Published May 02, 2014
Raonel Valdez’s time on the lam from U.S. authorities appears to have finally come to an end.
The Cuban fugitive, wanted in the United States for allegedly participating in a $2.8 million gold heist, avoided stiff jail time while carrying out a series of bold crimes in the U.S. before fleeing to the Caribbean on a stolen 30-foot speedboat in December 2012. He was eventually captured in Belize, but a hold up due to bureaucratic tape meant he could have been set free again.
But late Friday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) signed a parole letter allowing Valdez to be brought back to the U.S. to face justice.
“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations approved the U.S. Marshals Service’s request for the parole of Mr. Raonel Valdez to face criminal charges in the United States,” Barbara Gonzalez, a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement to Fox News Latino.
The approval by DHS comes after a tense week and much lobbying by the U.S. Marshals Service and the office of U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) to expedite the extradition of Valdez.
"We're looking for answers," Debbie Zimmerman, the congresswoman's district chief of staff told FNL on Thursday. "They've got a reason why they're delaying this issue right now, but we're not sure what it is."
Valdez came to the U.S. in 2005, quickly obtaining a Social Security card and driver’s license in Florida thanks to the Cuban Adjustment Act, which grants undocumented immigrants from the island who reach U.S. soil nearly-guaranteed legal status. Soon afterward, Valdez began a career in crime.
He earned his first criminal charge in June 2007 when he was busted for possession of marijuana.
He was soon paroled and, the next year, cops found 85 grams of methamphetamine under the hood of his car. In July 2008, Valdez was arrested again. This time for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for attacking security guards while trying to steal an $18 pair of garden shears Home Depot.
Valdez then jumped his bail and fled to Mexico, where he soon ran afoul of authorities and was arrested on charges of human smuggling for taking people from Cuba to Mexico.
After he was recruited by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to help kidnap a high-ranking Zetas drug cartel member – an attempt that failed because they wound up netting the wrong guy. Valdez wound up back in Miami where U.S. Customs and Border Protection arrested him at Miami International Airport for missing a 2008 court date.
While Florida Judge Victoria Brennan let him walk free for time served, Valdez soon racked a string of offenses in the next year, including another drug possession charge for operating a Miami marijuana growing operation, abusing the mother of his 2-year-old daughter and getting slapped with a felony armed robbery charge that earned him a GPS tracker.
Then came the armed gold heist that netted 110 pounds of gold flakes – valued at nearly $3 million – from an unsuspecting, sickly courier, George Villegas, who was on his way to deliver the precious metals to a refinery.
A GPS tracker on his ankle showed Valdez casing an apartment complex where he allegedly swiped the gold off of Villegas. It showed when he entered the building and followed him for five days afterward as he peddled the gold to various pawn shops in Miami-Dade County and bought a girlfriend a 2008 Toyota Yaris, before the signal from the ankle monitor went dead, and Valdez disappeared from the map.
Valdez was picked up by local authorities at Belize’s border with Guatemala earlier this year. Since then, he has been held at Hattieville Prison in Belize City while awaiting extradition to the U.S.