FHP: Armed robbers had fake cop car
BY EVAN S. BENN
THE MIAMI HERALD
MIAMI -- Trooper Gerald Leandre was helping a motorist in a disabled car near Bird Road and the Palmetto Expressway on Wednesday when he saw a police-issued Ford Crown Victoria roll by and a purse flying out the passenger's window.
The trooper turned on his lights and tried to stop the car, but the driver led him on a chase, Florida Highway Patrol investigators said.
After a brief pursuit, Leandre boxed in the fake police car at a strip mall parking lot at Southwest 67th Avenue and 10th Street. He wrestled the driver to the ground, arresting him, FHP spokesman Lt. Pat Santangelo said. The passenger fled on foot, but Miami-Dade officers found him within minutes and arrested him.
The two men were charged with strong-arm robbery, fleeing and eluding police, and impersonating a police officer. More charges are possible.
The incident started about 10:40 a.m., when a woman in her 50s withdrew $2,200 from a bank near Southwest 71st Avenue and Bird Road. She then drove to a gas station, where she planned to meet her sister and arrange to send the money to relatives in Cuba, Santangelo said.
But the two men followed her from the bank to the gas station.
'I'LL KILL YOU'
''While the victim was sitting at the gas station, one of the bad guys crept up to her and got in her car,'' Santangelo said. 'He showed a handgun and said, `Give me your purse. Don't talk or I'll kill you.' ''
The victim did as she was told, and the man got out of the car and drove away with his passenger in the Crown Victoria police interceptor, Santangelo said. The car was outfitted with a spotlight, a blue-and-red light bar and a prisoner cage. It also had handcuffs dangling from the spotlight, and strobe lights embedded in the rearview mirror like an undercover police vehicle.
Miami-Dade investigators brought the victim to the scene, where she confirmed the men were the ones who had robbed her, Santangelo said.
Investigators identified the driver as Abel de la Pena, 29, of Miami Gardens and the passenger as Jorge L. Valdes, 23, of Hialeah.
Both men have arrest histories in Miami-Dade, including convictions for grand theft auto, according to court records.
The car is owned by de la Pena, Santangelo said, but it's unclear whether he outfitted the car with the police equipment or it was like that when he got it.