Cops cashing in buddy system feeds on arrests

 

Every week, police officers in Dade County go to court to earn overtime money on cases in which they had little or no involvement. They cost taxpayers millions. Meet some of them:

* The former Miami Beach police sergeant who dramatically boosted his pension by earning overtime in cases in which he did no police work. * The Miami police officer who spent her days off with a Florida Highway Patrol trooper making drunk driving cases. * The Metro-Dade police sergeant who appeared as a witness in 47 cases with his police officer wife. They are Collars for Dollars cops. They benefit from a system that turns arrests into money, collars into dollars. They learn as rookies from their training officers that it's easy to become a witness to a drunk driving case, even when they're not on the scene. They know as they near retirement age that extra arrests will mean a bigger pension. Most work the midnight shift, which guarantees them overtime pay for court appearances. They include some of Dade County's best and worst officers. "We back each other up. That's just the way police officers work, whether it's a traffic stop, burglar alarm, whatever, " said Metro-Dade Police Officer James Edwards, who has earned overtime in cases in which he did little or no police work. "Especially on midnights, because it's so slow, you hear somebody take a call, and you go. You got nothing to do, you're kind of bored, you go by."

An eight-month Herald investigation documented overtime abuse involving hundreds of officers in thousands of cases from 1994 through 1996. The Herald found two officers who claimed to be in two places at once, an officer who appeared in three simultaneous DUI arrests, and officers who were paid for doing absolutely nothing. All were listed as witnesses, eligible for court overtime. Some people consider it stealing. "I could see how people would say that, " said Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. The police say they are just doing their jobs. "I believe it's too simple to rush to judgment, " said Tony Rodriguez, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents Miami officers. "A small percentage may abuse the system. The vast majority of our officers do an outstanding job."

CITY OF MIAMI POLICE Friends work together, pile up cases for overtime

In the Miami Police Department, cops congregate in the busy DUI testing room at Miami's South District Substation at Flagler Street and 22nd Avenue. There, behind the curving glass-brick facade, officers using two breath-test machines process more than 2,000 DUI arrests a year -- more than twice as many as the next-busiest testing stations in Dade. Lots of DUI arrests mean lots of court overtime for lots of midnight shift officers. Former Miami Police Capt. Jorge Fernandez, the shift commander at the substation until 1994, said he noticed overtime abuse and tried in vain to stop officers from piling on to cases. "Don't add your buddies, don't ask the other guys to come out and put them down, " Fernandez said he told his officers. "There's enough DUIs to satisfy everybody's craving for money." One of those who racked up a lot of DUIs at the south substation was Officer Barbara Shaffner, 38, an eight-year veteran who has been honored as one of the top DUI officers in the state. One secret to her success: former Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Daniel A. Smith. A frequent twosome A Herald computer study of DUI cases found that no two law enforcement officers in Dade County appear together more often in DUI cases than Shaffner and Smith, who is now with the Coral Gables Police Department. Even though they worked for different departments with differing jurisdictions, Shaffner and Smith appeared in 238 DUI arrests together from 1994 through 1996, more than any other two officers -- even those who work for the same department and ride together in the same patrol car. How did they do it?

