For a while, Raonel Valdez was like the Chris Angel of Cuban-born delinquents, mind-freaking the criminal justice system with his ability to escape hard time. His bag of tricks may have finally come up empty. Yesterday, Valdez was booked into the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center (TGK) after spending close to 12 months on the lam.
Raonel's run came to an end in February when authorities in Belize detained him in a border town next to Guatemala for entering the country illegally. They Googled his name and discovered he was wanted in Miami for jumping bail while awaiting trial for his role in a daring criminal caper.
As New Times detailed in a feature story last summer, Raonel, along with a trio of unindicted accomplices, pulled off the boldest heist in Coral Gables history in October 2012. In broad daylight, Raonel and his crew jacked $2 million worth of gold from a courier. At the time, Raonel was wearing an ankle monitoring bracelet for an unrelated arrest.
Bureaucratic nonsense almost let him go free again. Last week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had informed the Coral Gables Police Department, which is handling the case, and the U.S. Marshals Service that it would not allow Raonel to enter the country, a necessary -- and usually perfunctory -- step in returning a fugitive from overseas, according to David Bolton, a private investigator hired to recover the stolen gold. Bolton sprung into action and notified several media outlets. "They were going to let him go," Bolton says.
By the time a USA Today article hit the newsstands May 5, Homeland Security officials had changed their tune. A spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Barbara Gonzalez, said the agency was reviewing a request that he be allowed to return to the United States and had "not yet made a decision."
Early Wednesday, Bolton informed New Times that Roanel was on a plane headed back to the Magic City, where the gold pirate will remain locked up pending his trial date.
Raonel's return to Miami jail is a major win for Bolton, whose persistence in pursuing the fugitive never wavered even when it seemed the trail had gone cold. The son of navy commander David Bolton and prominent Coral Gables women's activist Roxcy Bolton, the P.I. dug deep into Raonel's criminal past, uncovering his ties to a loose-knit yet highly organized gang of Cuban nationals involved in a variety of shady enterprises -- from stealing go-fast boats in the Keys subsequently used for human smuggling to allegedly working for the Drug Enforcement Administration to infiltrate the ruthlessly bloody Mexican cartel Los Zetas.
The Belize immigration officials who detained Roanel found a wanted poster Bolton had created online and contacted him when they realized who their detainee was. When law enforcement officers took Raonel to TGK, Bolton made sure he was there to watch his prize catch do the perp walk.
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"Raonel Valdez's luck has finally run out, and soon he will be held accountable for his actions," Bolton said afterward. "Let this also send a clear message to Florida law enforcement and judicial officers that organized Cuban gangs are here and expanding their capabilities."
Follow Francisco Alvarado on Twitter: @thefrankness.