Crime

Feds charge last of three armed robbers in Miami-plotted gold heist

A gold bar produced by Republic Metals.
A gold bar produced by Republic Metals.

Nearly four years after a gold heist that was plotted in Miami, federal prosecutors have charged the last of three men accused of holding up truck couriers at gunpoint on a North Carolina highway as they were transporting $5 million worth of the yellow metal.

Pedro Santamaria was given up by another convicted robber in the gold caper and by a convicted accomplice who tried to fence one of the 10 stolen gold bars in Miami after the March 1, 2015, heist.

Santamaria was indicted Thursday on charges of conspiring to commit a Hobbs Act robbery and possessing a firearm during a violent crime. FBI agents are still trying to track down Santamaria, who was initially charged under a sealed criminal complaint by federal prosecutor Michael Gilfarb.

The Santamaria indictment appears to close the book on one of the more brazen and bizarre gold cases in South Florida history — one that resulted in several arrests, but no recovery of the 10 gold bars that weighed collectively about 275 pounds. All but one were melted down and sold to buyers in the Seybold Building, Miami’s downtown marketplace for jewelry.

The shipment of gold, which was refined by Republic Metals in Opa-locka, was insured. It was being transported to Massachusetts.

According to court records, the daring rip-off unfolded this way:

The robbers placed a GPS device under a TransValue tractor-trailer truck to track the two courier guards hauling the gold from Miami. The thieves also placed pepper spray in the armored truck and remotely activated it on the March evening, so the couriers would get sick and have to pull over on Interstate 95 in North Carolina on the way to Massachusetts.

Three armed robbers pulled up in a white minivan and confronted them at gunpoint, yelling “Policía!”

The two courier guards got out of the tractor-trailer without their guns. The robbers gave instructions in Spanish, tied the guards’ hands behind their backs and led them into nearby woods. The thieves cut the padlock on the truck’s trailer and offloaded five-gallon buckets that contained the 10 gold bars. They also took 40 silver-stamped plugs, or coins. They put the valuable load in their van and fled.

The three robbery suspects — Adalberto Perez, Roberto Cabrera and Santamaria — divided up the haul evenly, court records show. Santamaria quickly reached out to a man with whom he had once spent time in prison back in 2006 in an effort to fence one of the gold bars, according to an FBI affidavit filed with Santamaria’s criminal complaint.

That associate, Miguel Bover, approached a Miami pawnshop broker and asked him to try to sell the bar to a precious-metals refinery in Doral.

republic metals.JPG
Republic Metal’s refinery in Opa-locka is a sprawling, high-security facility that can process 350 tons of gold per year. Miami Herald archive

The scheme backfired when an off-duty police officer working at the refinery grew suspicious and called the FBI. Agents confronted the pawnbroker and confiscated the 26-pound gold bar, which didn’t go down well with the suspected thieves. In April 2015, agents arrested Bover, who they suspected was working with the robbers to threaten the pawnbroker to pay them off or give the stolen bar back.

Bover eventually cut a plea deal and was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison, but he also provided insider information on Santamaria and the others.

Bover told FBI agents that “he received the gold bar from a person whose street name was ‘Matanza’ ... and Matanza “admitted that he obtained the gold bar in a robbery,” according to the FBI affidavit in Santamaria’s complaint. Bover told the agents that Matanza was actually Santamaria, who could not be immediately found.

At the end of 2015, FBI agents caught a big break.

A confidential source — Perez’s former girlfriend — shared “intimate knowledge of the robbery,” pointing agents not only to her ex-boyfriend’s lead role but also to a jeweler who sold off much of the stolen gold to buyers in the Seybold Building.

The following year, agents arrested Perez and found more than $600,000 in cash — but no gold. They also arrested Cabrera at the same time, based on a sketch and other information from one of the two courier drivers.

The jeweler who melted down and sold off most of the gold was Yanan Mirabal. He estimated that he made about $1.2 million for Perez from gold sales to an unnamed jeweler in the Seybold Building as well as to another local jewelry shop, according to a statement filed with Mirabal’s plea agreement. Mirabal also made an additional $200,000 for Cabrera in gold sales.

Mirabal received a probationary sentence for lying to FBI agents.

Cabrera was convicted of two conspiracy offenses in carrying out and using a firearm — along with possessing a bulletproof vest that was found by FBI agents during a search at his Miami home. He was sentenced to 19 1/2 years in prison.

Perez was convicted of similar charges and sentenced to 11 years because of his cooperation.

Jay Weaver writes about bad guys who specialize in con jobs, rip-offs and squirreling away millions. Since joining the Miami Herald in 1999, he’s covered the federal courts nonstop, from Elian’s custody battle to A-Rod’s steroid abuse. He was on the Herald team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news in 2001. He and three Herald colleagues were Pulitzer Prize finalists for explanatory reporting in 2019 for a series on gold smuggled from South America to Miami.
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