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Homestead Business Thrust into Controversy

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Posted: Friday, August 3, 2018 12:00 am | Updated: 1:46 pm, Tue Aug 7, 2018.

Francisco, “Frank”, Gonzalez believes in hard work to achieve the American dream. The grease under his fingernails, the full bays of his auto shop, and a constant stream of customers make up his work days.

His family came from Cuba in 1971, although to Chicago as their first stop because of good-paying jobs. Gonzalez was in the gas station business and by 1978 or 1979, he received money from a friend and mentor to move to warm South Florida. In successfully reviving a previously failed business, he went on to buy nearby property, build his own automobile repair shop, and steadily expand it. Anyone in the service industry knows you’ll receive a certain number of complaints and you develop procedures to handle those.

What you don’t expect is to be overwhelmed with profanity-laced calls, on-line condemnation, and death threats.

Friday July 27, 2018 started like any other day. Family members and other employees at the auto shop were busy, unaware the Homestead Temporary Shelter for Unaccompanied Children located near Homestead Air Reserve Base had called Homestead Police (HPS).

Detective Fernando Morales, Public Information Officer for HPS, clarified what happened. “HPS received a call from the center advising us a 15-year-old female ran away while being taken for a doctor visit. They gave the location of where they [those transporting the girl] were and that their staff members ran for a short distance, but lost sight of her.

While conducting an area canvass an anonymous person advised police that in the area they were looking, the girl was possibly inside Gonzalez Auto. Officers entered the area and found her behind a tool box. She was visibly nervous and upset and said she did not want to go back. The officers spoke with her in Spanish and convinced her to go with them. They did have to handcuff her in accordance with established police procedure, but she was placed in the front of the vehicle to be more comfortable and transported back to the facility. She was handed over to staff without any incident. That was the extent of police involvement in the incident.”

Approximately an hour prior to police arrival, members of Gonzalez Auto had been understandably startled to discover the girl. They gave her water and some food and learned she was from Honduras. Elvis Lopez, one of the employees, called his sister, Bertha, and she spoke with the girl on the phone to try and help. Once the police came in, they took charge of the situation.

With the drama seemingly behind them, a reporter called asking questions. By Saturday, July 28th, the story was in the Washington Post. It was followed by an article in the Miami Herald, on local Channel 10 news, and picked up in other papers around the country.

“It was a difficult weekend,” Eric Gonzalez, one of the sons, said. “Comments were being posted on-line in places like Yelp and Facebook telling people not to do business with us. It wasn’t people who know us who were saying these things. It was people from as far away as California.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents have opened a case as have the Homestead Police to investigate the more serious threats.

“I’ve been here thirty-eight years and never had trouble,” Frank Gonzalez said. He’s respected within the community, but word did not start to spread around town until Monday, July 30th.

In hearing of the unfair characterizations, local people began to drop by or call, expressing their support. “We’re getting more positive comments now and we appreciate that,” Eric said late Tuesday afternoon.

His father pointed out some of the old photos posted to his wall. “When I moved here and took over an old Goodyear store on Flagler, it had been closed a few years. The owner almost didn’t want to take my rent money because he said I wouldn’t last six months. Four years later I was able to build my own shop and we’ve added on to be what we are now.”

The “now” does include his brother, two sons, his sister, and “my wonderful wife” at times, but others he’s hired brings the mechanic count to fifteen. “We treat everyone like family – our employees and customers.”

Gonzalez’s generous spirit is well-known, such as when he provides turkeys and other contributions for holiday meals to those who are struggling financially.

“This is terrible,” Nancy Coppola, a longtime customer said. “They are such a wonderful, hard-working family and they do so much for the community.”

Camera crews that had been parked across the street finally disappeared Wednesday. The family hopes calm has been restored and strident messages from people who believed Gonzalez, “turned the girl into Immigration”, will soon cease.

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1 comment:

  • Redlandhorselady posted at 8:28 am on Thu, Aug 9, 2018.

    Redlandhorselady Posts: 2

    This is ridiculous. Someone decides to sneak into this business, hide, and when caught the business owner is condemned, degraded, demeaned and debased as if it went out, took the girl, and hid her inside the business. What is wrong with people these days? Trying to destroy a hard working family business when the business is the victim here. It is now becoming an impossibility to help other people without you being the one punished.