Until he decided to start ripping off Hialeah jewelry stores in 2015, legendary criminal Anibal Mustelier lived life at least one step ahead of everyone else.
Mustelier spent 26 years eluding law enforcement agencies and “America’s Most Wanted,” earning the nickname “The Ghost.” While a fugitive, he beat a SunTrust Bank safe deposit box security system to steal $5 million in jewelry without a gun. Despite being a reputed assassin for Fidel Castro and the Medellin Cartel, neither death nor the law caught up to him as it did many in those jobs.
The law found Mustelier by accident in 2016. Death closed the gap on “The Ghost” at the Miami Federal Detention Center on Sept. 18. He was 70.
The Federal Bureau of Prisons confirmed Mustlier’s death. It didn’t give any details on the cause.
Mustelier had been at the FDC Miami since 2017 when he was sentenced to 52 years for the Hialeah jewelry store robberies. From 1990 to 2016, no cop who wanted to find him — from local to Interpol and all combinations of the alphabet (i.e., FBI, ATF) in between — could tell you any place Mustelier laid his hat.
Well, there was that time in 2001 in Kendall, but Mustelier was gone from his wife and kids by the time police arrived.
“He was hiding in plain sight. An international fugitive hiding in plain sight,” Hialeah Police Lt. Carl Zogby said in 2016 after Mustelier’s capture. “He’s thought to have connections with Fidel Castro. He’s thought to have connections with Cuban assassinations.
Coming to America and the 1980s
Not much is known about Mustelier’s early days in Cuba or exactly when he came to Miami.
Federal law enforcement officials interviewed for the Mustelier episode of Reelz Network’s “Gangsters: America’s Most Evil,” said he was reputed to have killed people for Cuban criminals before coming to the United States. The show theorizes he might have come in the 1980 Mariel boatlift, but Miami-Dade County court records say he was charged with grand theft and burglary on April 20, 1979, well before Mariel.
Mustelier got probation for that, as well as a 1981 burglary and a 1987 cocaine possession conviction. He was on probation for the latter when, the FBI believed, he tried twice to kill Francisco Condom-Gil.
Condom-Gil was part of the Bay of Pigs invasion and had spent four years in Cuban prisons. The Federal Bureau of Prisons online locator says he had also spent a few years in U.S. federal prison in the 1980s, when he was also arrested on a cocaine smuggling charge in Miami-Dade County.
A fusillade of bullets as Condom-Gil exited a Little Havana nightclub on Dec. 22, 1989, managed only to wound him. A car bomb a few months later injured Condom-Gil, his wife, mother and sister-in-law, but killed no one.
The FBI wanted to talk to Mustelier. They wouldn’t get the chance for another 26 years.
The fugitive and the bank
Federal prosecutors filed an extortion and threats indictment in 1995, looking for any hook to land Mustelier. An arrest warrant was issued Aug. 16, 1995.
Though hiding from federal authorities, Mustelier managed to organize a gang for a $5 million jewelry heist from the safe deposit boxes at the Brickell Avenue SunTrust Bank branch. The key member aside from Mustelier would be Harry Irizarry, who would plead guilty to conspiracy to commit theft from a bank and entering a bank with intent to commit theft.
Using threats of personal and familial harm, Irizarry and Mustelier coerced Irizarry’s girlfriend, Yanit Martinez, into getting a job at the branch. She eventually wound up in a position she could get a locksmith into the vault to work on the safe deposit boxes of National Pawn Holdings.
Another crony covertly incapacitated the car of the safe deposit box custodian on Friday, Nov. 15. Martinez assumed that position on Nov. 18. Mustelier’s associates walked into the branch like customers, used the keys made by the locksmith and walked out with $5 million of National Pawn Holdings jewelry.
The security cameras? They needed to be turned on by the bank employee escorting the customers into the room. That person on Nov. 18? Martinez.
Mustelier got indicted for the SunTrust job in April 1997. But, he earned fugitive status in August 1997 by evading arrest in the extortion and threats case.
Kendall familiy and Hialeah friends
Nobody in a mood to help police knew anything about Mustelier’s whereabouts for years. He could be in Europe. He could be in Venezuela. Could be in Cuba, could be in Kendall.
Is in Kendall, said the 2001 tip call to Miami Crime Stoppers. Mustlier had kids, maybe a wife, too, in Kendall and was visiting them.
But by the time police showed up, “The Ghost” had disappeared again by fading into South Florida.
Mustelier looked like a whole lot of men rolling around town — black hair, brown eyes, fitness buff buff, on the short side at five-foot-four. He looked like any Ramon Llerena, Emilio Suarez or Mario Cotelo (all aliases Mustelier used) you’d see from Homestead to Palm Springs North. That’s why even being featured on “America’s Most Wanted” in 2007 didn’t help find Mustelier.
And he wouldn’t have been found but for his choice of co-workers when he decided to get back to robbery work in earnest. One literally led cops to Mustelier’s Hialeah door.
Mustelier got 24-year-old Jose Pineda-Castro and 26-year-old Yamile Diaz-Bernal to work with him on jewelry store heists. Mustelier developed a style befitting a violent man carrying the nickname “The Ghost.”
The two men broke into the store next to their target jewelry store and hid in the drywall separating the two businesses. The next day, they would burst through the wall, guns drawn and in employees’ faces, demoralizing them into total compliance.
They did this in May 2015 to Luany Jewelry, 1738 W. 49th St. in Hialeah They did it in September to Ariel Jewelry, 2476 W. 60th St. They would’ve done it to another store, but Pineda-Castro knocked out the power to the strip mall.
That maladroit moment helped get Pineda-Castro caught. But his mouth got Mustelier busted.
While talking to someone with whom he hoped to do some illegal gun sales, Pineda-Castro gushed admiration about the meticulous genius thief behind the jewelry store robberies, The Old Man. He didn’t know he was talking to an ATF confidential informant.
Hialeah police soon were knocking at a house in the 200 block of East 21st Street. Mustelier answered and told his girlfriend, in Spanish, “Don’t worry about it. They’re here for me.”
They were, but didn’t know they hadn’t hooked a big bass, but a megalodon shark. Mustelier gave them a fake name and claimed to be Puerto Rican.
Only when Hialeah police ran his fingerprints did they learn that they’d cuffed “The Ghost.”
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