A Friend Indeed

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Padreda came to the aid of another city commissioner, a dear friend of his, by paying for improvements to the commissioner's home. When federal agents grew curious, the commissioner denied Padreda's involvement. This could have been simple confusion as the commissioner had many, many friends.

In any case, it's clear that the quality of friendship and munificence Padreda offers is not always suitably admired. "Camilo is nothing but a scumbag. He's the lowest of the low," seethes another former friend, Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez (no relation to the ex-Miami police chief). "I do not understand how anybody who is part of law enforcement has anything to do with him."

Martinez's bitterness stems from a criminal case more than a decade old in which federal agents fingered Padreda in a bribery scheme involving the Hialeah mayor. Had prosecutors simply asked Padreda, he surely would have jumped at the chance to help them. But no, instead they threatened to charge him and his daughter with felony fraud in an unrelated case. So before he could come to the aid of law-enforcement officials, Padreda first had to admit he had bilked the federal government out of money. While his cooperation and testimony against Mayor Martinez were crucial to the case, Martinez ultimately beat the charges.

Some would say the Hialeah affair did not reflect well on Padreda: Either he was guilty of bribing public officials, as he stated under oath, or he was a perjurer, as Martinez claims. And that's not to mention the whole messy business about ripping off the federal government. But this is an unforgiving view of a man who, a few missteps aside, has repeatedly sought to demonstrate that he is firmly on the side of law and order.

Nonetheless Mayor Martinez's caustic question lingers, unanswered: Why would a convicted felon who has confessed to bribing public officials be given free rein to wander the halls of the Miami Police Department?

Who knows what former Chief Raul Martinez might say? He declined to comment or answer questions faxed to him. But obviously the head of Miami's police force wasn't going to abandon a treasured friendship over technicalities like bribery confessions or felony convictions. Martinez is a man who had a vision for his department -- whatever it was -- and Padreda had a role in that vision. In fact Padreda was such a presence around police headquarters that one veteran investigator quipped, "The joke in the department was that Camilo controls us, that if you don't know Camilo you won't go anywhere."

Another officer offered a similar bit of folklore: "The joke was Camilo runs the department." Pause. "Actually it wasn't a joke."

Chief Martinez asked Padreda to help organize a Hemispheric Conference of Police Chiefs in 2000, using $27,000 in federal Law Enforcement Trust Fund money. According to police department records, Padreda was given responsibility for soliciting sponsors, affirming once again that this truly is the Magic City, a place where cops and convicts can work together in harmony. Among those who labored with him on that conference were then-lieutenants Hector Mirabile and Mario Garcia. "Yeah, there was a lot of talk in the hallways that everybody who worked on that conference ended up getting promoted," says the officer who pondered Padreda's presence at the promotion ceremony.

Padreda's prominent friends amiably look beyond the bumpy spots in his past. Sometimes they're blissfully ignorant of them. For example, his guilty plea for defrauding the government and subsequent cooperation in the Hialeah corruption trial are widely known, but his exploits stretch so far back in time that many friends are simply not aware. "No, I didn't know all of that," concedes former FBI boss Paul Philip when informed of the Texas indictments. Philip freely acknowledges his friendship with Padreda; the two sometimes lunch together. He cites Padreda's vital role in defusing dangerously high emotions in the Cuban-exile community following a Cuban MiG's attack on two Brothers to the Rescue airplanes in February 1996. "When you're dealing in intelligence circles, everybody is not a choirboy," Philip allows, referring to Padreda and his colorful past.

Hector Pesquera, current head of Miami's FBI office, declined through a spokeswoman to answer any questions regarding his relationship with Padreda.

A visitor could be excused for mistaking the lobby of the Center for Special Care (CSC) medical clinic on NW 35th Avenue in Little Havana for some sort of government office, or perhaps a branch of the chamber of commerce. Amid bucolic pictures of waterfalls and churches in pre-Castro Cuba are framed posters for 1999's "Mayor's Summit of the Americas" and others commemorating the "Hemispheric Conference of Chiefs of Police, Oct. 24-27, 2000." One of them has an engraved plaque reading, "Camilo Padreda, with sincere appreciation for all your hard work and dedication that made this conference a success." Another poster for the chiefs' conference has a handwritten note on it from then-police Chief Raul Martinez: "Sin tu ayuda no hay conferencia" ("Without your help there wouldn't be a conference"). Behind the clinic's reception counter a poster depicts the deceased leader of Cuban exiles raising his arms in exhortation: "¡Jorge Mas vive! ¡Seguiremos adelante!"

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Tristram Korten
Contact: Tristram Korten