by Luis Valdes
Around 2:30 in the afternoon on July 11, 1979, when well-armed hitmen entered the store and opened fire on German Jimenez Panesso and his bodyguard, Juan Carlos Hernandez. Panesso at the time was a major figure in the Colombian drug trafficking trade.
Dozens of rounds had been fired throughout the mall parking lot, riddling cars with bullets. When the smoke cleared from what police and witnesses described as a wild-west style shootout, the drug dealer and his bodyguard were dead and two liquor store employees were wounded.
The gunmen fled the scene in a phony delivery van marked “Happy Time Complete Party Supply,” which was abandoned in the far end of the mall parking lot. Police later described the van as a “war wagon” after an arsenal of firearms and bulletproof vests were discovered inside.
A police officer at the scene dubbed the parties involved the “Cocaine Cowboys.”
Printed by the Miami Herald on May 21, 1984.
“Fernando Villega-Hernandez came into federal court Friday to be sentenced — for the second time — as a drug smuggler. He left accused as a killer.
Fingerprints and testimony could positively prove that Villega-Hernandez was one of the triggermen in a drug-war assassination that left two men dead at a Dadeland Mall liquor store in 1979, a government prosecutor said. But U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez refused to consider those statements before sentencing Villega-Hernandez to 15 years in prison.
The revelations about the sensational murders at the busy South Dade shopping mall came from special assistant U.S. Attorney Lurana Snow at Villega-Hernandez’s sentencing on unrelated charges in Fort Lauderdale.
“Why doesn’t the government take that information to a grand jury instead of me?” Gonzalez asked.
“Hopefully, they will,” Snow said. “We’re just not ready yet,”
Sgt. Al Singleton, a drug investigator with the Metro-Dade Police Department, said after the hearing: “The investigation is not complete.”
Villega-Hernandez first was convicted on cocaine conspiracy and possession charges last August. The next month, he was given a five-year prison term by U.S. District Judge Alcee Hastings. In April, Villega-Hernandez was convicted again on similar charges.
He came Friday to federal court in Fort Lauderdale to be sentenced a second time by Gonzalez — and heard his name connected to the murder of German Panesso-Jiminez, killed at the Dadeland liquor store in July 1979.
The shooting received national press coverage labeling Miami as the home of gun-wielding “cocaine cowboys.”
“Villega said he felt good, for he was the first to open fire,” Snow quoted government informants as saying.
When he was arrested in March 1983, Villega-Hernandez was part of a major, organized cocaine importation and distribution network, Snow said. His brother, Carlos Arturo Villegas-Hernandez, supervised cocaine laboratories in Laticia, Colombia, and shipped his finished products — up to 30 kilograms of the drug per month — to Fernando to distribute in the United States.
The Villega-Hernandez brothers were commanded by Paco Sepulveda, said Steve Georges, a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, who added that the three were only one part of a drug smuggling conglomerate headed by Griselda Blanca in Colombia. Other branches of the Blanco operation in South Florida, the agent said, included those headed by Panesso and Carlos “Panello” Ramirez.
Though they answered to the same boss, the agent said, the rivalries between the various factions were intense.
“Panello had ripped off Panesso on a 40-kilo coke deal worth $3 million,” Georges said. “Panello decided to go after Panesso before he came for him. He joined forces with Paco, because Paco’s girl friend was sleeping with Panesso.” Villega-Hernandez was one of several men who appeared, on July 11, 1979, outside the Crown Liquor Store at Dadeland Mall in a “war wagon,” a truck equipped with reinforced steel, gun portholes and bulletproof vests.
Villega-Hernandez entered the store and opened fire on Panesso first with a .380 automatic handgun rigged with a silencer, Snow said. Ramirez finished the job with an automatic rifle, the attorney said.
Panesso’s bodyguard, Juan Carlos Hernandez, was also killed in the gunfire. Two bystanders were wounded. Police later said that at least 60 bullets were fired in the store and nearby. The war wagon was found hours later, less than a mile away.
Bernardo Diaz, who was married to Sepulveda’s sister, told government investigators the killers then went to a nearby apartment to clean up, Snow said. Ramirez’s shoes were particularly bloody.
The killers later partied for five days at a home in Hollywood, Snow quoted Diaz as saying. Ramirez, DEA agent Georges said, was himself killed in Colombia a year after the Dadeland slayings.
Sepulveda, convicted on drug charges in New York, is serving a 27-year term in a federal prison there, recovering from a broken back received in an escape attempt. Carlos Arturo Villega-Hernandez fled to Colombia.
On April 6, 1984, fingerprints taken from Fernando Villega- Hernandez as he sat in federal prison in Dade County on smuggling charges were matched to those lifted from the war wagon.
All that information, Judge Gonzalez said Friday, was still unproven and not for him to consider at Villega-Hernandez’s sentencing.
“It is improper, unconstitutional and more important than any of that, unfair,” he said.
No arrests have ever been made in the Dadeland Mall Massacre but Metro-Dade Police (now known as Miami-Dade Police and in 2024 they will be the Miami-Dade Sheriff’s Office) had a hunch it was the work of the “Godmother of Cocaine”.
It all started in the spring of 1978 when Panesso began feuding with Miami crime boss Carlos Panello Ramirez after Ramirez’s partner in crime burglarized Panesso’s home. Both Panesso and Ramirez had worked with a high ranking Colombian named Griselda Blanco. She was part of the Medellin Cartel. It was thought that Blanco owed Panesso a large amount of money and wanted to cheap out. So she joined forces with Ramirez and sent an assassination team to whack Panesso.
The Godmother eventually would be a full-time resident of the US. But in 1979, she was still living in Colombia. She assigned the Panesso hit contract to her local eyes, ears, and muscle in Miami, Miguel “Paco” Sepulveda, her brother-in-law. Sepulveda brought in additional help by the names of Jorge “Rivi” Ayala. He had a history of being Blanco’s favorite hit man and was suspected in a number of signature “Cocaine Cowboy” hits in the 80s. Ayala eventually became a witness against Blanco in court.
With everything setup, Sepulveda and Ayala went to the Dadeland Mall with uzis and unloaded a barrage of gunfire into Panesso and Hernandez while they were in the Crown Liquors store. Panesso and Hernandez were at the counter buying Chivas Regal. They were cut down instantly. Two Crown Liquors store employees were wounded in the attack too.
And that was the start of the brutal turf battles of Miami in the 1980s.
My Father personally worked the Homicide scene at Dadeland Mall. At the time he was still with the County as a Homicide Detective. He later became a Special Agent and worked a number of the Drug Cases in the 1980s in South Florida.