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Posted: September 15, 2017

After Irma: Alleged Secret Service impostor arrested trying to sneak onto wealthy Florida island

A queue of cars slowly passes through a police checkpoint on the Royal Park Bridge as residents and workers try to get back onto Palm Beach on Wednesday, September 13, 2017. Those who don’t live or work on the island are turned away.
Joseph Forzano / Daily News
A queue of cars slowly passes through a police checkpoint on the Royal Park Bridge as residents and workers try to get back onto Palm Beach on Wednesday, September 13, 2017. Those who don’t live or work on the island are turned away.

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By Darrell Hofheinz, Palm Beach Daily News

PALM BEACH, Fla. —

A man who attempted to gain access to Palm Beach, Florida, by telling police he worked for the U.S. Secret Service and needed access to protect a diplomat was arrested Tuesday evening at a 24-hour police checkpoint, according to a Palm Beach police report. The security checkpoint was put in place in the wake of Hurricane Irma to control access to the wealthy island.

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Luan Gabriel Da Rocha Cruz, 22, was arrested at 7:42 p.m. on a federal charge of impersonating a Secret Service officer, according to the report. Town police assisted the West Palm Beach-based federal officers who made the arrest after determining Cruz did not work for the Secret Service.

Officers suspected Cruz was entering the island with criminal intent, and police acted appropriately, Palm Beach Director of Public Safety Kirk Blouin said today.

“We suspected he wanted to commit burglary,” Blouin said.

Cruz was driving a gray BMW with a New York City license plate from West Palm Beach to Palm Beach when he was stopped — for the second time that evening — at the checkpoint on the Royal Park Bridge.

“Cruz advised that he was with the U.S. Secret Service and needed to gain access to the island to report for his assignment to protect a diplomat” at an address on the North End, Palm Beach police Officer Steven O’Leary wrote in his report.

“Cruz appeared to be very nervous and would not make eye contact when I was asking him questions,” O’Leary wrote.

Before he was detained by police just east of the bridge, Cruz displayed “a U.S. Secret Service badge that was oddly placed in a brown leather wallet with a bright blue interior that did not contain a slot for the badge,” the report said.

O’Leary’s report said he escorted Cruz through the checkpoint for questioning and saw him lock the badge in his glove box. Cruz was talking on a cellphone during the encounter and told O’Leary he was working “undercover,” the report said. He also “kept reaching for something at the front left door panel of the vehicle,” according to the report. At that point, Cruz was asked to exit the car, and police contacted the West Palm Beach division of the Secret Service.

The role of the Secret Service in Palm Beach earned international attention after the election of President Donald Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago club serves as his winter White House.

Police determined that the North Lake Way address Cruz gave them was a house without electricity that had hurricane shutters in place, the report said. Officers were unable to contact its owner.

Cruz had already attempted to enter town in the same car at the same checkpoint about 25 minutes earlier, according to the report. At that time, Cruz was stopped by O’Leary and told him “he was working security” at the same North End address, but did not show him a badge, O’Leary’s report said. At that time, Cruz couldn’t provide proof of employment in Palm Beach or a voluntary town identification card, so O’Leary requested Cruz make a U-turn and return to West Palm Beach, which he did, according to the report.

According to his report, O’Leary was relieved of his post shortly afterward but noticed when Cruz returned to the checkpoint less than a half-hour later. O’Leary walked over to assist the officer questioning Cruz, which ultimately led to the suspect being detained and arrested, the report said. He is being held in Palm Beach County jail.

Under a long-established policy following hurricanes, police have tightly controlled access to the island via checkpoints at three bridges and on the coastal road leading into Palm Beach. The town was swept by the outer bands of Hurricane Irma Sunday afternoon and into Monday morning.

Much of the town was still without electricity when the arrest was made, and town officials have closely restricted access to the island because security systems at many homes and businesses have been inoperable.

Palm Beach is home to many affluent households. A number of former U.S. ambassadors and other diplomats have homes on the island. And more than 30 billionaires on Forbes’ latest list have residences or own other property on the 16-mile barrier island.

Massive Hurricane Irma, which barrelled up the state’s west coast Sunday, damaged landscaping but did little if any major structural damage to homes and buildings in Palm Beach. The winds that hit the town were less than hurricane strength, forecasters said.

The BMW wasn’t registered to Cruz but to a woman with a West Palm Beach address, records show.


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