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A former mixed martial arts fighter known as “The Panther” pleaded guilty on Friday to kidnapping a man whose dead body was found on a dirt road, badly beaten and burned, almost a decade ago.
As part of Ariel Gandulla’s agreement, he will testify against three other suspects in the 2011 death of 43-year-old Camilo Salazar. In return, prosecutors dropped murder and conspiracy charges against him, according to a release by Miami-Date State Attorney Katherine Rundle.
“Ariel Gandulla’s guilty plea and his willingness to testify in the forthcoming trials of Manuel Marin, 65, Roberto Isaac, 63, and fellow MMA fighter Alexis Vila Perdomo, 48, will add important evidentiary pieces to our efforts to bring Camilo Salazar’s alleged killers to justice,” she wrote.
The prosecutor said "wealth, infidelity, rage, conspiracy and murder," all factor into the case involving the four men and likened it to "stuff usually seen in Hollywood movies and tabloid headlines."
Authorities found Salazar’s body burning in a brush fire along a dusty trail of Okeechobee Road at around 6:30 p.m. on June 1, 2011, according to an affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com.
The next day, the Miami-Dade County coroner verified that Salazar, who by then had been reported missing, sustained “multiple blunt force injuries to his head, a slit throat, and burns to the pelvic area of his body.”
Salazar’s wife was interviewed and told investigators that her husband failed to return to pick up their 3-week-old as he'd said he would.
Days later, Miami-Dade detectives made contact with supermarket magnate Manuel Marin’s wife.
She explained how she and Salazar were “romantically involved” before he was mutilated and murdered, according to the affidavit.
She suspected her husband, Manuel Marin, who owned several Presidente markets throughout New Jersey and South Florida, had something to do with Salazar's death.
During questioning, the woman told authorities that the last time she and Salazar were together was in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on May 27, 2011, where they spent “approximately three hours” at the Sun Tower Hotel and Suites.
Marin’s wife left Salazar to accompany her husband and others on a boat voyage to the Bahamas only to return on June 1 of that year.
The wife later told authorities that her husband “received a noticeably large amount of telephone calls” while they were traveling.
When they docked back at the couple's home in Lighthouse Point on June 1 – the day Salazar was found dead – Marin’s wife noticed that her husband and one of his workers left in separate cars. When they returned the worker was allegedly dressed in different clothes, while her husband wore a baseball cap, according to the affidavit.
Her husband would leave again and days passed by before Marin’s wife noticed he had not come home.
By June 5, the woman reported Marin and his passport were missing.
It was later determined by detectives that Marin had fled to Spain after Salazar's body was discovered, according to the affidavit.
And Marin's son, Yiddiel Marin, was later accused of funding his father's lifestyle while he was on the lam abroad. He was also taken into custody at that time and held in lieu of a $2 million bond.
Detectives then pursued Alexis Perdomo, Roberto Isaac and Ariel Gandulla as possible accomplices in Salazar's slaying.
They outlined the men’s connections to each other.
For instance, Marin had helped Perdomo defect from Cuba back in 1993 and employed him at his supermarkets before Perdomo opened his own wrestling studio.
Perdomo, a former Olympian bronze medaling wrestler with the Cuban team, sparred with Gandulla, who also worked Perdomo's corner in at least two MMA fights, the affidavit states.
And Isaac served as a kind of lifeline for Perdomo. When the fighter was released after serving a stint in prison, Isaac allegedly gave him some money.
The investigators also pulled together each man's toll records as well as their cell phone calls and text messages from June 1, 2011.
Perdomo was reportedly training for a fight in Las Vegas at the time, but allegedly in stayed in constant contact with Gandulla while Marin was in the Bahamas with his family, according to cell phone records documented in the affidavit. In fact, authorities allege that Isaac, Gandulla and Marin were “all calling one another” throughout the afternoon of June 1.
The records also show Isaac and Gandulla were together near Isaac’s Miami home. Meanwhile, Marin’s cell phone at one point was registering with a cell tower “in the same general area” as Salazar’s.
While Gandulla appeared to go his own way at a certain point, documents show that Marin and Isaac's respective phones registered hits together near Okeechobee Road “just east of where [Salazar] was discovered.
Once Salazar's tortured remains were found, authorities believe Marin "fled [to Spain] to avoid arrest and prosecution for the kidnapping and the murder of the victim.”
He and Gandulla, who fled to Canada, were named as fugitives until they both were reeled in by authorities. Marin was back in Miami-Dade custody last November, The Miami Herald reported. Gandulla managed to elude capture for seven years in Canada, before he returned this week to Miami-Dade County.
A court official confirmed the elder Marin, along with Perdomo and Isaac, have been charged for Salazar's murder and are awaiting trial.
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