Fast cars. Beautiful women. And more bling than the Tower of London.
From the moment he stepped foot in this city, Álvaro López Tardón embodied Miami's reputation for risky business and mind-boggling rewards.
Yesterday he finally paid for that excess with his life — and then some. Already found guilty of running an international drug-smuggling operation dubbed "Los Miami," López Tardón was sentenced Monday to an astonishing 150 years in prison.
See also: Los Miami gang nabbed in huge drug bust
In August 2011, New Times wrote at length about López Tardón's alleged international drug-smuggling network. According to authorities in Miami and his native Madrid, Álvaro and his one-eyed brother, Artemio, moved massive shipments of cocaine from Spain to Africa and Europe. They then laundered their money through — where else? — Miami.
From our 2011 story:
Were it not for court records, which are the basis for this article, the story of Los Miami would be hard to believe. In South Florida, the group stands accused of laundering more than $26 million in drug proceeds by buying fancy condos and fast cars. Relying on Santería and assassins to vanquish his enemies, Álvaro directed trans-Atlantic deliveries of cocaine from his South Pointe penthouse, prosecutors say. At least until "Operation Azaleas" — one of the largest intelligence operations in recent Miami history — brought his business to an end.
But even more extraordinary is the gang's backstory, mixing the bitter vendettas of The Godfather with the irrepressible villains and absurd twists of a Coen brothers movie. Indeed, Álvaro López Tardón was wanted for at least five murders as well as countless assaults and kidnappings in Spain, where he and his brother had waged a bloody feud with their former boss, a one-legged man named "Dwarf."
López Tardón was found guilty of one count of conspiracy and 13 counts of money-laundering in June. Last week, prosecutors and defense attorneys argued in front of federal Judge Joan Lenard over what type of sentence the Spaniard should receive.
On Monday, Lenard slapped López Tardón with the maximum penalty, essentially ensuring he will die in prison.
"I call it funny money, and we have a plethora of funny money here," she said, referring to López Tardón's habit of spending drug money on Miami penthouses, bling, and Bugattis. "Miami is replete with people who utilize illegal funds and live a luxurious, unbelievable lifestyle."
Indeed, there is scarcely a South Florida cliché López Tardón didn't embody. He allegedly had extensive plastic surgery, practiced Santería, and was even a client of Tony Bosch, the Biogenesis "doctor" who supplied steroids to Alex Rodriguez and other professional athletes.
López Tardón's attorney, Richard Klugh, said his client had been unfairly singled out.
"We're disappointed about the sentence, and we intend to appeal," he said. Klugh said that López Tardón, unlike other drug kingpins, had never been accused of importing cocaine into the U.S.
"We strongly disagreed with the government's attempt to analogize this case with cases where there is actual harm to the community," he said.
"We do not believe that the statute under which he was convicted and sentenced applies to people who commit no crimes at all in the United States," Klugh continued. "He was sentenced primarily for spending money rather than for laundering money.
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"Congress has not made it illegal for people when they come here to spend money to then have to worry about whether the federal government will try to determine whether the source of the money in a foreign country was legal or illegal," he added. "In our view, the punishment is too severe."
Prosecutor Tony Gonzalez said the case showed just how tough the U.S. justice system is compared to other countries.
"Alvaro's trial here in Miami took an eternity by U.S. standards, but he's now facing 1,800 months in prison," he said before the sentencing decision. "Contrast that with his brother in Spain. A year is the most anyone can be held in jail over there, so he's out. Prosecutors over there already returned a bunch of money to him. He's running the car dealership, doing who knows what.
"It's just shocking how different things are," Gonzalez said. "They have absolutely identical criminal liability. Now one guy is looking at life in prison and hasn't seen the sun in three years, while the other guy is driving a Ferrari around sunny Spain."