Snitches are scarce in the case of a cockfighting referree known as "El Ruso" or "The Russian," who was found dead in a secret arena in a lawless area on the edge of the Everglades, Miami police say.
The body of Jose Raudel Garcia, 46 was found inside the cockfighting ring in April. He had been shot multiple times, and a pouch of refereeing equipment was hanging from Garcia’s neck when he was found, police told the Miami Herald.
"It's a very tight-knit community and no one wants to snitch," Miami-Dade homicide Detective Michael Brajdic told the newspaper. "I have not had a single tip on this — and there were upward of 50 people there."
Garcia, a father of seven, was well-known in cockfighting circles, police said, but after he was shot no one called police. Instead, someone called Garcia's brother: "They shot your brother!," the anonymous caller shouted, according to a search warrant filed in a Miami court.
By the time Garcia’s family and police arrived an hour later, Garcia was dead, and witnesses were gone.
The complex within which Garcia was found was no ramshackle structure. It included a parking area, a padded cockfighting arena with a sawdust floor and stadium-style seating, a full-service bar, a kitchen that served food and a large white scoreboard to track winning cocks.
There were also small boxes with plexiglass windows suspended above the ring, that dramatically lowered the competing roosters into the arena at the start of fights.
"It was a very elaborate set up," Detective Brajdic told the Herald. "I've never seen anything like this before."
Police also found the combatants themselves: scores of roosters, some dead and thrown in garbage cans for disposal, many others in rows of cages, awaiting their turn in the ring.
The elaborate, illegal, underground facility was found in what Florida officials call the “C9 basin,” a semi-rural area northwest of Miami named after a nearby canal that forms one of its borders. The area is notorious, and has long been known for its illegal slaughterhouses, illegal dumping, jails, quarries, unpermitted buildings, speakeasies and cockfighting.
Miami authorities formed a task-force and raided the C9 basin in 2010. They found 20 illegal cockfighting arenas and cited 175 properties for having illegal structures, the newspaper reported, including some on the land where Garcia was murdered.
"This is nothing new in the C9. This is historically where it happens," Rick Roig, the assistant director of the county's code compliance office, told the Herald.
The day of Garcia’s murder, the fights started around noon, and Garcia was there to facilitate the bouts. Like a referee in boxing matches, a cockfighting referee separates birds when they are stalemated, encourages them to fight when they hesitate and ultimately declares a winner.
Spectators bet on the outcome of fights, and pay a cover charge to gain entry to the arena, with a surcharge for ring-side seats. Between 50 and 70 people attended that day, police said, drinking beer and eating empanadas and other Latin foods as the birds — which are instinctively inclined to fight other males — did battle, usually to the death, with spikes attached to their feet.
The fights lasted into the night, until just before 9 p.m., when shots rang out, and Garcia collapsed inside the ring.
His sister-in-law told the Herald that Garcia died doing what he loved.
"Even in Cuba, he always loved the gallos," Daymi Rivera said. "From the time they were born, to the time they died."
[Photos: Miami-Dade Police Department]
The Miami-Dade Police Department is offering a reward up to $3,000 for information about Garcia’s murder that leads to an arrest. Anyone with information can call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at 305-471-TIPS (8477) or Miami-Dade's homicide bureau at 305-471-2400.