In a campaign, advance work is everything.
In South Florida, it’s not beyond reason that a random sampling of sponsors for a campaign stop might find a little of the old cocaine cowboy in someone’s closet.
That’s what happened to Republican Mitt Romney last night in Miami, stopping at a juice shop owned by a convicted cocaine trafficker.
Romney stopped at El Palacio de los Jugos — the Juice Palace — owned by Reinaldo Bermudez, aka “El Guajiro,” whom court records remembers for pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine in 1999 and serving three years in federal prison, as the Miami New Times first reported in an account picked up by the Associated Press. Romney was joined by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, the two handing out juices to the crowd.
Bermudez told the New Times that the Secret Service vetted everything about him when the Romney campaign asked to use his fresh fruit and vegetable stand and that they knew about his criminal record. “Here in Miami there are a lot people with money who have had problems with the law,” Bermudez told the New Times. “Thankfully, we all have the opportunity in this country to re-enter society when we’ve done something wrong.”
In media reports in November 1997, Bermudez was identified as one of 12 people accused in a Colombian drug smuggling operation, the AP noted. The arrests followed a seven-month investigation led by the FBI and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Agents seized about 2,850 pounds of cocaine at three South Florida ports over several months.
As a convicted felon, Bermudez isn’t eligible to vote in Florida unless the governor and state Cabinet restore his rights. (Florida’s attorney general, Pam Biondi, joined Romney at the juice stand — she’s among the Cabinet members who weigh restoration of voting rights.)
The Miami Herald noted that Romney was breaking a certain tradition in passing up the fabled Versailles restaurant in Miami’s Little Havan for El Palacio de los Jugos on Coral Way, “one of a growing number of popular open-air eateries known for their fresh fruit juices and hefty servings of Latin comfort food.”
At Romney’s stop, the press pool was initially ushered out of the site and into motorcade vans, though cameras still on the riser continued to film the proceedings from a distance. Romney was visibly sweating but smiling as his security detail ushered him behind the counter at the juice stand to pick up more juices in styrofoam cups. According to a Romney advance staffer, both the owner, Bermudez, and the co-owner, Jorge a de la Llama, met Romney for the event.
The pool was ushered away after a few minutes of observing, told that the event was “closed.”
The Romney campaign was filming a campaign ad at the colorful juice restaurant.
That footage may stay in the can now.