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At 4:15 a.m. Thursday, July 30, Paul Magnum and his wife Laura were on their way to pick up heartburn medicine, they would later tell reporters, when a dark-colored Dodge Charger pulled up behind their maroon 1997 pickup truck and flashed blue-and-red dashboard lights. Magnum, 56, said he pulled over near the intersection of NE 111th Street and 14th Avenue, a desolate residential block. Instructions came booming out of a speaker attached to the unmarked car: Get out of your vehicle and lay your hands on the tailgate.
Magnum, a burly 300-pound man with a heavy brow and receding shoulder-length gray hair, complied — and suddenly felt a pistol against the back of his head. A young, skinny black man sporting dreadlocks, a mouthful of gold teeth, and a teardrop tattoo threatened to kill the couple as he snatched Magnum's necklace. A crony, a larger black man with dreadlocks squeezed into a ponytail, waited in the car with a baseball bat. They both had silver police badges pinned to their dark hoodies, Magnum said, but he began to realize these guys weren't cops.
When the gold-toothed robber tried to snatch his Rolex, Magnum fought back and momentarily won a grappling match. The bat-wielding accomplice ran over and began beating Magnum. He fell into some bushes, where the ponytailed gunman shot him in the side with a revolver and then put the pistol to Magnum's head and squeezed the trigger.
The gun was out of bullets. The police impostors jumped back into the Charger and fled. Laura helped her husband, with a bullet wound in his side and torn ligaments in his right arm, into the car and they drove to Jackson Memorial Hospital, eight miles away.
At least that's the story the Magnums told the police after they arrived at Jackson. Miami-Dade investigators sent out search bulletins for suspects matching the Magnums' description. The action-movie account was devoured by the local media. "Two men impersonating police officers are on the run," the Miami Herald reported earnestly.
But what the daily newspaper failed to relate is Paul Magnum's personal biography, a bizarre chronology that suggests there's far more — or less — to this story than a random mugging. Public records reveal that Magnum, a bankrupted former bar owner and pharmacy owner who's been married four times, has a long legal history that includes charges of battery, domestic violence, and kidnapping. And he's been in the news before: first in 2002, when he was accused of art theft by a wealthy Coral Gables couple, and then in 2007, when he was charged with felony grand theft and organized fraud for running a Medicaid scam that bilked the state out of nearly $250,000.
He was set to plead guilty to that charge, and potentially spend the rest of his life in prison, the morning he was shot.
For starters, Paul Magnum is not Paul Magnum — or at least he wasn't when he was born in Cuba in 1955 as Raul Carballo. The exile began using the film-noir moniker around 1989, state files reveal, which might have had something to do with three criminal charges staining his record that year. In May that year, he was charged with two separate incidents of battery and threatening a public servant. None of the felony charges stuck, and the court files have since been destroyed.
Magnum has always had a dabbler's approach to entrepreneurism. State incorporation files show ownership of a legion of businesses over the years, such as Paul Magnum Process Servers, El Rincón Mejicano Restaurant, and Bio-Waste of Florida Inc. In 1998, Magnum expanded his business empire by buying the Dolphin Bar & Lounge, a dank, trailer-size tavern on Palm Avenue in Hialeah. The Bellagio it was not; one online reviewer describes the place thusly: "Need a hooker and don't care about the quality? This is the place to go. Seedy and dangerous."
Soon afterward, Magnum opened the Pharmacy Depot on Quail Roost Drive in South Miami-Dade and signed up to accept payments from Medicaid.
Making matters creepier was Magnum's choice of residence — a burned-out farmhouse that was once the site of a famous murder. After his former home was foreclosed on in 1996, Magnum purchased the four-bedroom property at 19960 SW 190th St. in the Redland, where in 1995 a farmhand had abducted, raped, and killed 9-year-old Jimmy Ryce. The house had since been damaged by fire, so Magnum got it "on the cheap," he later explained in court. He intended to repair the place but ended up simply living in the rooms that hadn't burned.
In 1999, though, Magnum seemed prepared to make a huge upgrade in digs. That's when he offered to buy a 16,800-square-foot canal-front Coral Gables manse and all of its furnishings for $3.1 million, the house's owners, Marta and Fernando Alvarez, claimed in a later lawsuit.
Magnum wrote them a down-payment check for $500,000. Before it could be cashed, the Alvarezes said, a woman claiming to be his wife showed up with two moving trucks and began clearing the house of possessions, ostensibly so she could begin repainting.
The check bounced, said the Alvarezes. And Magnum disappeared. The couple filed a report with Coral Gables Police but could not get the State Attorney's Office to return their calls, they said. They estimated the 43 furnishings and objects of art stolen were worth $600,000, including a $25,000 16th-century Belgian tapestry.