Best Criminal Conviction of the Past Year 2008 | Victor Caraballo | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

Best Criminal Conviction of the Past Year

Victor Caraballo

It was the most horrific, senseless crime: In April 2002, 18-year-old Ana Maria Angel and her boyfriend, 18-year-old Nelson Portobanco, were kidnapped by five men as they strolled romantically through South Pointe Park in South Beach. Ana Maria was gang-raped, while Nelson was beaten, stabbed, and left to die on the side of I-95. Both were robbed. Ana Maria was shot to death as she begged for her life. Five men were eventually charged in the crime — Victor Caraballo, his brother Hector Caraballo, Cesar Mena, Joel Lebron, and Jesus Roman. In 2007, Victor went to trial first, and a Miami-Dade jury not only convicted him but also sentenced him to the death chamber. "If the death penalty was ever merited, this is the case," said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle.

When someone in Miami says, "I'm a dancer," people respond, "At which club?" But there is a fragile, growing dance scene here, and the Miami Contemporary Dance Company is at the center of it. Twelve full-time hoofers do their physically and emotionally demanding work Monday through Friday at the company's small studio. Dancing is their day job. And that makes MCDC founder and artistic director Ray Sullivan immensely proud. Now in its eighth season, MCDC continues to create fulfilling, sustaining works — often with a social justice message — such as Sullivan's Tango Undressed, for world-class professional dancers. It has built a much-needed dance education program for children and adults in Miami Beach. Just surviving in this rough economic and philanthropic climate is admirable, but Sullivan has big plans. Instead of being presumed strippers, dancers here someday will be asked, "With which company?" MCDC is a movement.

Miccosukee Casino & Resort photo

Sometimes you need a little weirdness to help you get your head together. This is the weirdest afternoon you could possibly want.

At Miccosukee Resort & Gaming, you can pop into the bingo room to observe the odd goings-on of a bunch of neglected elderly people. About 1,200 of them. They've been there all night. You'll also find thousands of video gambling games and about five dozen poker tables.

Once you're either broke or rich, hop back into your car and jet to the Trail Glades Gun Range and vent your rage or celebrate with a bang. If you've got your guns with you, fire away; if not, they'll rent you some. Who knows? You might even meet someone friendly enough to let you shoot one of theirs.

After that, stop by the Pit Bar-B-Q. It's called "the Pit" because it used to be connected to a go-cart track — the only business in that part of town. It's not the best barbecue in the world, but they usually keep a pony outside. Plus they fry biscuits.

If you've had enough, then get your ass back to Miami. But if you like what you've seen so far, venture west along the Tamiami Trail to Loop Road. It's the weirdest and most beautiful place in the county. Peer into the culverts at all the creatures that survived the dinosaur holocaust. Talk to the locals. They're better than anyone you've ever met anywhere.

Titanic makes its own delicious beer and simple, hearty food. It's almost like an interdimensional portal into the Midwest — a window, if you will, out of Mojitotown. Some of us just need beer and meat loaf at least once a week — it's kind of an anti-gym membership. If you're jonesing for that kind of thing, Titanic gives you an easy out. For $85 a year, they'll engrave a large mug with whatever handle you choose and keep it around on a hook. They'll give you a shirt, feed you every Wednesday, and let you drink all night at happy-hour prices. It's kinda like renting a cool uncle for a year.

Marco Ramirez's Mr. Beast was a rushed piece of writing with big problems and frequent flashes of brilliance, and Mad Cat's constant director, Paul Tei, capitalized on the latter while squeezing the former almost out of existence. The script was packed with continuity errors, gaps in character development, and enough cheese to make Wisconsin blush, but it mattered not a whit — probably because Mr. Beast was about a werewolf, and werewolf literature is seldom held to the same standards as the rest of the Western canon. We value it for its ambiance, its cheap thrills, the way it can make the tacky creepy and vice versa. Paul Tei understands this viscerally. He gets the atmosphere right; he gets the right kind of hushed, creeped-out performances from his actors; and most of all, he nails the language. A more conservative director wouldn't have known what to do with lines such as "There are some things the dark keeps for itself," but Tei recognized it for the precious thing it was: an opportunity to go totally, gleefully over-the-top. Tei went, we followed, and it was fucking awesome.

Justin Namon

Have you noticed the stunning complex that sits on Biscayne Boulevard, between gleaming towers of empty luxury condos and the historic streets of Overtown? We present to you the Carnival Center for ... uh, wait, we mean the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County. Wow. Try saying that five times fast. As if the Carnival Center wasn't a cool enough name, the folks who run the year-old center came up with another one thanks to arts patron and Total Bank founder Adrienne Arsht. God bless her! No, wait. Manny Diaz and Carlos Alvarez, bless her. Arsht, you might recall, wrote a big, fat check worth $33 million that helped this money pit get out of debt. And now let's get on with becoming a real city like San Francisco or Boston, where the arts count!

