Robbery Operation Targets Tourists outside Hotels near Miami-Dade Airport

Evidence points to connection between robberies; police advise video security, education of guests


The robbers' modus operandi is simple: They pull up near tourists, snatch their purses and then dash off to waiting cars.

The attacks are concentrated at hotels near Miami International Airport, according to Miami-Dade and Miami Springs police reports.

Between Sept. 19 and Oct. 22, the robbers attacked 13 women from nine countries.

Detective Juan DelCastillo, a Miami-Dade police spokesman, said department crime analysts are aware of the attacks and are investigating.

Miami Springs police detectives believe at least the first six robberies are connected, being committed by the same one or two people.

Guests of La Quinta Inn, Comfort Inn, Days Inn, AmeriSuites, Sleep Inn, Baymont Inn and Red Roof Inn have been among the targets, according to the reports.

In one incident, a visitor from Aruba was robbed of $6,000 while she was unloading her luggage from a rental car.

In several instances, the women or someone with them refused to let go of the purse and were dragged several feet.

The police do not recommend victims fight back, DelCastillo said, adding, ``Property can always be replaced.''

Miami Springs Detective Jerry Balester said police believe the thieves are hanging out near the car rental agencies looking for tourists.

''Some of these hotels do not have a good video system,'' Balester said. ``Video systems deter crime.''

The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau would not discuss the impact that the attacks might have on tourism, referring all inquiries to the police.

Past crimes against tourists, however, have hurt the image of the Miami area. In 1993, for example, the slayings of six foreign tourists in Florida drew international headlines.

Miami Springs Mayor Billy Bain said the first time he heard of the attacks was when a Herald reporter contacted him.

''The situation is I should receive this information from the city manager and he should be getting it from the police chief,'' Bain said. ``I should be made aware of this situation. It is news to me.''

Miami Springs City Manager Jim Borgmann said Friday he had discussed the robberies in the past week with Police Chief Randall Dilling.

''Obviously, this is not acceptable. I have sat with Chief Dilling to work on strategies for hotel workers to be more attentive, give some hints to tourists to be more attentive and aware of their surroundings,'' Borgmann said.

As of Monday, no arrests had been made.

Some hotel officials acknowledge the problem.

''It does seem there has been a rash of robberies within a five-mile radius recently,'' said Teresa Ferguson, public relations manager for La Quinta Inn and Baymont Inn.

Jeremy Zuck, public relations director for Prime Hospitality Corp., parent company of AmeriSuites, confirmed two robberies happened on the chain's properties and said security has been stepped up.

`VERY DARK'

A witness to a Sept. 29 robbery at AmeriSuites, 6700 NW Seventh St., told police the hotel's parking lot was ``very dark with no lights on.

''When the police came, the attendant manually turned on the lights. After that, the parking lot looked like a Christmas tree,'' said the witness, Jeannette Pi, a 30-year friend of the victim, Gladys Luisa De La Torre, who lives in Brazil.

The witness' 72-year-old husband slammed the car door on the robber's leg as he tried to drive away. The robber escaped with De La Torre's purse containing $500.

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