Longform

A Friend Indeed

Page 8 of 9

For others, though, Padreda is simply an indispensable community resource. Recently resigned Miami Police Chief Raul Martinez, for one, seems to have felt that a negligible thing like a criminal conviction was no reason to avoid the man. After all, Padreda had a lot of experience dealing with public money. So Martinez used him to help organize the chief's conference. "It was my idea," Padreda boasts.

Sources inside the department say that soon after Martinez became chief in 2000, Padreda began showing up at headquarters. "When Raul came in, all of a sudden Camilo shows up," recalls one officer, who remembers having meetings with the chief cut short when Padreda phoned: "He would call on the chief's private line. When he called, Raul would, well not exactly jump, but close. I never understood it."

Neither did Maurice Ferré, who, in his run for mayor of Miami against businessman Manny Diaz, publicly announced he wanted a new police chief. Ferré recalls a meeting he had with Martinez in the summer of 2001. "I went to the chief's office for a briefing. I had a bunch of questions for him -- key, critical questions about the police department," Ferré recounts. "And Camilo just walks in. He had [Miami FBI boss] Hector Pesquera with him."

Padreda had strolled into the lobby area of the chief's office. Martinez excused himself from the meeting with Ferré to greet Padreda and Pesquera. Later Padreda approached Ferré: "Camilo said, 'Listen, don't fool around with this chief. He's a good guy. You're wrong about him.'" And then, according to Ferré, Padreda added a non sequitur: "You know, Pesquera and I are best friends, and in fact I brought him over to meet the chief."

Though Ferré didn't know the purpose of the Martinez-Padreda-Pesquera meeting, others in the department say there was a rumor at the time that Pesquera was considering whether to make a bid for the chief's job when Martinez eventually retired.

Ferré lost the election. But he wasn't alone in his concerns about the chief. After thirteen Miami officers were charged with planting evidence at shootings, and the department received a scathing report from a national certification agency, pressure mounted for the chief to resign. Padreda, staunch defender of his friend, would have none of it. In late September he set up a meeting with the mayor.

Padreda arrived at Mayor Diaz's office with Felix Rodriguez, a former CIA operative who hunted Che Guevara in South America and oversaw clandestine logistics for the Nicaraguan contras. Those with knowledge of the meeting say that by its end, Padreda was warning the mayor not to touch Martinez; otherwise he and his allies would take to Spanish-language radio and wage a grassroots campaign to save the chief (see "Raul Martinez's Goddaddy," November 21, 2002).

Padreda initially denied he met with any elected officials on the chief's behalf. "I'm a busy man, I don't have time for that," he said. Two days later, though, he conceded meeting with the mayor but never with the city manager, as sources have alleged. "There were three of us -- myself, Felix Rodriguez, and Roberto Martinez Perez," he related. "You know what we tell him? What problem do you have with the chief? You say there are communication problems. Why you no call him and discuss the problems?" He denied threatening to exploit Spanish-language radio: "Whoever tell you that, that's a liar!"

Felix Rodriguez added this: "We tried to get them [the mayor and the chief] together. We are friends of Chief Martinez. We're very proud of him. He's the first Cuban-American police chief."

The meeting failed to sway the mayor, and three months later Martinez announced his resignation.


Back at the CSC clinic in Little Havana, Padreda sweeps aside any concerns about his influence within the police department -- past, present, or future. He would never have pushed Chief Martinez to promote someone: "If I told him to promote John Doe, what do you think he would do? He would not listen to me.

"I'm a businessman," he continues. "You know who has the power in Miami? The people who raise money for politicians. I don't do that anymore. Fourteen years I'm not involved in politics." He pauses for effect. "I have friends, yes. And I will help my friends in any way I can. Maybe someday you call me and say your wife, your daughter needs help. My door is open to you."

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Tristram Korten
Contact: Tristram Korten