After a 16-month search that spanned the globe, South Florida murder suspect and brake shop franchisee Bentsy Muram was captured late Thursday by an FBI task force at a Hooters restaurant in Philadelphia.
Muram, 33, whose last known address was in Lauderhill, is wanted in connection with a murder-for-hire scheme against a former tenant and the attempted murder of the assassin he allegedly hired to do the job.
It’s a twisted case of bungled murder attempts, suspected insurance fraud and skulduggery that left one man dead and another seriously injured.
The most recent shooting connected to the case, police say, came in December when a Broward brake mechanic was wounded in a Lauderhill roadway shooting.
The case was featured on the America’s Most Wanted television show last year.
“He’s a very difficult person to find,” said Paul Miller, FBI spokesman in Miami. “We’ve been trying since Dec. 1, 1993, and we’ve had leads from all over the country and the world.”
Muram’s attorney, Alvin Entin, said his client is innocent of the murder charges.
“Well, if you have to get caught, what better place than Hooters?” Entin said Friday. “No matter how bad it really is, it doesn’t quite look so bad.”
Muram was tracked down by the FBI’s violent-crime fugitive task force. Task force investigators received information that Muram was in the Philadelphia area and flew there to help find him, Miller said.
There was a little more excitement than usual Thursday night at the Hooters at 415 N. Delaware Ave. in Philadelphia.
“Some kind of task force came in here in plain clothes, about five or six of them,” said Mike Baylis, a manager at the restaurant. “We really didn’t know who they were, but you can kind of tell when someone’s not here for the food.”
Baylis said a scuffle suddenly erupted as Muram entered the bar with a friend. “I guess he’s been in here before,” Baylis said. “We gathered that the guy who brought him in was involved in the sting.”
Miller said Muram was carrying a loaded gun and several fictitious identifications.
Muram, whose family still lives in Broward, was charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution, Miller said. There are Dade County warrants for his arrest on one count of first- degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder, Miller said.
Muram, an Israeli immigrant, used to own and operate Brake World franchises in Dade and Broward counties. Then, in 1989, according to Dade County court records, he allegedly came up with a get-rich-quick scheme.
He’s accused of taking out a $500,000 insurance policy on one of his tenants, then hiring brake shop manager Randy Tundidor and another man to kill the tenant.
The first attempt failed. The second one didn’t. Muram then allegedly collected $300,000 of the insurance money, tried and failed to kill Tundidor and disappeared, court records say.
Tundidor , who faced murder charges before a person who claimed to be an eyewitness disappeared, said Friday he’s relieved Muram is finally in custody. “Absolutely, I’m relieved,” he said. “Wouldn’t you be? He’s right where he belongs.”
Police say Tundidor , who owns Performance Transmissions and Brakes on West Commercial Boulevard in Lauderhill, was the target of the Dec. 27, 1994, shooting that left one of his employees, 23-year-old Manuel Fernandez, in intensive care.
“He’s all right now, thank God,” Tundidor said.
A CHRONOLOGY According to court records, these are the allegations against Bentsy Muram:
* July 27, 1989: Muram, owner of a Brake World franchise at 7730 NW 27th Ave., Miami, takes out a $500,000 life insurance policy on a neighboring tenant, Guillermo Hernandez, 55, who runs Hernandez Used Auto Parts and lives in a mobile home behind the business.
* Dec. 15, 1989: Jorge Felix Prieto, 30, of Hialeah, shoots Hernandez in the back as the older man closes his store. Prieto, who has a lengthy criminal history ranging from lewd acts to burglary and robbery, was a mechanic at the time, employed by Randy Tundidor . Hernandez survives the shooting.
* Jan. 11, 1990: Prieto returns to Hernandez’s store to finish the job, but this time Tundidor drives. Prieto later tells police Tundidor pulled the trigger. Tundidor says it was Prieto. Hernandez is shot five times in the chest and back and dies.
* 1992: Muram collects $300,000 in a settlement with his insurance company.
* April 15, 1993: On the word of Patricia Wooden, a prostitute who said she witnessed the killing, Tundidor is arrested on a charge of first-degree murder. Muram posts $100,000 bail and hires Miami defense attorney Sam Rabin to represent Tundidor .
* Aug. 2 through Aug. 18: Police attempts to locate Patricia Wooden for deposition are fruitless. The prostitute has disappeared, along with her boyfriend.
* Aug. 22, 1993: Muram and Tundidor take a weeklong cruise to the Bahamas.
* Sept. 15, 1993: Police drop the murder charge against Tundidor for lack of an eyewitness.
* Oct. 27, 1993: Tundidor shows up at Muram’s Fort Lauderdale Brake World while the shop is closed. Neighbors hear gunshots, and later tell police they saw Muram driving away as they rushed to investigate. Tundidor , shot several times in the chest, scrawls a note to detectives at the hospital.
“I told him I was going to tell you what happened,” he writes, unable to speak. “I can tell you how to prove everything. Check . . . airport.”
* Nov. 3, 1993: A recovering Tundidor talks to police, tells of the plot and implicates Prieto and Muram. He says Muram came to him looking for a hit man and tells police Muram paid him $2,500 and Prieto $10,000. Arrest warrants are issued for Prieto and Muram.
* Nov. 15, 1993: Prieto is arrested on charges of first- degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and possession of a firearm during a felony. Muram disappears, turning over ownership of his businesses and home to his family.
* Summer 1994: Muram hires an attorney. His insurance company sues to recover the $300,000 settlement.
* Dec. 7, 1994: Prieto pleads guilty to attempted first- degree murder and is sentenced to 20 years. The other two charges are dropped in exchange for testimony. Prieto admits shooting Hernandez the first time. He says he got $2,000 for the murder. “( Tundidor ) said this guy raped a girl and gave her AIDS. . . . He should be killed,” Prieto said. “I tried to shoot him, but they all scattered, and I just hit him once.”
Prieto tells police that he, Muram and Tundidor then went to a North Miami shooting range to practice. “I told him I was scared and I didn’t want to shoot that man, and he got really upset and he went to call Benny.”
Bentsy Muram, Prieto said, lures Hernandez back to the shop. Prieto said Tundidor did the shooting.
* Dec. 27, 1994: Tundidor employee Manuel Fernandez is shot several times while driving a truck from Tundidor ‘s business. Police believe the bullets were meant for Tundidor .