Used-car salesmen are not among the world's best-loved professionals. But employees of Anthony Auto Sales, a small dealership on Le Jeune Road and East Eighth Street in Hialeah, face a special brand of animosity.
Carlos Barroso regularly stands in his yard or on the roof of his house across the street from the flag-bedecked car lot with a video camera. A visitor drives up, parks, and out comes Barroso and camera. Even from a few hundred feet away, a man in dark glasses looking through a lens is an unsettling sight, dealership employees say.
"That guy is harassing us and even scaring off clients," laments Bolivar Duran, age 32, finance manager at Anthony Auto. "He stood out there Saturday and was taking down license plate numbers of customers. We haven't sold one car in three weeks."
Lately the problems have gone beyond weird surveillance tactics. In August police charged the business's two owners, 46-year-old Francisco Gato and 41-year-old Martin Cassola, with attacking Barroso. Gato's son Rigoberto, age 25, was also collared in the alleged assault. About a month later officers arrested Duran at the dealership office after Barroso charged that the finance manager had tried to run him over. The four men contend the charges are baseless.
Barroso, 44 years old, is a tall and distinguished-looking physician with black hair and a mustache. He lives with his elderly parents, Fernando and Dora, in a neatly landscaped, tile-roof bungalow surrounded by a hurricane fence. According to public records, the state medical licensing board put him on probation last year. Why? Clerks at the board's office in Tallahassee wouldn't expand on the charges against him.
According to Hialeah police, Barroso's dander was up even before Cassola and Gato took over the business in 1996. The genesis of his vendetta is unclear, though. Approached by a New Times reporter last week, he was cryptic: "There are some very serious criminal cases against those people," Barroso said, motioning the reporter to retreat from his driveway. "I can't talk about this." When pressed for specifics about the nefarious activity, Barroso replied: "Do you know what witness tampering is?" Then he called the Hialeah Police Department to complain that the reporter had harassed him. A squad car came out to take a report.
Since July Barroso has called the police department several times per week with accusations that the car lot workers were threatening and intimidating him and his family. Squad cars have dutifully driven over and officers have filed disturbance reports. From July through October 2, police went to Barroso's address 29 times.
The bad blood got worse on August 5, when paramedics transported salesman Alberto Valdes to Hialeah Hospital. Valdes told officers that Barroso had punched him. Barroso filed a police report claiming that he was the victim.
On August 10 the Gatos and Cassola were hauled to jail after a confrontation, the details of which are disputed. Barroso and his parents told police the trio from the car lot became enraged when Barroso started videotaping. "During the dispute [Francisco Gato] swung a billy club at [Fernando Barroso] and his wife," Ofcr. Luis Lahera wrote, "striking her several times. [Gato] then pushed [Fernando Barroso], causing him to stumble over shrubbery, causing a deep gash on his left leg and other numerous abrasions." The Barrosos also accused Cassola of violently seizing the video camera before "fleeing back to the dealership."
Officers then searched Anthony Auto for the incriminating club and stolen camera. They found nothing. The Gatos and Cassola assert they never set foot on Barroso's property. Nevertheless police brought them in on charges of aggravated assault and aggravated battery on an elderly person. They zapped Cassola with an additional charge of strong-arm robbery. The case is scheduled for an October 21 hearing before Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Lauren Levy Miller.
On September 8 Barroso told police that Bolivar Duran tried to run him over. Duran was arrested for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and his 1995 Chevrolet Monte Carlo was impounded. "I was driving to the supermarket with my girlfriend's son to buy milk," Duran insists. "[Barroso] was standing in the road and I had to drive by him to get to the supermarket."
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On September 23 Judge Miller forbade Cassola, Francisco Gato, and Rigoberto Gato to come within 500 feet of Barroso's house.
Since July Barroso has reported people trying to hit him with their cars or trucks at least three times, records show. None of the attacks was successful. "[Barroso] calls the police on anybody," says attorney J.C. Elso, who represents the Gatos, Cassola, and Duran. "[Francisco Gato and Cassola] don't even go to work any more. He's generated at least twenty [police] reports in the past month. This guy's just driving everybody crazy."
Jose Trujillo, a private investigator who works for Elso, agrees. After he approached Barroso about ten days ago, a squad car showed up. "He said those people [at Anthony Auto] were going kill him and he was afraid for his life," Trujillo reports.
Police spokesman Frank Gonzalez says the department is familiar with Barroso and his video camera. He is tired of hearing about it. "[Barroso] can call us as many times as he wants," Gonzalez says with some annoyance. "We're going to go out there. If somebody calls we have to respond. We can't solve their problems. There are a quarter of a million people in this town and not all of them get along. And if he wants to videotape people, that is not against the law.