah and the three became a family. "We go fishing, we go camping, we go to family parties," she says.

Antonia was working as a dental assistant when she met Penton. She left her part-time job to help him with his business. "We would work on the chairs and patio furniture, mostly. Most of the times I was doing that. Doing chairs, estimates, and all that stuff," she says. When Penton began making cigar boxes instead of furniture, she didn't see the harm in it. "I really didn't know it was that bad ... nobody really knew he was doing something bad," she says gloomily.

Penton demurs when asked about sales and profit, although he contends the boxes became his main source of revenue. He earned enough to live a middle-class life: Penton bought property — a house in Orlando and a studio apartment on Miami Beach. He got himself a small boat and a used '97 Ford pickup.

He's also vague about his customers. "Some people purchased them from me for if they had a party [sic]," he would later testify. "Other people would pick them for jewelry boxes and others to give them away as gifts."

Penton saw the boxes as a way to finance his real ambition: producing and selling El Dictador cigars. "Anything I can do to hurt Fidel," he explains. "Anyway I can spread the propaganda against him." Over the course of a year, he began making sample El Dictador boxes and applying to the U.S. Patents and Trademarks office for the rights to that name and a couple others: Havana Libre and Cuba Paradiso.

In 2005 he bought a ten-acre tobacco estate in the Dominican Republic (he won't name the price) and set up a cigar factory. He has pictures: One shows Penton standing proudly in front of the spare, concrete block plant, the words "Fábrica Dos Santiagos, Juan Penton, Presidente," emblazoned behind him in bright, hopeful letters. Ten years into his life in the United States, Penton saw his dreams becoming a reality.

But then things turned sour. He says he had partnered in the venture with a Miami businessman named Peter Bello Jr. The arrangement, Penton says, was that he put up the money — he declines to say how much. Then his usually polite smile disappears; he waves his hand and says, "A lot."

Bello was to stay in Honduras as the manager. Almost immediately the place went to hell. Penton claims he was swindled by Bello, who pretended to know the business. "The factory didn't produce anything; the tobacco was no good," Penton says disgustedly. "[Bello] didn't do anything."

Penton keeps the files relating to the venture — moldy from Hurricane Wilma — stacked inside a small plastic tub in the back of his house. Peeling them apart, newly angry at each sheet, he finally locates the Bello papers. They are receipts, mostly, from credit card transactions and plane tickets in Bello's name. One piece of paper — which he produces triumphantly — appears to be a summons from a Dominican court, ordering Bello to appear on charges relating to Penton. Nothing came of the suit, says Penton, who claims to have lost his entire investment. (Bello, before escorting New Times from his shop, refused to comment on specifics, offering only a few vague epithets about Penton).

Things only got worse from there.

In spring 2005 a machine in his Hialeah warehouse caught fire, and then a few months later, Hurricane Wilma damaged the warehouse ceiling, threatening to ruin some 50,000 cigars he had inside, the last remnant of his failed Dominican venture. Penton was eager to sell them any way he could.

Then one day in September, he was visited by two men who insisted on buying completos, that is, boxes filled with cigars.

Penton hesitated — he says he had only sold empty boxes before — but then one of the men, Leo Gutierrez, said that he was interested in purchasing the entire stock of tobacco. Penton sold them 60 completos, in return for $500 and a promise to buy the rest of his cigars in bundles. A month later Gutierrez returned and purchased 90 more boxes — empty this time — ten each of every brand Penton had available, promising again to return for the cigars. He never came back.

Penton insists — passionately — that his business was neither dishonest nor illegal. "Everything was in the open; my shop was open to the public — I had nothing to hide because I wasn't breaking any law," he says hotly. "Cuba owns no patents in the U.S.A. — everybody knows there's an embargo!" He also poo-poos the idea that he was deceiving anyone."Of course the customers knew the cigars weren't Cuban," he says. "I took them into my warehouse where I was making them!"


Reel Smokers Cigar Distribution, nestled in a strip mall on Federal Highway, is easy to miss. A small sign reading "Cigars" staked into the grass by the sidewalk points the store out to drivers who might otherwise pass it. But inside are hundreds of brands of premium cigars. There are entire aisles given over to particular makers like Padron, Trinidad, and Fonseca. One shelf is dedicated to Reel's own mark — Cuba Classics — which are produced in the shop by an in-house, leather-skinned rolero who conspicuously holds court near the cash register.

The shop is a cigar-lover's paradise; for a spell it was co-owned by Leo Gutierrez. "He was my boss for, um, two or three years," explains an employee, lighting a cigarette in the backroom. "He was charming, everybody liked him, but then he got booted out. I guess he did something crazy ... he had no money. They took the house, they took the cars, his wife was selling her jewelry, stuff like that. He even came in once trying to sell jewelry."

Indeed Leonardo Gutierrez is as perplexing a character in real life as any in fiction. In 1992, at a 7-Eleven on Hillsboro Boulevard in Deerfield Beach, he bought a lottery ticket that netted him $15.4 million. How he spent the money is unclear, but within five years he would appear to be broke. Court records show he has been sued at least nine times in Broward County since 1997, mostly for unpaid debts.

