Robbery Operation Targets Tourists outside Hotels near Miami-Dade Airport

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.

Six days later, on Oct. 5, Grand Cayman resident Maureen Hislop, 46, was robbed at the same AmeriSuites.

Hislop's husband, Clifton, parked their car near the front door to check into the hotel. While the couple was getting items from the trunk, a car pulled up behind them, the passenger in the car jumped out and grabbed Hislop's pocketbook. After a brief struggle, the thief ran with the purse to his car with Clifton Hislop chasing after him.

As he tried to retrieve the purse, Hislop was dragged for a few moments as the thief drove away.

''Both incidents took place under the hotel's front door porte-cochere, one of them during daylight hours,'' said Zuck, the Prime Hospitality spokesman.

''Prior to the incidents occurring, we had security on duty for eight hours per day, which is in line with industry standards,'' Zuck said. ``Since then, we have increased security presence to 24 hours per day until a full-time security camera monitoring system can be installed.''

East of the airport, at Baymont Inn, 3501 NW 42nd Ave., Buelah German, 68, of Aruba was robbed at 6:03 p.m. Oct. 11, while unloading her luggage from a rental car. The thief got away with her purse containing $6,000, an Aruban passport and credit cards.

THREE ROBBED

Three tourists were robbed in separate incidents on Sept. 19, Sept. 28 and Oct. 20 at La Quinta Inn, 7401 NW 36th St., west of the airport and close to the Palmetto Expressway.

La Quinta spokeswoman Ferguson said the hotel has security in place.

''We are doing what we can to inform our guests and employees,'' she said. ''This is in the hands of the Miami-Dade police, and we are cooperating fully with them. We have signage throughout the properties warning our guests to lock their doors, to be aware and not to leave items in their cars,'' Ferguson said.

Two incidents were reported at the Sleep Inn, 105 Fairway Dr.

''Our hotels implement a multi-prong security program, including use of professional security programs,'' said Ned Heiss, regional vice president for Sunburst Hospitality Corp., parent company of Comfort Inn and Sleep Inn.

The Red Roof Inn, 3401 NW 42nd Ave., was the scene of an attack at 10:45 a.m. Oct. 22. Adelle Reimer, 71, of Alberta, Canada, was walking with her husband, Ernest, in front of the hotel when she was robbed of her handbag.

The thief dragged Reimer several feet in the parking lot before she let go of her bag. Ernest Reimer leaned into the thief's car in an attempt to stop him and was punched several times in the face.

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