How “Arabian Nights” FL City Turned to Crime, Police Corruption


Here’s how the Miami Herald describes an area of Opa-Locka, Fl.: “Drug dealers pedal their bicycles up and down the street, sneaking down narrow hallways and hiding in the bushes, waiting for their next deal, or their next victim to shake down, beat up or rob. Doors are pitted with bullet holes, and the children spend their days on a rusty playground, or in the evenings, acting as lookouts for dealers.” It’s an apartment complex known as the Back Blues in the heart of an Arabian Nights-themed city that has been home to some of the most dangerous drug traffickers in South Florida.

When the FBI launched a sting at the notorious drug den, and later tied its players to a fatal 2010 armored car heist, they discovered to their surprise that one of the alleged operatives at the helm of the Back Blues narcotics ring was an Opa-locka police captain. Capt. Arthur Balom, 44, allegedly accepted bribes, provided the armored car killer with a bulletproof vest and helped sabotage the FBI's drug sting. The probe that led to Balom's arrest is only one of many state, federal and local investigations into possible corruption within the Opa-locka Police Department, which has the reputation as one of the state’s most troubled law enforcement agencies. The city was built in 1925 by millionaire aviator Glenn Curtiss, modeled after the children's fantasy The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights, complete with Moorish buildings crowned with soft domes, pastel-colored turrets, mosaic arches and castle-like parapets. Over the past 50 years, its storybook veneer has crumbled under the weight of poverty, politics, and crime.

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