Four of the lawsuits came in 2002. In February of that year Greenwich Consulting, Inc., a Weston company, went after him for $17,500. Gutierrez countersued, alleging that GCI had swindled him by convincing him to hand over $90,000 in a tobacco venture. (Gutierrez later dropped that suit, and the two parties settled.) In May Wachovia Bank was allowed to seize his cars — a '92 Lexus and a '94 Volvo — for $12,380 of debt. And in July Citibank demanded $6474.09 for unpaid credit card debt. No judgment was entered.

The biggest hit, though, came in October, when Altadis USA sued Tabacalera Cubana Corp., a business Gutierrez co-owned with a Miami tabacaleronamed Pedro Gomez and his sons, Edel and Joel. The company specialized in boxes that resembled their Cuban counterparts, but said "replica" on the bottom. On November 11, 2003, U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro ordered the Gomezes to pay Altadis $900,000.

But Gutierrez was required to fork out nothing. Instead he became a snitch for Altadis, detailing the business operations of his partners.

The case was only part of Altadis' offensive against counterfeiters. Around the time they were facing the Gomezes and Gutierrez in court, they sued another company — South Beach Cigar, and won $2 million in damages.

Recently, Altadis worked with the Broward Sherriff's Office to sting Fort Lauderdale Smoke Cafe owner James Joiner and Carolina Cigar Company clerk Allen Boyd for counterfeiting. Joiner's case goes to trial in June. Allen Boyd pled no contest and paid a fine of $1500 plus lawyers' fees. Neither Carolina Cigar nor its owner, Charles McFarland, were charged, but McFarland says he's thinking about suing Altadis.

"There was a time when there was a big boom in cigar consumption, and people could sell just about anything," says Charles Grimes, Altadis U.S.A.'s trademark lawyer for 30 years. "Well, what happened was the cigar bubble burst. So, unable to sell their junk, they said — ooh, let's just rip off the other brands."

On July 18, 2005, Altadis approached Miami-Dade Police about a new target. Leora Hermann, a company lawyer, wrote to Detective David Sullivan of the Miami-Dade Economic Crimes Bureau. "Unlawful counterfeiting of these cigar brands is rampant in Miami-Dade County," she began. "We are now uniquely poised to decimate the long-standing cigar counterfeiting racket."

It went onto say that "former cigar distributor" Gutierrez had tracked down three major counterfeiters.

Over the next six months Altadis would provide cash for undercover buys, pay for trucks to haul away evidence, and offer "reimbursement of overtime and other manpower expenses." According to court documents, the firm paid truck rental and storage fees totaling some $3000.

Altadis also paid Gutierrez $81,500 in "consultant fees," as well as nearly $20,000 extra for "relocation expenses," presumably to get out of town after the bust. He must have felt like he had won the lottery again.

On the morning of December 15, 2005, Miami-Dade Police and detectives from the Economic Crimes Bureau raided warehouses and homes of eight suspected counterfeiters from Little Havana to Hialeah, and the heavily Cuban western reaches of Miami: Adalberto Cruz, Georgina Pacheco, Filiberto Marimon, Lauro Perez, Hugo Endemano-Portal, Michel Rodriguez, and Miguel Guerra were all charged with making and selling counterfeit materials. Five would face federal charges. Three would be released for various reasons.

When the cops arrived at Penton's warehouse, he was inside assembling boxes. There were at least a half-dozen officers, as well as a half-dozen lawyers from Altadis U.S.A. He's still furious remembering it. "It was just like in Cuba," he says, his eyes flashing rage. "It felt like I was back in Cuba." The police seized thousands of empty boxes and loaded them onto trucks waiting outside.

"When they were taking him outside, he kept saying, öWho's the victim, who's the victim?'" says Grimes, who was present at the arrest. "Penton is not somebody to be waxed poetically about — he's a thief."


Michael Gilfarb represented the United States Government in Penton's trial on October 10, 2006, at the James Lawrence King Federal Justice Building. "The evidence will show," the assistant U.S. attorney said in his opening statement, "that many of these families and their descendants fled Cuba with nothing but their name and their reputation. The families were resilient and they rebuilt ... they started to make quality cigars for sale in the United States using their reputations, their name, and their artwork — both being protected by the U.S. Government trademark laws."

"Nonetheless, here comes Juan Penton," Gilfarb continued, "and reaches where Castro cannot, right here into the United States Southern District of Florida, and takes the names of these premium cigars."

Gilfarb's argument was simple: Altadis, U.S.A. owns the American rights to certain cigars; Penton had copied those brands and was therefore guilty of counterfeiting.

"We've got a trademark, and there's certain protections you're afforded, and if someone violates you, you have a right to be protected," Charles Grimes says.

