A Friend Indeed

This is a distressing time for Camilo Padreda. It's the end of an era. Possibly his. The self-proclaimed best friend of the Miami Police Department is mourning the recent departure of Chief Raul Martinez. Padreda has known Martinez for nearly three decades and could count on the chief to open his office door anytime for him. On January 1 the Cuban-born Martinez retired and a stranger from New York via Philadelphia, an Irishman no less, is now sitting in that office. In order to see John Timoney, Miami's new police chief, Padreda will have to make an appointment like anyone else -- a frustrating development for someone who's been so devoted to the department over the years.

There was a time when this devotion was fully appreciated. In those days Chief Martinez would invite Padreda to sit with the top brass at events like the September 28, 2001, promotion ceremony for two majors who are friendly with Padreda: Hector Mirabile and Mario Garcia. Padreda took a seat in an honored spot, nestled in among assistant chiefs and majors behind the podium, facing the audience, and looked on proudly as Mirabile and Garcia both publicly thanked him -- Camilo Padreda of all people -- for his support.

Yes, there were those in the audience that day who wondered why a civilian was sitting with the command staff. One cop remembers thinking, "Who is that guy?" But it's not as though he and countless others hadn't ever seen Padreda. The 70-year-old Cuban with the accent as thick as his glasses was a familiar sight, roaming around police headquarters accompanied by some high-ranking officer, or waltzing up to the chief's office. "It's common knowledge at the department that he's always around," recalls the officer. "It's just not known why he's always around."

Had the officer simply asked him, Padreda would have answered with an exuberant flourish: He is Camilo Padreda, Little Havana businessman, ex-Cuban police officer, staunch anticommunist, friend of law enforcement everywhere! "I have been helping police since day one," Padreda says briskly. "It is in my blood." Majors Mirabile and Garcia thanked him, he points out, for "my friendship." Martinez invited him to sit among the department's top brass because he and the ex-chief are "old friends."

And they're not the only officers of the law the voluble Padreda claims as amigos. Hector Pesquera, special agent in charge (SAC) of the FBI's Miami office, "is a good friend," Padreda says. James Milford, the retired SAC of the Drug Enforcement Administration's busy Miami shop, is "one of my best friends." Paul Philip, who ran the FBI office before Pesquera, is "a very good friend of mine."

But Padreda is more than a mere friend. He is the model concerned citizen, albeit one cast in a distinctly Miami mold. In this frontier town of crafty lawlessness, he perfectly captures the crime-fighting Zeitgeist -- namely, that sometimes you need to think, maybe even act, like a criminal. And he is as resilient as our lush tropical greenery, quick to recover from even the most severe storms.

The key to Padreda's success is that he is a people person. Personal, trusting relationships are everything to him. Alas, as sometimes happens in an inhospitable world, an honorable man's trust is subject to abuse. Several of Padreda's other relationships have provided rueful evidence of that. And yet no matter how many times a particular friendship or business partnership ends in disappointment -- felony charges even -- Padreda still reaches out to public servants everywhere and offers them his help.

For instance, he was once close to a wealthy Cuban banker until they were both indicted for embezzling $500,000 from a Texas savings and loan institution. The federal government eventually dropped those charges, but not before Padreda's reputation had been tarnished.

Padreda was once so friendly with a former Dade County manager that he included the man in a land deal, no money down. This was typical of Padreda's generosity -- helping a selfless but underpaid public official. Granted, he went to great lengths to persuade county commissioners they should rezone the parcel for commercial use, but it was worth it for the sake of his friend. Once rezoned the land sold for a very substantial profit. Unfortunately, when the public learned of the deal, the county manager, who had kept quiet about his interest in the transaction, was forced to resign.

Years later, under oath, Padreda testified he paid a bribe to one of the county commissioners, another of his acquaintances, to ensure that parcel was profitably rezoned. But the commissioner denied the bribe charge, so maybe it didn't happen after all!

He has also testified that he offered financial assistance to a Miami city commissioner in exchange for a favorable vote. Some people recklessly alleged the offer was a bribe, but Padreda's friends clarified that it was just ordinary campaign fundraising.