A Felony with That Croqueta?

Criminals are everywhere at the nation's best-known Cuban eatery.

And then there's Alayo, the man who removes El Abogado from the shelf at Versailles. A photo of him walking toward the camera as if about to rip it apart in his teeth accompanied Beato's article. And it is on his criminal record that she focuses most of her jeremiad. Since the early Eighties, Alayo has been charged with 21 felony counts in eight cases, among them arson, threatening to throw a bomb, and three counts of first- and second-degree murder. Charges were dropped or he was acquitted in all but one of the cases. In 1996, he was convicted of being an accessory after the fact and sentenced to 364 days in prison and two years of probation.

Beato describes Alayo as a bully who has enjoyed immunity for his alleged crimes while continuing to make mischief in and around Versailles. He is protected, she says, because of his connections to other powerful Cuban-Americans, including Versailles owner Felipe Valls: "Felipe is well aware of what this guy is doing."

"These guys say they want to go and take over Cuba," Beato points out. "Jesus, we have to topple these people before we can go back to Cuba and topple Fidel."

Beato says Alayo has slashed the tires of people he doesn't like, a claim she cannot substantiate. However, she's had her own tires sliced up twice in the past year, once at Versailles and then outside her Gables condo two weeks ago, when someone poked holes in all four tires and smashed every window of her PT Cruiser.

She found out about the vandalism when a Coral Gables Police officer traced her license plate number and knocked on her door at 2 a.m. The department is still investigating the incident.

Valls, who owns 10 restaurants in South Florida, denies he's protecting Alayo. "He never eats at the place; he hangs around there — you know what I mean? I don't know what kind of person he is. I can't accuse him of anything."

Valls adds that two or three years ago, he called the police when Alayo made an inappropriate pass at one of the women behind the counter. "I spoke to him and said, 'You cannot do that,'" Valls recalls. "And then we called the police. He had to stay out of there for a year.... He came back and he hasn't made any trouble. If he does, I will call the police again."

Carlos Muñoz Fontanills, honorary chairman of Peña del Versailles, says Beato's editorials against the peña are misguided. An enormous man, unfailingly vehement yet always kindly, he dismisses Beato's attacks on his group with a thump of his meaty hand. "This is not even worth talking about," he insists. "This is something personal between [Beato and Alayo]. It has nothing to do with the Peña del Versailles."

Fontanills has nothing against Beato. "She is Cuban," he says warmly. "She comes here to Versailles; she is one of us, one of the peña. Everybody is the Peña del Versailles. It is all of us who love Cuba."

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