Part 5: Hirschfeld leaves Spain, enters Fidel Castro’s Cuba

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Ali and Hirschfeld were from opposite worlds.

Ali and Hirschfeld were from opposite worlds.

Richard Hirschfeld, friend and confidante of Muhammad Ali, had lived in the Canary Islands for about two months, as prosecutors in the United States tried to extradite him back to the USA for trial.

Spanish officers arrested him in January 1997, but by May of that year, the court determined that these charges did not violate Spanish law so they released him on $35,000 bond. Free again, Hirschfeld settled back into a lavish life on the lam, traveling between Spain and its various provincial islands and tooling around in a white Rolls Royce.

However, he missed his family and friends even though they visited him occasionally from the states. Among his visitors were Hampton Roads developer Edward S Garcia and his brother-in-law, Larry Cardon.


Reporter’s note: Eddie Garcia and I have known each other for a great number of years,

mostly off and on. His brother Dominic lived on the same street as my parents and Eddie was the owner of the Isle of Capri restaurant in Virginia Beach that I mentioned in a recent segment. Larry Cardon was a law partner of noted Norfolk attorney Pete Decker.

I was a member of the Board of Directors of The Tidewater Builders Association and was very active in Virginia Beach politics while also serving as Legislative Committee chairman of the trade association. I was scheduled to play golf at Kingsmill Resort but I took sick suddenly and was unable to participate. My wife Joanna went in my place and my friend Eddie Garcia looked after her all day.

Despite delays, federal prosecutors continued to pursue Hirschfeld’s extradition. Finally, in November 1998 Spanish judges ordered him arrested and extradited. However, Hirschfield gave them the slip and got on a plane to Cuba.

Upon arrival in Cuba, authorities boarded the plane demanding that every person remained seated while they sought out the one person they were looking for . . .  Richard Hirschfeld.

Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro

At first, Richard naturally believed that this was the end! He quickly discovered that a limousine was waiting for him and that he was whisked away like a dignitary.

Soon thereafter, Richard met with Juan Vega Vega, the author of Cuba’s post-revolution Constitution, and with Fidel Castro’s personal attorney as well as a law professor at the University of Havana.

The three men said they had reviewed the charges against Hirschfeld and that the charges were preposterous. Needless to say, Mr. Vega and Richard became fast friends.

Richard lived in an apartment in Havana but was soon moved to a condo in Varadero. He enjoyed the use of a 115-foot yacht that was docked at Havana’s luxuriant ‘Marina Hemingway.’

Nearly every Friday he met with Mr. Vega for lunch and they were eventually joined by Castro’s youngest son Alejandro — always with a bodyguard not far behind. Through Alejandro (who still lived with the Castro family in a compound with his parents) and by way of Vega, Richard was introduced to a number of Castro’s inner circle.

Along the way, Hirschfeld inevitably gained access to Fidel Castro himself, which was uncommon among visitors from capitalist countries. The only thing that they agreed upon was their affinity for boxing and fine Cuban cigars. Their first meeting was a wedding where Castro was the best man. Richard went to great lengths to get his suit dry cleaned only to find out that Fidel showed up wearing his trademark army fatigues and black boots.

In their second meeting, Richard decided to dress down only to have Fidel dressed to the nines in a suit by Hugo Boss.

During Hirschfeld’s two-year stay in Cuba, he called Washington attorney Dale Cooter, in an effort to dodge his legal dilemma in the United States. Among the discussions Hirschfeld admitted having been jailed in Spain with a German cellmate, who belonged to a drug cartel and who confessed to killing a teenager in Germany, and subsequently dismembered the teen’s body.

Hirschfeld was encouraged to inform the German authorities about the confession and they wanted him to return to Germany to testify against the killer. Hirschfeld sought the advice of Cooter and asked if he could persuade the German law officials to make a deal: If they would lobby to have Hirschfield’s criminal charges expunged, he would travel from Cuba to Germany to testify against the confessed killer. But the Germans did not agree.

Again, Hirschfeld sought advice from Cooter as to whether he should return and take his chances. Cooter’s told him it was the right thing to do and that he should return to Germany and testify in open court. Hirschfeld made the trip and testified at the risk of possible extradition and the killer was convicted on the basis of that testimony. The German authorities wrote a letter to Hirschfeld thanking him for his testimony.

There was nothing in it for him at the time but Richard Hirschfeld put himself at risk with nothing to gain.

Hirschfeld was weary of the lifestyle that he was living and he wanted to come home to be with his family. On the morning in August 2000, Eddie Garcia and his wife Sandy were eating breakfast in a hotel in Philadelphia. They were there in town to rub elbows at the Republican National Convention. A man approached their table whom they knew. He had a mustache and a goatee, but it was their old friend Richard Hirschfeld!

Next week, in the sixth and final installment of this amazing saga, we’ll take a look at Hirschfeld’s claims that he was instrumental in the arrest of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.