MIAMI (Reuters) - A campaign stop by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Miami on Monday was held at a restaurant owned by a convicted drug trafficker.
Romney, hoping to get support from the Cuban-American community in Miami, held an event at El Palacio de los Jugos, famed for its tropical juices, fruits and Cuban-style snack food.
Court documents show restaurant owner Reinaldo Bermudez pleaded guilty in 1997 to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The case in federal court in Miami led to a three-year prison sentence for Bermudez.
His plea was part of a drug conspiracy case that involved 11 other suspects with aliases including “Fat Boy,” “Ali Baba,” “Skeletor,” “Mogley” and “Buckwheat.”
Bermudez’s criminal past was first reported on the website of the Miami New Times newspaper. It said the charge stemmed from a conspiracy involving more than one ton of cocaine imported from Trinidad to ports in south Florida.
Bermudez could not be reached for immediate comment, and Romney campaign officials did not return calls.
The New Times report quoted Bermudez as saying the Secret Service vetted everything about him when the campaign asked to use his restaurant, one of several he owns throughout Miami-Dade County.
“They absolutely knew about my record,” Bermudez told the New Times. “The Secret Service checked everything. was not a problem. Everybody deserves a second chance.”
As a convicted felon in Florida, Bermudez would be barred from voting in the November 6 presidential election.
The selection of the Palacio de los Jugos venue came as a surprise to many political veterans in Miami.
Republican candidates have traditionally chosen more established places in the heart of the Cuban exile community, especially the iconic Versailles coffee shop and restaurant in the city’s Little Havana neighborhood.
Additional reporting by David Adams and Kevin Gray; Editing by Xavier Briand