'Machetero' jailed; gave up on camera
By HAROLD LIDIN
Of the STAR staff
Carlos Rodríguez Rodríguez, convicted bank swindler and drug distributor, and alleged member of the Machetero terrorist organization, remains in Puerto Rico State Penitentiary today following his bizarre on-camera surrender Tuesday night in the studios of WAPA-TV.
Rodríguez, 29, went live on television at 10:30 p.m., immediately after the conclusion of the regular, pre-recorded news program. After an interview that lasted almost 15 minutes, in which he denied the charges against him, Rodríguez surrendered as planned to waiting FBI agents. He is being held without bail.
The FBI team, headed by Alfredo Hernández, appeared at the TV station at the behest of Rodríguez' attorneys. According to WAPA-TV newsman Pedro Rosa Nales, a phone call was received from one of Rodríguez' attorneys about 9:20 p.m., just as the Channel 6 squad was finishing recording of the 10 p.m. news show. The attorney explained that fugitive Rodríguez wanted to surrender, but in a highly public way, to protect himself against the supposed danger of assassination by law enforcement officials.
In the FBI's view, Rodríguez, and not the FBI, represented the imminent danger. In an interview earlier Tuesday, FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge James Esposito stressed that Rodriguez should be considered as armed and dangerous.
In part, the FBI's impression that Rodríguez is dangerous stemmed from the alleged discovery of several firearms at Rodríguez' condominium apartment; his alleged connection with the Macheteros; his supposed surveillance of U.S. District Court Judge Juan R. Torruella; and his reported involvment in the Oct. 30,1983 "bazooka" attack on the local FBI office in the Federal Building on Hato Rey's Chardón street. The weapon used was actually a one-shot rocket launcher.
Rodríguez was declared a fugitive when he failed to appear at an April 12 remand hearing before Judge Gilberto Gierbolini, following his six-count conviction on charges of defrauding Banco de Ponce and a one-count conviction of possessing, with intention to distribute, 15 grams of heroin. Rodríguez and his wife Isabel Paños Agulló, also convicted on bank fraud and narcotics charges, were both free on bail. Upon their April 12 conviction, U.S. District Attorney Ricardo Pesquera had urged their immediate imprisonment, contending that both Rodríguez and his wife were dangerous and likely to jump bail. The April 12 hearing was called to consider arguments on Pesquera's request.
Rodríguez' wife, a Spanish national, appeared late for her April 13 hearing. Judge Gierbolini cancelled her bail and sent her to Vega Alta woman's prison, pending appeal or her scheduled June 8 sentencing.
The couple's conviction on narcotics charges was a product of a June 17, 1983, FBI raid on an alleged heroin "factory" located in the Borinquen Towers Apartments, in Hato Hey. Inside the apartment, an unkempt efficiency rented in Rodriguez' name, the agents also found mortaring boards, cutting agents and other drug-related paraphanelia which FBI agent Jacques Island said "clearly indicated a distribution center." Also discovered were three firearms, including a Czech rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and a .22-cal. rifle, all found inside a guitar case.
Earlier that same day the FBI had raided the Rodríguez' abode in the fashionable Las Violetas condominium, on Sagrado Corazón Street in Santurce. There they also found heroin, scales and $17,000 under a mattress. Island said a man was also observed throwing two handguns from the apartment balcony.
Las Violetas raids also yielded a mimeographed copy of a "Manual on Intelligence and Security," a copy identical to one seized during an April 3 discovery of a supposed Machetero safe house on Ponce de Leon Avenue in Puerta de Tierra.
The raid on Las Violetas condominium was an outgrowth of the FBI pursuit of Rodríguez and his wife in connection with their participation in an estimated $3.2 million swindle of the Banco de Ponce. The caper involved the use of counterfeit Public Building Authority checks, ranging from $15,000 to $25,000.
Assistant U.S. District Attorney Ricardo Pesquera said the couple, using assumed names, opened separate saving accounts in Banco de Ponce branches around the island. The same aliases, but different addresses, were given for each account. They opened the accounts with small cash deposits, beginning in March 1983. Until November the accounts remained relatively dormant, with Rodríguez and his wife shifting monies from one account to another in a show of limited activity. November saw the deposits of the PBA checks, and the subsequent cash withdrawals against the checks. Withdrawals were made in varying amounts, rather than in one withdrawal for the full amount of the counterfeit check.
At the time government checks were honored automatically by Banco de Ponce, as they were considered, in Pesquera's phrase, as "good as gold." The Rodríguez swindle has prompted the bank to revise its procedures, the attorney said.
The arrest of the Rodríguez couple led to another financially suspect occurrence, with the government claiming that the sureties given to the court as bond for Rodríguez were systematically inflated in value. Allegedly, the properties had previously undergone several sales within a relatively short period of time, with each sale producing a paper increment in the property's value. The sureties, appraised initially at $650,000, were found by a government-hired appraiser to be worth only $68,000.
Rodríguez, an experienced labor organizer, was a Brotherhood of Teamsters staffer in the late 1970s. He worked closely with the union's current president, José Cádiz, and sided with the latter in the struggle that led to the May 1981 overthrow of the long-entrenched former president, Luis "Quique" Pagán.
In a telephone interview, Cádiz remembered Rodríguez as a dedicated union organizer, one who turned out for "all the strikes" and who worked "night after night" in defense of the union cause. But he was a "tranquil" person, Cádiz added. Cádiz gave the impression that Rodríguez, while a declared partisan of Puerto Rico's independence from the United States, gave only limited attention to the independence issue.