December 18, 2016 | 8:00am
If 12 months pass, and a food establishment in Miami isn't busted training errant opossums to deal cocaine out of its rear entrance, did the Earth really orbit around the sun at all? Try as Miami might — and oh, how its cops have tried and tried — South Florida's crime problem stays weird, year after year. Yes, a lot of truly sad stuff happened. Multiple children were shot and killed this year, heroin use is on the rise, and police kept on beating poor people of color up for no reason. We'd be lying to ourselves if we expected any of that to cease in 2017.
But cheers to these next five crime stories for being extremely weird and entertaining us along the way.
Best Mugshot: Miamian with half a beard arrested on 4/20 with full intent to sell weed.
In Kevin Gibson's defense, his beard looks awesome. But on April 20 of this year, Gibson was caught on South Beach drinking from a Heineken bottle in public. This then led police to the 70 alleged grams of weed he had stashed on his person. His look hasn't caught on, however, perhaps due to the long series of felonies in Gibson's past, including assault with intent to murder, aggravated battery, and felony sexual battery.
The VFW Hall is a unique spot in South Beach, hidden inside a condo tower with views of Biscayne Bay. It was also a den of coke dealing and illegal gambling, cops say.
photos by Jacob Katel
Best Use of Surprise Drugs: South Beach VFW Hall Shuttered for housing cocaine ring
The South Beach Veterans of Foreign Wars hall was one of the last places in ritzy Miami Beach where you could get drunk on $1 Bud Light cans while listening to grizzled Vietnam veterans rant angrily about Barack Obama. In grand Miami tradition, the hall was also a hotspot for cocaine-dealing and illegal gambling for decades too. Miami Beach cops raided the famed establishment in May and shut the place down after a six-month sting. Now, New Times' cocaine-addled grandfather is stuck at home on his armchair, and he's been extra grumpy without his weekly hit of blow.
Best Use of Blatant Drugs: Miami coffee shop busted selling over-the-counter cocaine
While the Miami Beach VFW hall was able to operate a coke-ring for years without getting caught, Kareta Kafe in Southwest Dade wasn't quite as lucky. That's perhaps due to how obvious their coke-selling scheme was: Cops say they spent three months, from September to November of this year, walking into Kareta and just ordering coke over-the-counter. Including an entire eightball of snow. Oh, and one of the cops was offered a handjob in the meantime. Naturally, Kareta is no longer open.
Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections
Best Drug Cartel Story: Hitman tied to Fidel Castro, Medellin Cartel caught after 26 years on the lam
Drug kingpins in Miami used to call Anibal Mustelier "the Ghost." He'd pop up out of nowhere, maybe put a bomb under your car or fire a machine gun at you in broad daylight (he's actually accused of doing both), and then vanish again for years. After allegedly killing people for Pablo Escobar's Medellin Cartel, and supposedly working for Fidel Castro himself, many people assumed Mustelier had either vanished to a foreign country, or died. But nope: He was caught this year after bungling a simple jewelry heist in Hialeah. In a karmic twist, he tried to drill a hole in a wall, shorted out the power in an entire shopping complex, and his 5'7" frame is now sitting in jail.
Alberto Chang-Rajii has become a major player in Miami's tech industry, but at least part of his backstory seems to have been inflated.
Best Fraudster: Miami Tech Guru caught lying about his resumé, then caught orchestrating a Ponzi scheme, then caught on the run in Malta
Alberto Chang-Raji's story is basically a Mad Libs for Miami Ponzi schemers: The details of his case follow the classic template for frauds in Miami, which is basically Disney World for pyramid schemers. At the beginning of the year, Chang-Raji was sitting calmly on the board of Endeavor Miami, a nonprofit with a $2 million grant from the Knight Foundation. But after New Times caught him lying about basically all of his resumé, he resigned and fled to Malta. The reason he left the country became painfully obvious this month, when he was charged with operating a $7.4 million Ponzi scheme. He was finally arrested in his Maltese apartment after a standoff this month.
Some activists have contrasted the nonlethal force used by police on two people: Austin Harrouff, the teen who killed two strangers and ate one's face, and Charles Kinsey, an unarmed therapist who was shot when his hands were in the air.
Bonus! Florida's craziest crime story of the year: Austin Harrouf's Face-Eating Nightmare
Austin Harrouf managed to both commit Florida's most horrifying murders of the year, and raise an important point about race-relations and police brutality while doing it. Austin Harrouf, a Florida State student, came home to visit his parents in Martin County, ostensibly had a mental breakdown, and wandered out of a restaurant to go murder two people sitting in their garage. Police found Harrouf biting chunks off a dead man's face. They tried yelling at him, which didn't work. They then tried Tasing him, which also didn't work. They then tackled him to the ground themselves. After hearing that, however, black police-reform activists were offended: Had Harrouf been a person of color, they contend the cops would have shot him on-scene.