For slightly over a decade, an incredibly dangerous and highly sophisticated Cuban criminal syndicate has committed kidnappings, robberies, human smuggling, drug dealing and other violent crimes in Cuba, Mexico, The United States, and on the high seas.
At least 20 people associated with the El Jabao Organization are behind bars. Here are some of the more notorious members.
The money man
George Ferrer Sanchez
Alias “el Jabao,” George Ferrer Sanchez gives the gang its name. Court documents paint him as a criminal mastermind with a tragic past. His mother, an only parent, committed suicide when he was 21. Sanchez then shelved his dreams of becoming a professional baseball player in order to raise his three orphan siblings. It’s unclear when he turned to a life of crime. He was accused of attempted murder in Miami-Dade County in 2006, though records show the charges were later dropped. He pleaded guilty in 2019 to laundering money from human smuggling, including the smuggling of baseball players. He is currently serving a nine-year sentence in federal prison for money laundering. Court filings show that he is contesting a restitution order that would make him pay back millions of dollars to the victims of two kidnappings that occurred in Cancun, Mexico, in 2009 and 2010. One of the kidnappings resulted in the death of the victim, according to the trial testimony of another gang member.
Attorneys for Sanchez declined to comment.
Tomas Vale Valdivia
Tomas Vale Valdivia, 45, known as Tomasito, is, after George Ferrer Sanchez, the second senior member of the gang currently behind bars. Well-built, with close-set eyes and close-cropped hair, Valdivia personally transported Yasiel Puig off the island of Cuba on a go-fast boat in October 2013, according to court documents and reporting from ESPN.
David Bolton, a private investigator who spent years tracking the gang, said Valdivia “was one of the heads of the snake in Mexico, he ruled Isla de Mujeres for human smuggling.” Valdivia is currently serving a four-year, eight-month sentence for conspiracy to commit human smuggling after being arrested and extradited from Mexico in 2018.
Attorneys for Valdivia declined to comment.
Reynaldo Marquez Crespo
Federal authorities captured Crespo, 41, in Texas this September. He is accused of using go-fast boats to smuggle Cuban migrants across the Yucatan straits. Those migrants were allegedly secreted into hideouts on the Yucatan Peninsula and then beaten and tortured, according to court filings. A federal criminal affidavit says that victims heard traffickers boasting of raping female migrants and selling them into sexual slavery. The families of the migrants — many who live in South Florida — were forced to pay up to $10,000 dollars a head lest their kin be starved, electrocuted or beaten, according to the complaint. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
Attorneys for Crespo declined to comment.
Jancer Sergio Ramos Valdes
Valdes, 33, was arrested this September in Connecticut, where a federal magistrate judge ordered that he be held without bail pending trial. He is accused of working with Crespo to smuggle Cubans into the United States via Mexico, extorting them in the process. If convicted, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
Attorneys for Valdes declined to comment.
The gold thieves and kidnappers
Leonardo Miguel Garcia Morales
Garcia Morales, 49, is a Santeria priest and member of the El Jabao gang who, according to court documents, participated in the planning of Florida’s biggest gold heist in 2012 in Coral Gables. However, he did not ultimately take part in the theft. The reason? He’d been shot eight times the week before the operation. He got shot during a botched home invasion in a quiet Miramar residential neighborhood. Garcia Morales had incorrectly told the rest of the gang the targeted home was a marijuana grow house — essentially a camoflouged greenhouse for pot — ripe for plundering. It was actually a private residence, and the homeowner was well armed.
Much of what is initially known about the gold heist came from a hospital bed-side confession that Garcia Morales gave to a Coral Gables police officer in the weeks after the heist, as he lay recovering from the gunshot wounds he received while trying to enter the front door of the private residence.
After Garcia Morales left the hospital, court records show that he coordinated the purchase of seven kilos of cocaine, some of which he paid for with proceeds from the gold heist. Unfortunately for him and for Reinaldo Marrero Lara, another gang member who was helping him, the man selling the cocaine was a confidential informant working for the U.S. government.