Shaffner said she is a close friend of Smith and of his wife. She said she and the trooper share a passion for nailing drunk drivers. "I have a strong conviction for arresting them, " said Shaffner, adding that a young victim of a drunk driver once died in her arms. Patrolled same area She said Smith likes working with her because he appreciates her DUI expertise. She and Trooper Smith were part of a group of officers who patrolled the same area. Many of their joint DUI arrests occurred while their cars were parked close together on the street, she said. "We were always together, " she said. "Ninety percent of the time, we are together." Other times, Smith had Shaffner do his DUI breath-alcohol testing at the South District Substation, even though he is qualified to do his own testing. Shaffner said she helps Smith get out on the road faster by doing his paperwork. "She does a lot of my DUI tests, " Trooper Smith said in a sworn deposition in 1995. Shaffner was paid $15,300.83 in court overtime in 1995. "I'm not out just for the court overtime, " Shaffner said. "I have zero tolerance for DUIs." Shaffner's former commander, retired Miami Police Capt. Nate Harris, said he was aware that she was doing lots of testing for troopers. A 'political' issue "It's one of those political issues where you didn't want to stop them because they're assisting another agency, " Harris said. Florida Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Ernesto Duarte said troopers are supposed to use Miami's machines to do their own testing. "We do everything by ourselves, " Duarte said. "The only thing is we have to borrow someone's facility." Yet The Herald found that Miami officers did more than 70 percent of the breath tests for the 2,000 DUI defendants that troopers brought to the south substation in the three-year study period. It makes everybody happy: The troopers get Miami officers to do their work, and Miami officers get to go to court for overtime. Shaffner and Smith didn't just split DUI tests. The Herald found cases in which Shaffner went riding with Smith on her days off. That meant she got listed as a witness in DUI arrests far outside Miami's jurisdiction, from the Lehman Causeway in North Dade to Caribbean Boulevard in South Dade. "Clearly, Shaffner stepped over the line, " Harris said. "And I certainly didn't know she was spending her days off riding with her friend." Police look into it Miami Police officials recently looked into Shaffner's string of DUIs with Smith. "You can't forbid somebody to ride with another agency, " said Maj. Bill O'Brien, head of Miami's Internal Affairs unit. Shaffner insists that what she does on her own time is her own business. "I'm not charging the city for that, " she said. But she did earn overtime when those cases went to court. Today, Miami officers are allowed to do DUI tests for another agency only if a lieutenant approves, a change implemented last spring after The Herald began its inquiry into overtime abuse. Another officer in the south substation who often appeared in DUI arrests with Shaffner and Smith was Sandra Blanco, who worked at the substation's front desk. Even though she is a desk officer whose duty is to answer phones and deal with the public, Blanco, 33, is also one of the top DUI officers in Dade County. From 1994 through 1996, she appeared in 660 DUI arrests. In most cases, Blanco does DUI tests for officers and troopers who bring their defendants into the south substation. Trooper Smith said in a 1995 deposition that he used Blanco to do his tests when he needed help with a DUI defendant who speaks only Spanish. But The Herald found that Blanco did the DUI test in 106 cases for officers and troopers who speak Spanish and are qualified to do their own testing. Officer 'did nothing' In one case The Herald found, a prosecutor wrote next to Blanco's name in the file: "did nothing." She appeared in court three times on that case and received $159.94. Lt. Carlos Alfaro, in charge of Miami Police Court Liaison at the time, said management knew of Blanco's testing and allowed her and another front-desk officer, Antonio Miranda, to do it. "That was a procedure that was condoned and implemented in the South District because they did a lot of DUIs for other agencies, " Alfaro said. "Obviously, they had the best of both worlds. They sat behind a desk, and they made a lot of overtime. I think in their cases they just took advantage of the situation presented to them." The Herald found other pairs of Miami officers and FHP troopers who appeared together in DUI arrests at the south substation. Miami Police Sgt. Ariel Rojas appeared in 36 cases with former FHP Trooper Jackie Gipson-Rojas, now his wife. In one two-day period in March 1995, Rojas, then an officer, appeared with Gipson in three separate DUI arrests. They weren't married at the time. On one of those days, Rojas, 37, a 16-year veteran, pulled off an even more remarkable feat: He appeared in three different DUI cases at once. Simultaneous cases Here's how he did it: At 1:05 a.m. on March 4, 1995, Rojas started supervising a Drug Recognition Evaluation of Miguel Bode, a drunk-driving defendant who later turned out to be alcohol- and drug-free. The DRE test is given when a breath test shows no evidence of alcohol but officers believe the defendant is impaired by drugs. Rojas worked on the DRE test from 1:05 a.m. to 2 a.m., when he completed the evaluation and signed it. He appears as a witness in two other simultaneous DUI cases in which his role was never specified. Rojas says he does not remember what he did on those two cases. But he believes he might have observed the two defendants in the DUI room while he was supervising the DRE test. "It doesn't mean when you do a test it's nonstop, " he said. He also said he might have transported the defendants to jail after their arrest. He did not get a chance to go to court and receive overtime in the two cases, because the defendants took early pleas. Thousands in overtime Rojas was paid $13,724.77 in court overtime in 1995. Alfaro said he caught Sgt. Rojas piling on to DUI cases and gave him a warning in April 1996 along with five other officers whom Rojas supervised: Luis Taborda, Luis Molina, Dawn Campbell, Alberto Garcia and Luis Brignardello. "I said, 'This is improper, this is wrong, you've got to stop this, ' " Alfaro recalled. "I didn't catch him doing anything after this." Rojas said Alfaro told him only to be sure he and his men listed their roles on the back of the arrest forms. Rojas said he wrote his own memos that reflect his desire to reduce court overtime. He said he got into an argument with a trooper trying to prevent one of his officers from doing the trooper's DUI test. "In reality, yes, there were problems, and those problems were addressed, " Rojas said.