Max can't wait. He wants his tennis ball and he wants it now. He lets out a thunderous woof! "Oh, you want this?" teases his mama, Viviana Bojourno. "Well, here you go!" She hurls the ball. The four-year-old black English Labrador gives chase, snatches the fuzzy sphere, and turns it into a slobbering mess. His gal pal Tabitha, a two-year-old bull terrier, comes over and playfully paws Max's face. He gets up and runs after her. A black Lab puppy named J.J. careens into the two pooches. Even Shakes, a female golden retriever/chow mix with a sprained right paw, is having a grand old time at the latest pooch playpen to open in Miami-Dade County. Conveniently located on the east side of Biscayne Boulevard, four blocks north of 163rd Street, the Northeast Regional Dog Park sits on 1.67 acres divided into two sections for small and large hounds. As their canine companions frolic on the grass, mark territory around the fire hydrants, and run in circles, owners can sit and relax on wooden park benches and picnic tables dotted throughout the doggy area. Bojourno, an Aventura resident, loves Max's new playground. "The park is wonderful," she says. "It is so nice and safe." Just remember it opens at dawn and closes at dusk. And if you take your barking best friend to East Greynolds on the weekend, expect to pay a $5 entrance fee.

The few loyal Dolphins fans who continued to attend home games as the losses piled up walked through Dolphin Stadium like zombies December 16. With their team sitting at 0-13 and facing the grim possibility of the first 0-16 season in NFL history, Fins fans had no cause for optimism. When the Baltimore Ravens tied just before the end of regulation, and won the coin toss for possession to start overtime, Fins fans dropped their heads in defeat. Then it happened: Baltimore's Matt Stover missed a 41-yard field goal wide left. Miami took over, and suddenly back-up wide receiver Greg Camarillo — who had one career reception before that day — slipped behind the Ravens' typically tough defense. Cleo Lemon hit him on a short slant and Camarillo trucked 64 yards for the game-winning touchdown. It was the longest offensive play for the Dolphins all season. The stadium erupted as if the team had just won the Super Bowl. The party spilled over into the parking a lot, and for the first and only time all season, the Dolphins faithful could toast to victory.

Camarillo is the kind of ballplayer who defies jock stereotypes and is easy to root for. He stands 6-1 and weighs 190 pounds. He turned down Harvard so he could walk on at Stanford, where he never caught a touchdown and never had a reception more than 36 yards. Still he made it to the pros. Now Camarillo will go down in Dolphins lore as the guy who came from nowhere to save the team from the ultimate stigmata of a winless season. The Fins' most athletically gifted player, defensive end Jason Taylor, perhaps said it best. "It got a little dicey there at the end," Taylor told the AP after the game. "Thank God for Camarillo."

Although the drag scene has To Wong Foo-ed its way into mainstream oblivion, Elaine Lancaster has survived the fleeting South Beach fad. But don't dismiss this six-foot-two imaginary love child of Lana Turner and Burt Lancaster as just another lip-synching, trash-talking, stripper-shoe-loving pest. If anything, think of her as a bee. A queen bee. With excellent taste in Chanel.

Strutting onto Ocean Drive in size 10 1/2 ladies' shoes the day Versace died, Georgia-bred boy model James Davis had a sudden change of art. Instead of immersing himself in a shattered fashion scene, he created Elaine — a high-society queen with a penchant for pink lipstick, $10,000 gowns, and a face that could snag some questionable alone time with Colin Farrell at the Versace mansion back in 2005.

Since 1997, Elaine has grown in popularity, making it local knowledge that whenever you see Miss Lancaster in her blond beauty-queen-inspired hair — be it vamping at a PGA tournament, playing Marge at The Forge's Simpsons Movie release party, or running down Collins Avenue with Dennis Rodman in tow — you're in for a good time. Or an expensive time — the kind that'll make your wallet sting. But all of Miami will be abuzz.

Spalding, get dressed. You're hitting range balls today at the Miami Beach Golf Club, and you're going to like it. For just $12, you get a plastic bucket and a code to punch into a giant stainless-steel dispenser, out of which your generous allotment of pearls comes tumbling. The mats aren't exactly a cross between Kentucky bluegrass and Northern California sinsemilla, but the consistency of the hitting surface will help you concentrate on your swing. Anyway, the real appeal is the putting green. Well-manicured and directly adjacent to the range, the green is where 84s turn into 79s. When the range closes at 8 p.m., you're within walking distance to all the restaurants and bars on South Beach, which means you'll have a full selection of luxury sports cars to toss your cookies into. In the meantime, the female clientele on the range ain't too shabby. Mrs. Crane, we're talking about you. You wore green so you could hide, but we don't blame you, you little monkey woman.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®