By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
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
Long ago Humberto Aguilar was a thief, a rich one with a Mercedes-Benz SL650 and a slew of designer Italian suits to show for it. He specialized in laundering millions of dollars pumped from the cocaine trade.
Now the plump 54-year-old with a baritone voice and a Tom Selleck mustache is a new man — crime-free, he says. He has even turned into something of a detective. He contends the executive director of a nonprofit where he has worked and volunteered for seven years has been improperly dipping into funds partly supplied by taxpayers. And the board of Suited for Success, which provides ex-convicts and the homeless with dapper duds for job interviews, has tried to keep it quiet.
"In a very strange and convoluted way, I'm a strait-laced guy," he says. "Right now I'm involved in this fight with all these people because I feel alive. I hate to see injustice."
Born in Cuba and educated at the University of Florida, Aguilar earned his law degree in 1978 and moved to Miami. Six years later he made the front page of the New York Times after defending Eduardo Arocena, leader of the anti-Castro terrorist group Omega 7, on a double-murder rap and bombings. Those were Miami's cocaine cowboy days, so drug dealers soon began asking for a little, um, help. "Clients would come to me and say, 'I've got a ton of money. Can you move it for me? And I'd say, 'Yeah, let's do it,'" he recalls. "Back then Miami was almost wide-open. You'd call a buddy and say, 'I need to meet some bankers and lawyers in Panama.' We all knew everybody. It was a network."
Aguilar would take short jaunts to South American countries, where he'd be met by suitcases stuffed with bills that had been smuggled in on sailboats. He'd give bankers $10,000 or $20,000 to deposit the money in Switzerland, Luxembourg, and other corners of Europe. The Miami lawyer would take a five to 10 percent cut, usually between $50,000 and $200,000.
His wife, Carmen, didn't ask how he earned the cash for the tony suits, the million-dollar home, and the fancy cars. And he didn't tell her. "One of the reasons I did it was because we were having so much fun," Aguilar says, "just playing the game."
Carmen gave birth to twins, George and Olivia, in 1987. Three years later Aguilar was popped for cheating the IRS out of $2.3 million and trying to import more than $26 million of cocaine into the country. After posting a more than $1-million bond and selling his Kendall home, he and the family decamped to Spain. Aguilar became David Omar Ocampo Andrade, traveling on documents crafted by a cousin in Honduras. He told the four-year-old twins to call him David outside their apartment — and explained he was researching a character for a book he was writing. "Why would anybody be a fugitive if you can't take your family with you?" Aguilar asks rhetorically.
Soon, though, the money dried up, and Carmen returned to Miami with the kids while Aguilar did odd maintenance jobs. Then in 1995 U.S. authorities traced calls from his wife to Madrid pay phones, and Spanish police picked him up. He spent two years in prison fighting extradition before pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and import cocaine.
Aguilar was locked away in a cell in Miami's Federal Correctional Institution, where his legal skills bought him protection and cigarettes. "I'm a lawyer. I'm a God in prison." Then Carmen filed for divorce, but they lied to the twins, saying papi had stayed in Europe. Aguilar would mail postcards to his European friends, who would forward them to his children.
"Maybe we were gullible as kids," says Olivia Aguilar, age 20, now a freshman at Miami Dade College. "He would send us postcards from different places, even Paris. I used to see these postcards and say, 'My dad's in Paris,' and I'd brag about it at school.... When you grow up with it, it's like anything else, like Santa Claus."
Shortly after Aguilar was released in 2000, he landed a job at a chain of Miami Beach hotels. He started as a nine-dollar-an-hour houseman and worked his way up to sales manager. Soon he met Charles Intriago, the man behind Money Laundering Alert, a well-regarded Miami newsletter that describes Aguilar's former crime. Intriago invited him to speak at a few conferences. "He does a good job," says Intriago. "He's legitimate because he was illegitimate."
Aguilar left the hotels in 2004 to work full-time for publicly funded local organization Suited for Success, which had helped him find decent clothes when he left prison. The group's executive director and cofounder, Sonia Jacobson, hired him to run job training for ex-convicts and the homeless in neighborhoods like Overtown and east Little Havana. He calls it the most rewarding job he ever had: "I brainwashed them into believing in themselves again."
The organization was relatively successful — last year it took in nearly $120,000 from state and federal sources. In the past 12 years, its Website says, it has helped more than 12,000 people gain jobs. Aguilar even recruited his daughter (with whom he reconnected after his release) to help with Suited for Success classes and dress the women. On the side, Aguilar also shared his story with bankers and law enforcers at financial crime conferences in London, Frankfurt, and Vienna.