METRO-DADE POLICE Needed or not, some cops seek out drunk drivers

It's nearly midnight on a Friday, and Metro-Dade Police Officer Joseph Meyer is out hunting drunk drivers. He turns his green-and-white police car into the emergency lane of Interstate 95, where a colleague has stopped a white van for weaving. It's something Meyer has done hundreds of times before. He's a Collars for Dollars cop. "A lot of times, I'm the one who gets called to the scene and does the roadsides, or takes the [defendant] to the station for processing, " Meyer says. That's how Meyer piles on to drunk driving cases: He gets involved whether he's needed or not. He sees nothing wrong with that. And he's not alone. In the Miami Lakes district, Meyer and Officers Ignacio Alvarez, Albert Falcon and Charlie Daye formed a self-appointed squadron of DUI busters, Collars for Dollars style. Various members of the quartet appeared together in dozens of cases. They excelled at earning court overtime without doing essential police work, or by divvying up tasks they could have handled themselves. Eight officers involved Three of them did it in the case of a driver stopped by a sergeant on Feb. 11, 1995. Meyer gave the roadside and breath-alcohol tests. A third officer signed some paperwork. Without explanation, Alvarez, Daye and three more officers were also listed on the arrest form. Then they all went to court. Alvarez earned at least $204 in overtime. Daye earned at least $181. The routine case, which involved eight officers, cost taxpayers more than $1,688. "There were eight in that case?" Metro Police Director Carlos Alvarez said. "The most I could see would be three. If you could give me that information, I would make it an Internal Review case." The overtime abuse is endemic to the graveyard shift, when most drunk driving arrests occur. Officers on the midnight shift feel more compelled to back each other up. "Especially when you work midnights, you become very tight, " Officer James Edwards said. "It's dark, it's a little more dangerous, you tend to become more of a family than during the day, when you're spread out because there's so many more calls." Yet some of the piggybacking has nothing to do with officer safety. After Jacinto Corzo and two other Doral officers arrested Benito Lahera on May 11, 1995, Officer Joseph Miller added his name to the traffic ticket underneath the signature of another officer. That's all Miller did -- and it made him eligible for court overtime. Splitting the work Corzo, also honored as one of the state's top DUI officers, repeatedly split work with others who were qualified to handle the breath-alcohol or roadside tests themselves. With 3,000 officers and 1,839 square miles to cover, Metro is the county's largest, best-equipped and most professionally run police agency. Yet it hasn't been able to stamp out Collars for Dollars throughout its nine districts. Why? The supervisors who are supposed to control such abuse often partake in it. In Miami Lakes, for instance, Meyer's immediate supervisor in 1995 and 1996 was Bryan Rudy, the same Miami Lakes sergeant listed as a witness on 47 DUI arrests with his fiancee-turned-wife, Catherine. On July 21, 1996, Catherine Rudy stopped Theodore Renrick for drunk driving. Even though Rudy is certified to handle all DUI tests herself, a second officer did the roadside tests and a third officer performed the breath-alcohol exam. A fourth officer read Miranda rights: Bryan Rudy. Later, all four officers went to court and earned overtime on the case. Director Alvarez said one spouse is not supposed to supervise another. "I wouldn't permit that, " he said. Working as a couple They weren't the only married couple who worked together on DUI cases. Officers Helly Caraballo and Jilbearte Pinto bought a house in May 1995, while working together in the Hammocks district. They married in September 1995. Neither was among Metro's top DUI enforcers. But in February that same year, the couple split the work on a drunk driving case. The accused driver, Alexander Szarka, had a prior DUI conviction, but he got off free because both officers failed to appear in court twice. Caraballo was transferred to the Kendall district on July 10, 1995. Against the rules, he quickly crossed back into the Hammocks to make more cases with his fiancee. It first happened 19 days after his transfer. Then, eight days after that, even more of a stretch: Caraballo stopped Jorge L. Gonzalez for drunk driving in the Doral district, some 32 blocks north of the Kendall district boundary. Normally, officers do not make traffic stops outside their assigned territory. Caraballo should have taken Gonzalez to Doral, the closest station, for a breath-alcohol test. Instead, he transported him many more miles south and east to the Hammocks, where fiancee Pinto performed the test. "It happens; I won't deny it, " Sgt. Jose Zarraga said of police piggybacking. "There are isolated squads." He said it all violates department rules. Probe of Doral district The Herald found Collars for Dollars officers peppered throughout the department, though the Doral district has a generous share. Internal Affairs detectives opened an investigation there after The Herald asked questions about Collars for Dollars abuse. "I understand the point of view that there may have been hanky-panky going on, " admitted James Edwards, a Doral officer. But he said nobody he worked with had "consciously" done anything wrong. Edwards and Officer Javier Arias worked together on 67 cases. Frequently, Edwards was listed on the back of those arrest forms without any explanation of the police work he performed. Edwards said he was on the scene in every case bearing his name. He said he might have witnessed roadsides -- the standard battery of coordination tests --since he teaches them. Or, as the squad's occasional acting sergeant, he said he might have stopped by to check on his colleagues. "Exactly what I did on [a particular] case, I'm not sure, " Edwards said. Towing for overtime Officers who tow a car are never essential witnesses in court. Yet it took two cops to fill out the one-page tow slip when Edwards and another officer arrested a drunk driver on April 2, 1995. That made both towing officers eligible for overtime. Three other officers who did no police work were also listed on the arrest form. Why so many cops on one case? Edwards admitted that seven officers are rarely necessary, but added: "I'm not going to tell another officer to go away. That's mean. That's just nasty. You lose friends that way." Other Metro officers are in danger of losing friends in the State Attorney's Office. Last month, six Metro cops -- including Meyer and Bryan Rudy -- were written up for acting "abrupt, less than helpful or unprofessional" toward prosecutors trying to curb overtime abuse.

