Sunrise police Lt. Charlie Vitale

Sunrise police Lt. Charlie Vitale recognized the name instantly, even a decade later.

JosŽ Padilla lived in Lauderhill when Vitale arrested him after a road-rage shooting incident in 1991. Vitale was a brand new detective, on the job for only two years.

“I almost shot him because he went for his gun,” Vitale said.

Padilla is in a lot more trouble now.

Prosecutors announced Monday that Padilla, now Abdullah al-Mujahir after converting to Islam in the early 1990s, is part of an al-Qaida terrorist network that plotted to unleash a radioactive bomb in the U.S.

Padilla told government interrogators after his arrest on May 8 in Chicago that he turned to Islam while incarcerated in the Broward County Jail and ultimately took his Islamic name.

FBI agents showed up at the Sunrise Police Department about a month ago, looking for his fingerprint cards and paperwork, Vitale said.

Like some of the terrorists who flew airplanes into U.S. buildings on Sept. 11, Padilla had ties to South Florida, living here from 1990 to at least 1997. Religious leaders at several local mosques said they did not recognize his name or his photograph.

At the Lake Park Gardens condominium complex in Plantation, there was a plaque quoting scripture on a door to the home of Padilla’s mother, Estela Ortega: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” There was also a statue of a cherub reclining, two bows decorated with American flag patterns, and a handwritten note: “Please leave this family in peace.”


He lived very close to me. I live in Wilton Manors, which is east of I-95 and just south of Oakland Park Blvd. Lauderhill is about 2-3 miles west on Oakland Park Blvd. Plantation is about another 2 miles west.

Comments are closed.