If the government's case was fairly straightforward, Penton's, as put forth by his attorney, Jose "Pepe" Herrera, was a convoluted indictment of the alleged victim, Altadis. "That Montecristo they make in the Dominican Republic, that's not my father's prerevolutionary Montecristo," said Herrera. "It doesn't even come close ... these slick [Altadis] businessmen bought these famous marks, marks that were made famous because of Cuban tobacco. This is the ultimate case of hypocrisy. The ultimate counterfeiters are the guys that are trying to use the legendary names."

Essentially Herrera's argued that Penton had been counterfeiting Cuban — not American — trademarks, which aren't recognized in the United States. Then he went after Altadis with an argument that had resonance in Miami. While Altadis, U.S.A. legally owned the American rights to its brands, its parent company had amassed its wealth upon the sale of the Cuban brands everywhere else in the world. By protecting the subsidiary, said Herrera, the United States was violating its own embargo.

Four days before Christmas the jury found Penton guilty on three counts of intentionally trafficking in counterfeit goods. He was acquitted on three counts of selling empty boxes. At his sentencing, the prosecution asked for five years' imprisonment, which Moreno promptly ridiculed. Then the prosecution — and the victim, Altadis — asked for damages in addition to the money that Penton "stole" in selling the counterfeits.

Gilfarb emphasized the amount of money Altadis had spent investigating Penton and the others. "It takes a certain amount of presenting it on a silver platter for the police department to take these matters under consideration," Gilfarb argued.

Moreno was unimpressed. "When the victim is paying for things that the government should pay for, it bothers me," he said. "Why am I uncomfortable with that? Otherwise we have two scales of justice, one for the rich and one for the poor. I am very uncomfortable with that. When you steal, you pay back what you stole."

Before sentencing, the judge gave the accused a last chance to speak. Penton remained defiant: "I am Cuban," Penton said. "That man [Altadis lawyer Chuck Grimes] cannot tell me how Cubans feel. He is not Cuban. He is simply making money with the Cubans, out of the sacrifice and the blood and sweat of Cubans. I respect the laws of this country, and I was declared guilty, so there is nothing else that I can do. At the time when I was doing it, I thought I was innocent. I continue to think that I am innocent."

The judge sentenced Penton to five years' probation with five months' house arrest, as well as a $7500 fine. In explaining the seemingly light sentence, Moreno stressed that the work Penton would lose as a result of his home confinement, upon which his wife and disabled stepdaughter rely, was punishment enough.


On a recent weeknight Penton sat on a deck chair the front patio of his house. He leaned forward and spoke bitterly about his sentence. He still had on his steel-toe shoes from working — Penton is driving a truck for money, but his home confinement means he can only take small, local jobs — and he has carefully pulled up his right sock to cover the ankle monitor. The family dog gave birth a week before, and inside, Antonia and Jenelly tended to a puppy, the only one of the litter to survive. Penton spoke ceaselessly for about an hour about Altadis, Cuba, and Fidel Castro.

"Altadis es Fidel," he said for the umpteenth time. "Did you see on the news, that they are manufacturing biological weapons there?" Penton continued, raising his eyebrows and smiling knowingly, as if tying together the strings of a vast, conspiratorial web. "I'm telling you, this is how Fidel operates." Penton has written letters denouncing Altadis to local Spanish-language press, as well as to politicians, including Dick Cheney. "This company is aiding an enemy of the United States, and nobody's doing anything," he declares. "I can't understand it."

Of the five who were federally indicted last September, Penton's is the only case that has gone to trial. One, Guerra, pled guilty. All charges against another, alleged counterfeiter Filiberto Marmion, who owns the Danli Tobacco Shop in Little Havana, were dropped after his lawyer revealed that he had been out of the country when the undercover purchases were made.

What's more, his employees had only sold unbranded cigars — a common practice.

The other two — Lauro Perez and Hugo Endemano-Portal — have yet to go to trial. A week after Penton's sentencing, U. S. Magistrate Barry L. Garber cited Penton's ongoing appeal in delaying the hearing. So far Penton has promised his lawyer some $80,000; to come up with the money, he sold the house he owned in Orlando. He's taken out thousands of dollars in loans, and he's planning on selling his last piece of property, the one-bedroom condo on Miami Beach.

As day turned into night, Antonia emerged with Cuban coffee and an update on the puppy. "Look at him," she said, coming over with the struggling creature in her palm. She admits that the arrest, the trial and the sentence, and her husband's refusal to give up have put a heavy strain on their small family. "You know, when you have money problems, you have a lot of other problems, too," she says. "He can't really work much now ... before, we didn't have too much money, but at least we could pay everything, and now we can't."

She wishes her husband would give up. "He wants to keep fighting, and I really don't," she says. "I'm always telling him to stop and don't worry about it. Just keep on with life. But you know, they have done harm to him, and he wants justice, that's what he says."

Penton sees himself as a lone fighter against Altadis, and can't understand why no one will take up his cause. "They scare you by saying you're going to have to pay all this money, and that you're going to jail ... all the others signed that they were guilty," he adds with contempt. "But I won't sign anything, because I'm not guilty. And if there is justice in this country, I will be found innocent."

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