MIAMI BEACH POLICE Midnight shift counts on some extra money

On any weekend night in South Beach, uniformed Miami Beach cops are working the streets and the bars in the seven square miles of the city. Some are on-duty patrol officers in cars and on bicycles; many others are off duty, hired by one of the clubs. Often, the off-duty cops alert their on-duty colleagues to intoxicated bar patrons getting into cars. When the drivers subsequently are stopped for drunk driving, the off-duty officers become witnesses, eligible for court overtime. Midnight shift cops rely on that extra money. In Miami Beach, particularly in the south sector, the money flowed for years. An undisciplined atmosphere pervaded the midnight shift. Many of the Beach officers working off duty were paid cash by the club owners, in violation of department rules. The officers didn't want checks. "They said, 'No, we have to be paid cash, that's the way we work, ' " Le Bain club manager Carlos Laforet said under oath last year. "So we did it." At the courthouse, where the cops must clock in to get their overtime pay, officers checked in for each other and no one questioned it. Cops who were late for court and missed their hearings got paid anyway. Little control The conditions were ripe for abuse. "Nobody was watching the ship, " Police Chief Richard Barreto said. They are now. An anonymous letter last year led to state investigations of Beach officers for taking cash from club owners and getting paid for court appearances and off-duty work at the same time. In the course of the investigation, nearly the entire midnight shift was questioned. Some officers described classic Collars for Dollars cases to the prosecutors. But prosecutors did not investigate those abuses. The Herald, however, did. The newspaper found that two of the officers implicated in the state probes -- Guillermo Berrier, who was fired, and Hector Trujillo, who was arrested and charged with racketeering -- were among the top Collars for Dollars officers in the department. In fact, nearly everyone on the midnight shift has participated in a Collars for Dollars case -- the rookies, the training officers, even the sergeants, including one who now works in internal affairs. That sergeant, Louis Fata, earned overtime in one case for watching a roadside test given by someone else. Fata, who earned $15,000 in court overtime in 1995, said he did not intentionally abuse the overtime policy, but conceded he never should have been listed as a witness. "Just because I was present doesn't mean I was paying attention, " he said. "If the officer has nothing substantial to add, he shouldn't go down." The role of sergeants Although the police department's rules state that sergeants should rarely be listed as witnesses in routine DUI cases, The Herald found it happened frequently. Twice in 1995, sergeants claimed to be witnesses in five DUI cases on the same night. One of those sergeants was Jerry Millican, a 25-year veteran known as a wise problem-solver. He had been a sergeant since 1981, three years after winning the department's Valor Award for rescuing three people -- including two babies -- from an apartment filled with gas. It was no secret to anyone in the Miami Beach Police Department that Millican wanted to boost his pension before he retired. The Beach counts overtime in its pension calculations -- but limits officers from exceeding their current rank. But Millican had been with the department so long that he was covered under a previous rule. It allowed him to base his retirement on his two highest-paying years in the department, overtime included. So Millican joined the midnight shift. He was subpoenaed in 131 drunk driving cases, many in which he did little or no police work. In court overtime alone, he earned $27,124 last year. He made so much overtime -- $80,511 in two years -- that he retired in December with a $77,637 pension. The 50-year-old sergeant's salary was only $56,840. "I'm afraid I have no comment, " said Millican, reached at his North Carolina home. He said he had never heard the phrase Collars for Dollars. Doing the paperwork But The