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Fugitive in Florida's biggest gold heist captured in Belize

By Neda Farshbaf, CNN
May 8, 2014 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Raonel Valdez-Valhuerdis was wanted in connection with the largest gold heist in Florida.
Raonel Valdez-Valhuerdis was wanted in connection with the largest gold heist in Florida.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Over 100 pounds of gold was taken, worth $2.6 million
  • He was allegedly wearing an ankle monitor
  • Belize authorities found him crawling through bushes on the border with Guatemala

(CNN) -- When immigration agents in Belize spotted a man crawling through the bushes near its border with Guatemala, they not only stopped someone trying to illegally enter their country -- they also captured an international fugitive suspected of pulling off the biggest gold heist in Florida history.

Raonel Valdez-Valhuerdis was wanted for a bold heist where he allegedly held up a man who was carrying two suitcases full of more than 100 pounds of gold flakes.

Why would a man have suitcases filled with gold flakes?

That's just one aspect that makes this tale so bizarre.

Another is that Valdez allegedly committed the crime while wearing a court-ordered ankle monitor from a previous arrest.

The heist

The heist took place in October 2012 when the victim, George Villegas, was coming out of his Coral Gables apartment with the suitcases.

Villegas' family owns and operates Quri Wasi, a Bolivian-based export company that purchases gold, melts it down and then sells it.

He was on his way to work when Valdez and two other men accosted him, the U.S. Marshals Service said.

"We are only here for the gold," Valdez allegedly told the man.

Villegas said he tried to wrestle the men down, but let them go.

"Nothing is worth it," he told WTVJ shortly after the attack. "Not even $2.6 million."

Several weeks later, Coral Gables police nabbed Valdez. His ankle monitor led them to him.

The ankle monitor

Valdez's legal troubles began five months prior to the heist. Police said he apparently put a knife to his ex-girlfriend's neck and demanded her purse.

He was convicted of battery, and a judge mandated that he wear an ankle monitor.

After receiving a tip that Valdez was the leader of the heist, police searched his name and learned about the device.

Taking a look at the GPS data, they placed Valdez at the crime scene exactly when the robbery occurred. Police said the GPS data also showed he conducted surveillance of the apartment for several weeks before the robbery.

Once positively identified in a lineup, the detectives arrested Valdez.

But at a December 2012 hearing, the judge released him on a $75,000 bond.

Valdez didn't appear at his next hearing -- and a warrant for his arrest was issued.

He was officially on the run.

The capture

Fast forward to February 2014.

Belize immigration officials found him in the bushes at the border. He had a Cuban passport, but it didn't have an immigration stamp documenting his entry into Belize.

A quick background check revealed a surprise: This wasn't an ordinary border crosser. They had stumbled upon an international fugitive.


Back in America

On Wednesday, Valdez was back in the hands of U.S. authorities.

He's charged with armed robbery with a deadly weapon, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, grand theft of more than $100,000 and altering/tampering with an electronic monitor. The heist, the Marshals Service said, was the biggest gold robbery in Florida's history.

And let's not forget the probation violation.

The gold, however, is yet to be found.

Could century-old theft explain mystery of gold coins?

Notable diamond heists

CNN's Dave Alsup contributed to this report

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