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Gold heist suspect now a fugitive

  |   March 24, 2013 at 3:22 PM
CORAL GABLES, Fla., March 24 (UPI) -- A Florida man suspected of plotting an armed heist targeting $2.8 million worth of gold disappeared after being freed on bail, prosecutors said.

Raonel Valdez Valhuerdis, 34, was arrested at the end of last year for allegedly masterminding the plot to steal the treasure of gold from the Bolivian export company Quri Wasi, The Miami Herald reported.

Valdez and two other men allegedly rushed George Villegas, 51, a courier for Quri Wasi, in his Coral Gables apartment building as he was walking out of an elevator with two rolling suitcases filled with 110 pounds of gold flakes. The three suspects allegedly made off with the gold that had been destined for Republic Metals in Opa-locka, police said.

Police investigating the theft received a tip leading them to Valdez, who Villegas immediately identified in a photo lineup, the newspaper said. He had been wearing a police global positioning system ankle monitor while awaiting trial in another case, which had records that placed him at the scene of the robbery.

At a bond hearing in December, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Leon Firtel released Valdez on $75,000 bond despite strong protests from prosecutors who said they believed Valdez was a flight risk and threat to the community.

"I call it the way I see it," Firtel told prosecutors in December when ordering bail for Valdez. "If I'm wrong, I'm wrong. OK," the Herald reported.

Now, prosecutors and defense lawyers say Valdez -- and the gold he is accused of stealing -- disappeared sometime last week.

"He vaporized," said defense attorney Alex Michaels. "I obviously don't know where he is. I wish he was around so we could go to trial and win this case."

The namesake owner of Quri Wasi said he was upset to hear Valdez had escaped.

"He stole over $2 million and he had only a bond of $75,000. That's the part we can't understand," said Quri Wasi. "We still hope to recover the material. We're still hoping for justice."

Quri Wasi has offered a $25,000 reward for the return of the gold.

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