By Tristram Korten
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Has the economic crash made it harder for Florida authorities to go after criminals who flee the country?
The Florida Center for Investigative Reporting partnered with Under the Sun on WLRN to explore the shadowy world of hunting fugitives during a down economy.
* * *
AZ: Under the Sun on WLRN tells the stories of South Florida.
I’m Alicia Zuckerman.
DG: And I’m Dan Grech.
Nidia Diaz has a problem.
“Late 2007, beginning of 2008 I noticed a change in our industry.”
AZ: Diaz is a bail bonds woman.
You hire someone like her when you’re charged with a crime and can’t afford bail.
DG: She posts your bail.
In exchange, you pay her a 10 percent fee – and you put up some property as collateral.
AZ: The setup worked just fine, for years…
Until 2008, and the collapse of the real estate market.
“The properties that we were holding as collaterals on the bonds, their equity just dropped immensely. Most of the properties were upside down and we were caught in a little bit of a dilemma.”
DG: The dilemma:
Those upside down property values meant her clients had a lot less to lose if they skipped town.
“These people decided to go ahead and fail to appear in court.”
AZ: Many of Diaz’s clients ended up overseas, where it’s easier to hide.
DG: Under the Sun on WLRN and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting teamed up to explore the shadowy world of hunting fugitives during a down economy.
Reporter Tristram Korten tracked Nidia Diaz and her team.
It’s a cold December night in the city of South Miami.
Two pickup trucks pull up at a townhouse in a working class neighborhood.
Four burly men pile out.
((SFX: Truck engine rumble, car door slamming shut. Background voices “We doing vests and all that?” Sound of the door closing.))
The men strap on bulletproof vests.
In bold yellow letters across the front are the words: Surety Agent.
They carry handguns, Tasers, and pepper spray.
The agents march up to a door.
((SFX: Pounding on door.))
((SFX: Pounding on Door. “Abre la puerta por favor.”))
Standing among them is Nidia Diaz.
She’s a petite Cuban-American wearing Louis Vuitton heels and a .38 caliber pistol.
A young woman cracks open the door.
ACT NIDIA – Jose Fernandez ((:XX))
“Estamos buscando Jose Fernandez y Maria Fernandez Leon.”
Diaz owns Best Bail Bonds in Miami.
She and her agents are looking for Jose Fernandez and his daughter Maria.
The father and daughter were charged in 2008 with running a marijuana grow house in central Florida.
They jumped bail and left Diaz owing the court more than two hundred thousand dollars.
The only way for Diaz to get the money back is to bring in Jose and Maria.
Tonight, that’s brought Diaz to the home of Jose’s other daughter – Yenisleidys.
((SFX: Leave ACT NIDIA in the clear for a few seconds, until you hear the word Yenisleidys.))
ACT NIDIA – Cual es tu nombre ((:XX))
“NIDIA: Cual es tu nombre tuyo?
Diaz tracked the father-daughter fugitives to a city in Mexico and took photographs.
But after two years, prosecutors in Marion County have done nothing to bring them back.
That means Diaz is on her own in this hunt.
ACT NIDIA – still in Mexico ((:XX))
“NIDIA: Are they still in Mexico? Yes or no? If you tell us you don’t know, we’re going to keep coming back here.
YENISLEIDYS: I don’t care, you can keep coming, because I don’t know.”
Diaz does not buy it.
ACT NIDIA – we’re going in ((:XX))
“N: Let’s 24 it. Come on let’s go. Let’s search the house.”
They push open the door.
ACT NIDIA – we’re going in ((:cont))
“Y: Yeah but you have to have the warr…
N: I have the warrant. And you know I do. You know who I am. I’m Nidia Diaz. I’m the stupid idiot who bonded all these people out.
Y: I never met you before
N:Well, guess what you’re gonna see my ass from now on baby!”
Diaz has seven clients on the lam.
They’re worth $800 thousand dollars in bonds.
All seven cases are from 2008, the year of the real estate crash.
Diaz has tracked them all down overseas.
In Panama, Mexico, Uruguay, and Ecuador.
She asked prosecutors to extradite, and agreed to pay all the costs.
But not one fugitive has been returned to Florida.
ACT NIDIA – Extraditions ((:18))
“Extraditions are not happening. And I’m talking on the state level, it’s just not getting done. The defendants think they have a get-out-of-jail free card. And it’s frustrating as heck.”
((SFX: Tape of Yenisleidys calling the police.))
As the agents search the apartment, Yenisleidys calls the police.
She cradles her baby in her arms and tells Diaz she doesn’t know where her father is.
((SFX: Tape of Yenisleidys knowing nothing, if it exists.))
Then the agents find a room with a closet full of men’s clothes.
ACT NIDIA – clothes ((:XX))
“Nidia: These are your father’s clothes? Nobody’s worn them ever?
Yenisleidys says her father left them behind two years ago.
Diaz leans into the closet and sniffs.
ACT NIDIA – scent ((:XX))
“N: Check out the scent. I don’t have to be a hound dog. It has cologne. It has men’s cologne. If they’ve been hanging here for two years it’s impossible they could have this strong scent of cologne. Where’s your father? Where’s your father?
Y: He’s not here, I’m just telling you.”
An agent finds a leather wallet and hands it to Diaz.
ACT NIDIA – wallet ((:XX))
FERNANDEZ GRAB (16:31–16:55)
“N: And this is his ID.”
((SFX: Sound of rifling through wallet.))
A receipt shows Jose was recently at the Miccosukee Indian casino.
