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  In Exchange for Alibi, Priest Asked Robber for Sexual Favor, Police Say

By Rachel L. Swarns
Miami Herald
April 3, 1993

The Rev. Juan Ramon O'Farrill, a Cuban exile priest revered for his political activism, was released from jail Friday, charged with lying under oath to protect a robber who promised sex in exchange for an alibi.

The robber, a 23-year-old man, snatched a woman's purse and broke her nose.

The priest, a 76-year-old retired clergyman, swore the man didn't do it. He said the suspect was with him when the robbery took place on Jan. 17, 1992. Police say O'Farrill doctored an appointment book and turned it over as evidence.

But the robber, who faced additional charges for another robbery, ultimately turned on his friend, police say. He returned to the priest, this time with a hidden microphone.

"And the people don't know that you lied for me?" asked the robber, Edwin Rios, according to a transcript of the tape.

"No, no. They'll never know," O'Farrill replied. "But look . . . I've done a lot for you, old man. The least I can expect is that you do this for me, my man."

Then the priest sexually propositioned Rios, the transcript says.

O'Farrill was arrested at his home Thursday night, minutes after he returned from saying Mass at St. Michael's Catholic Church. He was charged with perjury, a third-degree felony. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison. He will be arraigned April 22.

The arrest shocked friends and parishioners of O'Farrill, who is so revered for his outspoken anti-communist activism that a street in downtown Miami is named after him.

"I can't tell you what a shock and surprise this has been to all of us," said the Rev. Gerard LaCerra, pastor of St. Mary's Cathedral, speaking on behalf of the Archdiocese of Miami. "We'll be cooperating as fully as we can. If any laws have been broken they need to be redressed. But I still personally have problems believing the whole situation."

O'Farrill initially described the accusations as a political vendetta, orchestrated by critics of his anti-Castro stance. Then, as more details of the case came to light, he declined to discuss the case at all.

"A man is innocent until proven guilty," said defense attorney Gino Negretti, who represents O'Farrill.

When asked about the taped conversations, Negretti said, "I don't know about any tapes. But I know this man. He is a pillar of the community."

Born in Havana, O'Farrill battled dictators Fulgencio Batista and Fidel Castro before leaving Cuba for good in 1959. In Miami, he championed the Cuban exile cause. He spoke at political rallies and funerals of exile heroes, denouncing Castro and his sympathizers.

He worked as assistant pastor at Corpus Christi Catholic Church until he retired in 1983. Six years later, the Miami City Commission named Northeast Second Street downtown in his honor.

Somewhere along the way, O'Farrill bumped into Edwin Rios, the robber who is being held without bail in Dade County Jail on four counts of robbery, four counts of aggravated assault, burglary and grand theft.

Assistant State Attorneys Michael Band and Andrew Hague declined to comment on the case. They would not say whether the men had a sexual relationship. But sources say the men have known each other for some time. O'Farrill was more than willing to help when Rios got into trouble, police said.

Trouble came Jan. 17, 1992, at 8:40 a.m. According to police, Rios robbed a 30-year-old banker as she walked through a downtown parking garage at 1000 SE Brickell Ave. He snatched the woman's purse and punched her in the nose.

One month later, the victim picked his picture out of a photo lineup. Rios was arrested. But then he came up with an alibi from a seemingly unassailable witness: O'Farrill.

In a six-page affidavit, Miami detective Steven Caceres described what happened:

On June 12, 1992, O'Farrill testified under oath. They were together the day of the robbery, he said. Rios picked him up at 8 a.m. They drove to Versailles restaurant for breakfast. They drove to Banco Pedroso to deposit money. Then they went shopping. Rios brought him home at 1:30 p.m.

As evidence, O'Farrill gave prosecutors his daily calendar. In it, he had described the breakfast and bank visit.

But a few months later, Rios changed his tune. Facing additional charges, he pleaded guilty to the robbery. And he told prosecutors that O'Farrill had lied because he wanted sex. On at least three occasions, he visited the priest with a hidden microphone.

"I put everything down there in order to defend you," said O'Farrill, describing his appointment book, according to the transcript. "Only you and I know that lie."

And the police.

O'Farrill was arrested at 10:30 p.m. Thursday. He was released from jail early Friday after paying $1,500 cash bond, jail officials said.

 
 

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