Mistaken identity lands South Florida man in jail for 5 days

Leonardo Silva Oliveira, 26, of Coconut Creek, said it was a "nightmare" being locked up in jail in a case of mistaken identity. (Carline Jean, South Florida Sun Sentinel 2020)

COCONUT CREEK, Fla. – A South Florida cook says he lived a nightmare recently when police mistook him for a fugitive with the same name, similar looks and almost the same birthday.

Leonardo Silva Oliveira, 26, was wanted for probation violation on charges out of Boca Raton. But on Jan. 20, authorities arrested another man named Leonardo Silva Oliveira, 26, outside the Broward County restaurant where he is a cook, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported.

Oliveria, the cook, spent five days in the Broward County Jail. The Coconut Creek resident says authorities should have known he was not the fugitive because he was 10 days younger and does not have tattoos. The police report said Oliveria, the fugitive, sports a building tattoo on the left arm and a clock on the right.

“They checked my arms. They didn’t see any. But they still took me in,” the cook told the newspaper.

He remained jailed until Tuesday, when authorities finally realized the mistake.

Photo of Leonardo Silva Oliveira, who was wanted for probation violation on charges out of Boca Raton. (Corrections photo)

The Coconut Creek Police Department’s arrest report said the cook was identified through Florida’s driver and vehicle information database even though his birth date was different than the fugitive’s.

Authorities in Palm Beach County asked for help identifying the cook as the fugitive, police spokesperson Sgt. Scotty Leamon told the newspaper.

It was not clear which agency in Palm Beach County made the request.

When police arrested him outside the Deerfield Beach restaurant where he worked, it was the first time he’d been in trouble with the law.

“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.”

Leonardo Silva Oliveira, 26, of Coconut Creek, was arrested on a warrant out of Palm Beach County but wasn't the man authorities actually wanted. (South Florida Sun Sentinel 2020)

Oliveira said he told everyone they had the wrong man. “How could I be wanted on a probation violation when I’ve never been arrested for anything? It was a nightmare.”

During his first appearance hearing, County Court Judge Phoebe Francois said she was powerless to interfere because the case originated out of Palm Beach County.

On Monday, he hired attorney Jose Castañeda, who filed a motion to have his client released. He noted that the fugitive Oliveira weighed 213 pounds when he was arrested in 2017 on the burglary charge, while his client weighs less than 150 pounds. And he had no tattoos or criminal history.

Before a hearing could be held, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office obtained the fingerprints for the fugitive and compared them to the cook’s.

“When it was determined that the fingerprints did not match, Oliveira was immediately released from jail,” sheriff’s spokesman Carey Codd said.