ACT NIDIA – wallet ((:cont))
“N: Goddamn it, he’s back isn’t he? I knew it. Where is he? I knew it, he’s back. I fucking ((SFX: bleep)) knew it. Where’s your sister?
Y: (softly) I don’t know.
N: Ok, well we know where your father is.”
Two South Miami Police officers arrive.
ACT NIDIA – police ((:XX))
“N: Hi there! My name is Nidia Diaz, I’m a bail bondswoman, how are you?
PO: Good, how are you?
N: Very nice to meet you.”
The cops look at Diaz’s warrant.
Then, they pull Yenisleidys aside.
Yenisleidys knows she’s in trouble.
She was harboring a fugitive.
And she could lose her housing subsidy.
She gives up where her dad is hiding.
Three bailbond agents jump in a pickup and speed north.
ACT BRIAN – hauling ass ((:XX))
“We’re hauling ass over to you (Engine Zoom)…”
Nidia and the fourth agent stay behind.
They want to make sure Yenisleidys doesn’t tip off her father.
ACT BRIAN – hauling ass ((:XX))
“B: I feel lucky tonight… (Goonish laughter.)”
Jose Fernandez knew U.S. law enforcement wasn’t looking for him in Mexico.
He must have felt they weren’t looking for him here, either, so he snuck back in.
No agency keeps track of the number of fugitives from the state.
Not the US Department of Justice, not the State Department, not even the state attorney offices that are supposed to bring the fugitives back.
But bail bond agents keep track.
((SFX: Use NAT DRIVE as a sound bed for the next section. Good piece of tape from Brian at about :02 “Post up, post up, anybody moves out that place, let me know” and at :20 “Flying over there, bro.”))
Nidia Diaz has seven international fugitives.
It’s the most in her three decades in the business.
Diaz says she’s not getting the help she needs from prosecutors in places where she has a case, like Miami.
Barbara Piniero runs Miami-Dade County’s extraditions unit.
She says the extradition process is complex and takes time.
ACT PINIERO – number ((:XX))
BP: We never have a time when we don’t have petitions, formal and informal, pending, all over the world.
((SFX: Maintain dialogue as a faint sound bed.))
But she wouldn’t give me a single example of a successful extraditon.
ACT PINIERO – number ((:XX))
“TK: Any case? There’s not one you want to point me to?
BP: (softly) No, I don’t think so.
ACT BAND – bad policy ((:xx))
“Well, I don’t think any prosecutor would ever say, ‘ If you flee, we are not going to come after you.’ Bad public policy.”
Michael Band is the former chief of major crimes for the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office.
He’s now a white collar criminal defense attorney.
ACT BAND – economic realities ((:xx))
“I’m saying economic realities limit the amount of work that a prosecutor or a sheriff’s office or a state is willing to put into an extradition.”
((SFX: Rustling, some footsteps, door opening footsteps, huffing.))
It’s now 3 a.m.
The agents arrive at an apartment building in downtown Miami.
It’s just three blocks from Diaz’s office.
Yenisleidys said her father is living under an assumed name: Juan Antonio Garcia.
((SFX: Loud insistent knocking.))
“H: Antonio Garcia!?
B: Estamos buscando Antonio Garcia
B: Abre la puerta
H: Buenas. Antonio se encuentra?”
A middle-aged woman opens the door
((“B: Cual es tu nombre?
M: Mi? Es Marisol.”))
She tells them no one else is there.
The agents barge into the apartment.
They find a man just waking up.
((B: Oye primo, saco tus manos pa’ arriba!))
He’s in a brown T-shirt and boxer shorts.
An agent holds up a photo of Jose Fernandez.
((SFX: THIS SECTION IS IN THE CLEAR))
ACT FERNANDEZ – that’s him ((:XX))
Es en orden! Quien tu eres? quien tu eres?
Def: Oye! Oye! OYE!
Voltea te voltea te!!!
Es el nombre tu! verdad? Es el nombre tu!”
((SFX: Begin fade under ACT KORTEN at 30:10. Maintain as a sound bed.))
They have their man.
One agent slaps on metal handcuffs.
Another presses a Taser against Fernandez’s back.
((SFX: THIS SECTION IS IN THE CLEAR))
((Shouting, talking. Vamos Pupi!))
The agents drag a barefoot Fernandez into the cold night.
He asks for his pants.
The agents ignore him.
They stuff him into the truck.
ACT BRIAN – custody
“B: Well, right now we’re going to transfer him into custody.”
((SFX: Slam door. Hard post.))
One fugitive down, six to go.
But the fugitives living abroad remain out of reach.
A few days later, a $300,000 dollar bond in Broward County came due.
The defendant was charged with illegally selling prescription drugs online.
Diaz tracked him in Ecuador.
ACT NIDIA – cancel contract ((:23))
“((TRIM uhs)) We know exactly where he is, we’ve been to the country, we’ve seen him depart his house in a taxi but we can’t get the extradition, a warrant to extradite him. So we had to pay the bond.”
After that, Diaz’s insurance company dropped her.
ACT NIDIA – cancel contract ((cont))
“And unfortunately the company decided it was best to cut their losses and cancel my contract.”
Diaz says now that she’s not on the case, no one else will go after the guy.
That means this fugitive, and others like him, won’t face justice anytime soon.
For Under the Sun, I’m Tristram Korten.
DG: Nidia Diaz did end up finding another
She’s still looking for Jose Fernandez’s daughter.
AZ: Reporting assistance was provided by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.
To learn more, visit WLRN Under the Sun dot org.
I’m Dan Grech.
AZ: And I’m Alicia Zuckerman.