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Cargo handler, pawn shop owner arrested in Miami gold heist

MIAMI (Reuters) - An airline cargo handler and a pawn shop owner have been arrested in connection with the theft of $625,000 in gold bars from Miami International Airport, officials said on Friday.

Prosecutors charged Marco Cruz, a 47-year-old Miami man who works as a cargo clerk at the airport, with stealing a box of six gold bars last month that arrived as cargo on an American Airlines flight from Ecuador.

The cargo was unloaded but a box containing the gold vanished after apparently being loaded onto a motorized luggage cart.

When cargo workers noticed the box was missing, they alerted authorities.

Ramses Llufrio, a 38-year-old pawn shop owner, was charged with receiving the gold bars knowing they had been stolen, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami said in a statement. Llufrio purchased five gold bars from Cruz for $250,000, it said.

As part of its investigation into the heist, officials interviewed airline employees including Cruz, who initially denied any involvement.

He later agreed to allow investigators to search his home and police found one of the bars and $200,000 in cash. He later gave a law enforcement official the additional $50,000.

If convicted, the men face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

Miami International is a major trans-shipment point for large quantities of gold produced in South America.

Gold is Miami's No. 1 import valued at almost $8 billion last year, mostly from Mexico and Colombia and almost all destined for Switzerland, according to World City, a Miami-based publication that tracks trade data.

(Reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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