He is serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison on armed robbery and drug charges. Attorneys for Garcia Morales declined to comment.
Jean Marrero Lara
Lara is serving an 11-year, four-month jail sentence. Court records show that Lara accompanied Raonel Valhuerdis on the gold heist and that Lara was also involved in the 2014 kidnapping of an American citizen in Cancun. Lara also participated in a botched 2012 Miramar home invasion that left one gang member — Garcia Morales — a paraplegic, after the homeowner of a private residence that the gang had mistaken for a marijuana grow house opened fire on the the gang as they tried to break into his home.
“I decline any comment, other than there are only a few real facts but plenty of rumors surrounding this whole story” wrote Bijan Parwaresch, an attorney listed in the federal docket as having represented Lara and two other members of the gang: Alfredo Kindelan Hernandez and Reinaldo Marrero Lara.
Raonel Valdez Valhuerdis
Valhuerdis, 42, also known as “Matojo," was, according to court documents, one of the principal authors of the gold theft. He managed to successfully elude authorities for a year until he was caught trying to sneak into Belize by foot in 2017. Many of the exact details that are known about the gold theft are known because Valhuerdis was actually on parole on state charges — and wearing an ankle monitor — when he and his gang stole the gold. That allowed investigators to reconstruct his exact movements while planning and pulling off the heist. Valhuerdis has a long criminal record that includes narcotics convictions, armed robbery and driving under the influence. He is serving a 10-year sentence for the gold theft.
Attorneys for Valhuerdis declined to comment.
Jorge Felix Contino Valhuerdis
Jorge Valhuerdis, 48, is the older brother of Raonel. He pleaded guilty in 2019 to attempting to purchase seven kilograms of cocaine at the behest of Leonardo Miguel Garcia Morales. The money for the purchase allegedly came from Garcia Morales' share of the proceeds from the gold heist, according to court records. He is serving a 12-year sentence for the cocaine deal, which went awry after the supplier turned out to be confidential informant.
Attorneys for Jorge Valhuerdis could not be reached for comment.
Camilo Montalvan Cardoza
Cardoza is a wanted fugitive after having been indicted in 2017 in the 2014 kidnapping of an American citizen in Cancun. According to Bolton, he also participated in the gold heist and the Miramar home invasion. Bolton suspects that he is hiding out in Mexico.
Alfredo Kindelan Hernandez
Kindelan Hernandez is the getaway driver from the gold heist and one of the main links between the gold theft, the gang’s kidnappings in Mexico and the human smuggling, according to court records. He is serving a 9?-year sentence for armed robbery and drug trafficking. After his sentencing, Kindelan Hernandez turned state’s witness and testified against Garcia Morales, the Santeria priest. On the stand, he admitted to participating kidnappings in 2009, 2010 and 2014 in Cancun, as well as the gold heist.
At Kindelan Hernandez’s sentencing, Alfredo Izagurray, his attorney, said, " I don’t want to say he is innocent, but he was the one in the car. He never approached a victim with the gun."
When reached via phone, Izagurray said of Kindelan Hernandez, “He’s clearly a smart guy, and he will probably turn his life around when he gets out.”
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It is unclear whether Reinaldo Lara is Jean Lara’s cousin or brother. What is clear is that Reinaldo Lara is serving the longest sentence of any of the gang members: 16 years for the 2014 kidnapping of an American citizen in Cancun. Court records show that the gang netted less than $70,000 in the kidnapping. Several members of the gang flew from South Florida to Cancun to carry out the crime. Later, the victim would write to the judge: “I don’t feel safe anymore, not even in the United States. ... It has always been my home. These people, who came from my country (the United States) came to take advantage of America and to commit crimes in this land of opportunity.”
Attorneys for Reinaldo Marrero Lara could not be reached for comment.
Palma, 43, assisted in the 2014 Cancun kidnapping of the American citizen by purchasing a cellphone that the gang used to negotiate the ransom. He is currently serving an 11-year, four-month sentence in federal prison.
Attorneys for Juan Palma could not be reached for comment.