Mitt Romney Is Stumping in Miami at Eatery Owned by Convicted Coke Smuggler

Today, Mitt Romney is forgoing a Miami political campaign tradition by skipping over Versailles restaurant in Little Havana. Instead, Mittens will hobnob with a convicted cocaine smuggler. The Republican presidential candidate is holding an afternoon rally at Palacio de los Jugos (7085 Coral Way), which is owned by Reinaldo Bermudez, who served three years in federal prison after pleading guilty in 1999 to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

Bermudez, AKA "El Guajiro," was a member of 12-person ring that was busted in 1997 for attempting to smuggle more than a ton of yeyo disguised as fish and soap into three South Florida ports. According to Bermudez's indictment, some of his co-conspirators had nicknames straight out of a Hollywood movie, like "Ali Baba," "Skeletor," "Buckwheat," and "Stump."

Reached by telephone, Bermudez tells Banana Republican that the Secret Service vetted everything about him when the Romney campaign asked to use his fruit and vegetable stand, one of several he owns in Miami-Dade.

"They absolutely knew about my record," Bermudez says. "The Secret Service checked everything. [The conviction] was not a problem. Everybody deserves a second chance."

Bermudez, who was 38 years old when he was arrested on the coke charge, was part of a conspiracy to smuggle 248 kilos in two containers filled with fish imported from Trinidad through the Port of Palm Beach and the Port of Miami, as well as another 1,045 kilos in a container of soap that was shipped from Venezuela to Port Everglades. Law enforcement authorities learned about the shipments via court-authorized wiretaps of the defendants' home, office, and cell phones, according to the indictment.

"Here in Miami there are a lot of people with money who have had problems with the law," Bermudez says. "Thankfully, we all have the opportunity in this country to re-enter society when we've done something wrong."

But if Bermudez thinks that if Romney gets elected he'll get his voting rights restored, he is out of luck. In January, during a Republican presidential debate, then-candidate Rick Santorum pushed Romney to make the following statement about ex-convicts who have served their time. "I don't think people who have committed violent crimes should be allowed to vote," Romney said. 

We left a message for Romney's Florida campaign spokesman, Jess Bechdel, requesting comment. We will update this post if he gets back to us.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.