South Florida: Trouble in Paradise

South Florida is Hit By a Hurricaine of Crime, Drugs and Refugees

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middle-level managers. Wives, brothers, sisters and children all help out. That is one reason why narcotics agents have failed to break any of the big coke rings in the area. "Say I have 75 pounds of coke that has just come in," explains "Bena-vides," a Colombian-born drug dealer who lives in Miami. "Who am I going to trust better than my brother? I take it to his place. After all, I am paying the rent."

Beyond the ties of kinship lurks the threat of death, and revenge killings among the cocaine traders certainly contribute to

South Florida's crime rate. Drug shootouts are becoming a frequent sight in certain parts of Miami. At a busy intersection in Coral Gables last month, for example, a Mercedes Benz was suddenly surrounded and its 30-year-old Colombian driver killed in a burst of machine-gun fire.

The billions in narcobucks, as police have dubbed the drug money, allow its recipients to buy, in cash, $1 million waterfront homes, $50,000 Mercedes and $400 bottles of wine. One drug kingpin alone has bought up some $20 million worth of prime Miami real estate. Says Miami Financial Analyst Charles Kimball: "Criminals have become conspicuous buyers of some of the best properties in South Florida."

Most, if not all, of Miami's 250 banks have drug money in their accounts. As many as 40 banks still neglect to report cash deposits of $10,000 or more, as required by law. And at least four banks, according to law enforcement officials, are controlled by drug dealers. Treasury Department investigators have long suspected that some smaller banks, known as Coin-o-Washes among both cops and criminals, were founded primarily to launder money for the drug trade (see box).

Perhaps the most valuable commodity bought by all that cash is freedom. Once caught, suspected drug dealers are often released on bail of $1 million or more. They typically pay it within hours, sometimes in cash, and skip town. Dealers regard the forfeited bail as merely a cost of doing business. If a prosecutor's case is airtight, money can sometimes pry it open. "We pay for what we need as we need it," one lawyer bragged to TIME. "If we can't bribe the cop, we try to bribe the prosecutor and, if we can't get the prosecutor, we try to buy the judge."

Next to crime and drugs, South Florida's most pressing problem is refugees. The 125,000 Marielitos who fled Cuba last year have strained the area's economy and aggravated its racial tensions, perhaps irretrievably. Nothing infuriates South Floridians as much as the deeds of the convicts and mental patients Castro sent along with the rest of the fleeing Cubans. Officials estimate that as many as 5,000 Marielitos are hard-core criminals. This year 53 refugees have been arrested in Miami for murder, and many more have been jailed for rapes and robberies. Fifty-one Marielitos themselves have been killed in Miami this year, most of them by other Marielitos. More than a quarter of those in Dade County jails are refugees.

The innocent Marielitos constitute a different kind of burden to South Florida. Some 25% are without work: their numbers helped raise unemployment in Dade County from 5.7% to an estimated 13%, though they are not included in the official figure of 7.4%. Welfare rolls have jumped by a third, while some 16,000 refugee children have crowded

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