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.
But in August 2002, Magnum showed up on the evening news, waving the tapestry and declaring he had recovered it after it had been stolen from behind his bed two years earlier. He claimed the tapestry, which he called The Rape of Europa, had been made for a Spanish king 800 years ago and was worth $800,000. He said he had purchased it from a Russian army general.
Miami-Dade Police arrested two men, who were never identified to the media, in a sting when they tried to sell it back to Magnum.
The Alvarezes called the authorities after seeing the alleged con man on television. Cops launched an investigation, but it's unclear what the department eventually discovered. Magnum was never charged with stealing the tapestry, and questioned by New Times, Miami-Dade Police had no answers regarding what became of the seven-year-old case. The Alvarezes have since moved and could not be located.
Within a year, though, Magnum would be in police custody — for allegedly kidnapping his estranged wife.
Magnum had married a woman named Isabel, his third wife, in 2000, and adopted a baby with her. He had already been hit with a domestic violence injunction by a former girlfriend, and he was also abusive toward Isabel, she claimed in court. Magnum beat her regularly, threatened her life, and conned her out of proceeds she made selling her house, investing the money in his pharmacy. "He would tell me not to leave the room unless I got permission from him," Isabel recounted. "He broke glasses on top of my head with a gun, pointed two guns to my head, threw me against walls — you name it. Spit in my face. Threatened my kid. So I had to wait for the right moment to get away from him."
By 2003, Isabel finally found the courage to leave him. But on March 31 that year, Magnum phoned and begged to meet her again, blaming his erratic behavior on diabetes, Isabel claimed in court.
Carrying their baby, she met him at a Pembroke Pines gas station. He forced mother and child into a white pickup truck and took them on a harrowing 50-mile trip to his burned-out farmhouse, Isabel said. He vowed to kill her. "I already told you plenty of times that nobody leaves Paul Magnum," Isabel testified that he told her. "You are going to see what happens now."
Just as they were pulling onto Magnum's property, she escaped with her baby and sprinted to a neighboring house. A man inside called the cops and Magnum was arrested. He was charged with kidnapping, battery, and two counts of false imprisonment.
Magnum claimed his wife set him up and fabricated the tale in order to win custody of their adopted child.
A Miami-Dade jury found there wasn't enough evidence to support Isabel's claim. Magnum was convicted only of misdemeanor battery — her face was covered in scratches from a struggle — and given a suspended sentence.
Isabel, who divorced Magnum and got custody of the child, changed her identity for fear of reprisal. In 2005, she wrote a judge to plead for a lifetime restraining order against her ex-husband. "Paul is waiting only for everyone's guard to be down so that he can come in and complete his sick promise of killing us," Isabel insisted.
In April 2006, Magnum found himself in his most serious trouble yet. He was arrested on charges of using his pharmacy — which he had abandoned two years earlier — to defraud the state out of $244,000 in Medicaid money. Then-Attorney General Charlie Crist, whose Medicaid Fraud Control Unit busted Magnum, claimed the pharmacy owner had forged hundreds of prescriptions to nonexistent patients in order to bill the state for pills. "A pharmacy license is not a license to steal," Crist declared.
Financially, Magnum was devastated. The Dolphin was foreclosed upon, and he filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2007. Cops confiscated Magnum's 2004 purple-and-red Hummer, claiming it was bought with proceeds from the scam.
If convicted of organized fraud and first-degree grand theft, he faces up to 60 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Magnum was expected to plead guilty to the charges at 9 a.m. July 30 — but then he had his supposed brush with the bogus cops. His plea has been postponed until September 9.
There's reason to believe Magnum was desperate for more time as a free man: He'd already filed for nine continuances in the case.
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Magnum was rolled out of Jackson Memorial the afternoon following the shooting, wheelchair-bound and with his right arm in a sling, but still displaying good spirits. Dressed shabbily in blue jeans, a T-shirt, and old white sneakers, he told TV reporters the timing of his mugging was a "bad coincidence" and threatened anybody who might suggest he had fabricated the whole thing: "Tell me who said that and I'll kick them in the ass. That's idiotic, but shit happens, and it happens for a reason, and I believe in God now."
Miami-Dade Police spokesperson Det. Aida Fina-Milian says the department is still considering Magnum's mugging an open robbery investigation; cops are still on the prowl for the dreadlocked muggers.
"When I saw that story, I fell back in my chair in awe," says local attorney Michael Garcia Petit, who in 2004 sued Magnum, claiming he had attempted to scam Petit's clients out of a pharmacy worth $300,000. That was one of 12 Miami-Dade suits in which Magnum has been named as a defendant. "How any reporter or police officer could believe a word that comes out of that man's mouth is beyond me."
Since his appearance outside the hospital, Magnum seems to have made himself scarce. Nobody answered the door at his Biscayne Park apartment. His public defender, Sara Yousuf, says his phone has been disconnected. "I haven't been able to get a hold of him," she says. Yousuf doesn't exactly put her reputation on the line defending her client's mugging story. She tells New Times: "To be honest, I have no idea what happened that morning."