For Miami power couple Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz, wealth has begotten cultural influence. The Cuban immigrants have built a business empire and used the profits to assemble one of the best private art collections in the country.
Last week, however, the De la Cruzes' wealth became a liability when the family's yacht was used in a $3.4 million cocaine deal in the Dominican Republic. Investigators say, however, that the De la Cruzes are not suspects but victims of corrupt local officials.
"Just to have your name in the same article [as a drug bust] is enough to hurt," says family attorney Joaquin Monserrate. "But things have been cleared and we want to help in that matter."
On April 15, Dominican officials announced the seizure of $3,332,675 in suspected drug funds in the ritzy oceanfront neighborhood of Casa de Campo 60 miles east of Santo Domingo.
Authorities announced that the cash had been brought into the Dominican Republic on a boat belonging to Alberto de la Cruz, head of Puerto Rico Bottlers and the son of Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz. Alberto de la Cruz owns a vacation house in Casa de Campo.
But officials now say that the De la Cruzes are victims of corrupt local officials who used their property to conduct international drug trafficking.
Officials believe that drug enforcement agent Fausto Severino Marte, boat captain Juan Ubiera Mercedes, and five others secretly used the yacht while Alberto de la Cruz was in New York City on business.
On the night of April 13, the boat rendezvoused with another vessel three miles out at sea. Marte and his criminal crew picked up $3.4 million in payment for a prior 150 kilo cocaine shipment to Puerto Rico. The men then returned to Casa de Campo, where they used catamarans to unload the ice chests full of money. But cops were waiting for them.
Initially, Dominican news outlets buzzed with news that a rich and powerful Miami family was caught up in a drug case. But Monserrate says authorities have cleared his clients of any wrongdoing.
"This was all done without Mr. De la Cruz's knowledge or permission," Monserrate says. "Fausto's modus operandi was that he would use foreigners' boats while they were out of the country."
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He said that Alberto de la Cruz had spoken to officials on Monday and was fully cooperating with the investigation.
"It was a shock," Monserrate says of the bust. Asked how the De la Cruzes are feeling, he said: "Betrayed."
Follow Michael E. Miller on Twitter @MikeMillerMiami.