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DEERFIELD BEACH — A Coconut Creek man spent five days in jail because he had the same name as a Palm Beach County fugitive with a passing facial resemblance who was born 10 days before him.
Leonardo Silva Oliveira, 26, the fugitive, was wanted for violating probation on charges of grand theft and burglary of an unoccupied dwelling in Boca Raton. Police arrested Leonardo Silva Oliveira, 26, the cook, outside a Deerfield Beach restaurant on Jan. 20, shortly after 5 p.m.
But the fugitive and the cook are not the same person, a fact officials didn’t confirm until they compared fingerprints days later, and one that should have been cleared up sooner when officers rolled up the cook’s sleeves.
Oliveira the fugitive, according to police reports, has tattoos on each arm — buildings on the left, a clock on the right.
Oliveira the cook? “I have no tattoos,” he said. “They checked my arms. They didn’t see any. But they still took me in.”
Officials are looking into exactly what landed the wrong man in custody, whether it was mistaken identity, identity theft or a combination of both.
The Coconut Creek Police Department’s arrest report sheds no light on the matter. It merely says the cook was identified as the fugitive in the state’s driver and vehicle information database, even though the birth dates are off by 10 days.
Police spokesman Sgt. Scotty Leamon said Palm Beach County law enforcement asked for help after identifying the cook as the fugitive. It was not clear which agency made the request — the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office was not aware of the case and the Florida Department of Corrections, which oversees inmates who are released on probation, referred questions to Coconut Creek.
Police were given the cook’s driver’s license and Social Security number, unaware that there was any question about the identification. Comparing photos didn’t help either. It wasn’t clear whether the cook was compared to the picture on his driver’s license, which would have been a perfect match, or a headshot of the actual fugitive, which bears enough of a resemblance to be explained by the passage of a few years.
“A PBSO detective confirmed that Oliveira was the subject they had an active warrant on,” Leamon said. “After confirmation, Oliveira was arrested and transported to the Broward Sheriff’s Office Main Jail.”
Police did not address the issue of the fugitive’s tattoos.
Oliveira, the cook, has no criminal record and had never seen the inside of a jail cell until Thursday night. “I was on 24-hour lockdown,” he said. “I finally got out of the cell for an hour a day Saturday, Sunday and Monday. It was a little window, no TV. Nothing to do but just stare at the walls and try to stay warm.”
Oliveira, who was born in Brazil, where his full name is not uncommon, said he tried to tell anyone who would listen that they had the wrong guy. “How could I be wanted on a probation violation when I’ve never been arrested for anything? It was a nightmare.”
At first appearance court, County Court Judge Phoebe Francois said she was powerless to interfere with the case because it originated out of Palm Beach County, and Oliveira had no attorney in Broward to represent him until Monday evening, when he hired lawyer Jose Castañeda.
Castañeda filed a motion to have his client released, providing the court with details that, in his view, should have prevented officers from ever breaking out their handcuffs. For one thing, the fugitive Oliveira weighed 213 pounds in 2017, when he was arrested on the burglary charge. The cook weighs less than 150. Then, of course, there was the matter of the missing tattoos.
Castañeda said he even tracked down the fugitive’s father in Palm Beach County and confirmed he is still on the run.
But the motion never got a hearing. The Broward Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, obtained the fingerprints for the fugitive and compared them to those of the man in custody, said BSO spokesman Carey Codd. “When it was determined that the fingerprints did not match, Oliveira was immediately released from jail,” he said.
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That was Tuesday morning. The cook, who is unmarried and has no children, is considering his next legal move.
“I don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” he said. “I don’t want it to happen to me again! Do I have to change my name so that it doesn’t?”
The hunt for the other Oliveira continues.