MIAMI (AP) — Mitt Romney held a campaign event Monday evening at a Miami juice shop owned by a convicted cocaine trafficker.
Romney appeared at El Palacio de los Jugos, which is owned by Reinaldo Bermudez. Court records show that Bermudez pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to distribute cocaine in 1999 and served three years in federal prison.
Appearing with Romney was Sen. Marco Rubio. Both men handed out juices to an excited crowd after making brief remarks. Romney was filming a campaign ad at the juice shop, aides said.
The Romney campaign didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Phone calls placed by The Associated Press to the juice shop weren't answered.
Bermudez told the Miami 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 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.
Agents first seized 430 pounds of cocaine at the Port of Palm Beach in July 1997 and then 117 pounds in late September at the Port of Miami. Those shipments were concealed in containers filled with fish imported from Trinidad, an island in the south Caribbean. The largest and final seizure came in late October at Port Everglades, where officials found 2,304 pounds of cocaine in a container of soap imported from Venezuela.
Authorities learned of all three cocaine shipments through court-authorized wiretaps on four of the suspects' home, office and cellular telephones, according to media reports.
As a convicted felon, Bermudez wouldn't be eligible to vote in Florida unless the governor and the Cabinet restore his rights.
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