The suspect in the largest gold heist in Florida history has been nabbed, ending an 11-month manhunt that led local and federal investigators on a wild chase from the Bahamas to Mexico to south Florida, authorities said today.
Raonel Valdez robbed a Bolivian-based company in Carol Gables, Fla., in 2012 and made off with $2.8 million in gold, said investigators, noting the gold has not been recovered.
Valdez was on probation for a previous robbery when he began secretly stalking a courier who transported gold to Florida, authorities said. After three months, Valdez cornered the courier in an elevator at gunpoint and robbed him, investigators said.
Valdez was arrested in Miami two weeks later, and he was granted bond and given a monitoring device, which police believe he quickly broke off. He disappeared soon after and went on the run.
Even recently, police and prosecutors at the Miami-Dade district attorney’s office believed they were still far from finding Valdez.
“We did search for him in four other countries,” David Bolton, a private investigator who has been tracking Valdez’s whereabouts since his escape, told ABC’s Miami affiliate WPLG. “We felt that we were close to capturing him again, but he slipped away in the last few months.”
But Valdez couldn’t evade the long arm of the law forever.
He was captured in Belize last week while trying to cross the border in to Guatemala, investigators said.
Valdez was carrying a Cuban passport that lacked any exit or entry stamps, border patrol agents told Bolton. Valdez also smashed his cell phone on the ground, and repeatedly said “I’m tired of running. I’m tired of this,” the border patrol agents told Bolton.
Border patrol guards, weary of Valdez’s story, plugged his name into the international police database, Interpol, but nothing came up, Bolton said. They then Googled his name and that’s when the pieces started coming together.
“They did a Google and found the ‘Wanted’ poster I had posted online,” Bolton told ABCNews.com.
The border patrol guards immediately contacted Bolton in Florida, who within minutes had them in touch with the U.S. Marshal Service, who verified that Valdez was indeed the man they were looking for.
Valdez, a Cuban citizen, is currently behind bars in Belize, awaiting extradition to the U.S.
“We’re looking forward to him coming here so we can prosecute his case,” said Ed Griffith, a spokesman at the Miami-Dade district attorney’s office. “The minute he touches ground in Miami, that whole process starts.”
Valdez’s attorney, Alex Michaels, who represented Valdez after he was arrested for the heist, could not be immediately reached for comment today.
But he told the Miami Herald that even if Valdez is extradited, prosecutors will have a hard time trying the case because the courier who was robbed has since passed away of natural causes and cannot testify.
The company responsible for the gold did not have it insured, so they have to adsorb the loss, but investigators are happy.
“I’m excited,” Bolton told ABCNews.com. “I’m very pleased.”