This past May 31, after renouncing Catholicism, international celebrity priest Alberto Cutié delivered his first sermon as an Episcopal minister. TV cameras and tabloid reporters filled the parking lot of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Biscayne Park. The scene was played repeatedly on television screens across Latin America.
Father Oprah, whose advice has soothed sinners in a dozen countries, had left the fold.
After the service, Cutié embraced his attractive, well-groomed fiancée, 35-year-old beautician Ruhama Canellis. As the couple chatted with their new Episcopal brothers and sisters, they were closely guarded by Capt. Antonio Sanchez, a Biscayne Park cop with salt-and-pepper hair and bushy black eyebrows. He is the village's number two law enforcer.
But, according to a lawsuit filed last Friday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court, Sanchez is more than a watchdog for the priest and his new wife. He improperly used his badge to try to get Canellis's ex-boyfriend thrown out of the country.
The lawsuit, which has not been disclosed before by any media, charges the Village of Biscayne Park Police Department, Sanchez, Cutié, Canellis, and the officer who signed the trespassing arrest report, Raimundo Atesiano, with malicious prosecution, false arrest, conspiracy, and civil theft.
It was filed by a 44-year-old Indonesian resident named Maxi Ratunuman, who has been living, apparently illegally, in the United States for years. He says he cohabitated with Canellis for three years in Biscayne Park. He helped bring up her son, "paid all mortgage payments" on her home, and "did extensive renovations."
The couple "planned to be married and have children," according to the lawsuit, until she "began cheating with" Cutié.
Public records give some credence to the time line and geography of the claim. Canellis married Miami Beach resident David Hope Norton in 1994; they had a son and then divorced in 1996. Since then, they have repeatedly clashed on child support. Canellis owned a two-bedroom house at 10951 NE Third Ave., which she sold in 2007 for $180,000.
"[Ratunuman and Canellis] used to live together," says the Indonesian's attorney, Robin Hellman. "He was helping her pay her mortgage and for remodeling work on a house she owned. He broke up with her four and a half years ago, after he caught her in bed with Cutié."
Cutié has said he was attracted to Canellis almost from the time they met approximately ten years ago in church. "I just knew there was this strong connection,'' the ex-priest recently told Univisión's Teresa Rodriguez. "I think she has the same passion that I have for Jesus.''
Ratunuman, who is in jail awaiting possible deportation, could not be reached for comment. Nor could Canellis and Cutié, who were celebrating their wedding at a Coral Gables courthouse Tuesday.
It's unclear when Biscayne Park's Captain Sanchez met Cutié and Canellis. All the lawsuit says is they became acquainted "since the Episcopal church to which they now belong is located in the Village of Biscayne Park." More clear is Sanchez's record, as described in a March 25 Miami New Times story, "Cop Land Revisited." He was fired from the Sweetwater Police force in 1990, in part for not meeting department standards. Then, in 1998, the Hialeah Gardens PD tossed him after an internal probe concluded he had harassed and spied on fellow employees. (Despite phone messages and a visit to the Biscayne Park Police Department Tuesday, Sanchez could not be reached for comment.)
On his day off this past June 6, Sanchez drove with Officer Atesiano to a two-bedroom residence at 11123 Griffing Blvd. Ratunuman was installing tiles there, in a closed-in patio, the lawsuit claims.
An arrest affidavit appended to the suit contends Atesiano pulled over Ratunuman's truck about 1:50 p.m. near the Griffing Boulevard house. A tipster claimed the Indonesian was homeless and had been living in the truck in the property's driveway. After a short interview, Atesiano arrested Ratunuman for driving with an expired license and trespassing. He took him into custody after learning "he was an illegal alien who was unable to renew his Florida driver's license," the affidavit continues. (In 2007, public records show, Ratunuman was arrested for burglary, but charges were dropped. Details of that case were unavailable Tuesday.)
In his lawsuit, Ratunuman contends the arrest affidavit contains "several inaccuracies, untruths, and fraudulent assertions." Among them: It fails to note that Sanchez, gun drawn, approached Ratunuman and "began screaming at him for trespassing." Another issue: The lawsuit claims the officers never pulled over the truck, but entered the house to arrest the Indonesian.
"Maxi informed Sanchez that he had permission from the owner to be there," Hellman says. "Sanchez refused to believe him."
The owner of 11123 Griffing Blvd., Francisco Folgar, confirmed during a phone interview that Ratunuman had permission to be on his property. "He does handyman work for me from time to time," Folgar said. "Maxi is a good, hard-working guy. I wish I could have been here to straighten things out."
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If the affidavit is indeed false, both Atesiano and Sanchez might have problems. According to the lawsuit, Sanchez "began to dictate what he wanted said in the arrest affidavit," which was authored by Atesiano and signed by Sanchez as a supervisor.
Since Ratunuman is in the country illegally, Sanchez contacted ICE after the arrest. The Indonesian is now in custody at Metro West Detention Center.
The lawsuit claims Cutié and Canellis wanted Ratunuman "out of the picture" because they believed he had "information and documentation that would bode badly" for them. It doesn't define exactly what that documentation was. Hellman declined to provide details, which she said would come out eventually.
"They have violated his rights," Hellman says, "because Cutié and Canellis are afraid he is going to disclose some pretty bad information about them."