Herald found Millican in obvious Collars for Dollars cases. Like the arrest of a 27-year-old Fort Lauderdale woman caught speeding on Washington Avenue in a white Jaguar last year. It took eight officers to complete the DUI arrest. Total overtime cost: $1,286. Millican's role: He signed the arrest form, part of his job as the shift supervisor. He also signed another piece of paper: an affidavit that said the driver refused to take a breath test. But another officer also signed a different form stating the same thing. According to department rules, completing paperwork is not reason enough for a court appearance. "We had a couple of senior sergeants going to DUI court quite often. We knew that, " Chief Barreto said. "Their position is, 'I did my job. I went by as a conscientious officer.' With a senior sergeant looking to retire, hoping to build up his pension, if he can find a reason to be at these hearings, he'll do it." Other sergeants found reasons to be in court, too. David Young, a 17-year veteran, became a midnight shift sergeant in 1994. Soon, Young began appearing in court on dozens of drunk driving cases in which he was not the arresting officer. Young earned $21,906 in court overtime in 1995. "Sometimes you can't help but witness something, " Young told The Herald. Little work performed But in many of Young's cases, he merely signed paperwork or showed up at the scene, performing little or no police work. The night of June 17, 1995, though busy, serves as a perfect illustration of how cops pile on to drunk driving cases. Seven suspected drunk drivers were arrested, including two whose vehicles crashed into each other. The first case involved a carpenter caught speeding on Washington Avenue. Sgt. Young's name appeared only on the back of the arrest form, scribbled in handwriting different from that of the officer who wrote the report. Five other officers were also listed. "We don't need Young to make our case, " prosecutors noted when Young's vacation coincided with a court date in the case. No matter. Young appeared the next time the case was scheduled for trial. His overtime: $234. Four of the cases occurred within one hour, between 5 and 6 a.m. Young and Officer Carlos Gil were witnesses in all of them. Officers Gary Aime and Guillermo Berrier appeared in three of them. Each did little or no police work in at least two of the cases. Aime told The Herald he participated legitimately in cases. He said he wasn't making arrests to generate overtime. "It wasn't that, " he said. 3 cases in 12 minutes Officer Mark Causey, now a detective in the department's award-winning gang unit, was listed as a witness in three of the cases in a 12-minute span. In two cases, Causey appeared to be in two places at the same time. According to records that he signed, Causey was asking Victor Malo to take a breath test in the police station at 5:37 a.m. and also arresting Timothy Blake between 5:28 a.m. and 5:39 a.m., several blocks away. In the third case, Causey's only role was to notarize an affidavit that detailed the results of a driver's breath test, which was given at 5:38 a.m. and 5:40 a.m. But he wasn't needed to do that. There were other cops in the DUI room at the time who could have signed the paperwork. Causey earned $15,000 in court overtime last year. He isn't the only Beach officer who appears to have achieved the impossible. Officer William Guillem was listed as a witness on the scene of a DUI case that occurred on Dec. 14, 1994, at 5:30 a.m. But his patrol logs show he was working on another case at that time. That's how Collars for Dollars cases work. Cops help each other get included in arrests. "We don't have a set partner, but you have people that you prefer to go to calls with or hang out with, " said Alberto Estraviz, the department's 1995 Officer of the Year. He and Causey were in 93 DUI cases together, even though each was state-certified to give drunk driving tests. In one case, Estraviz's only role was signing a piece of paper that swore he was a witness when Causey read Miranda rights to an Italian tourist. In that case, the prosecutor noted that she was missing the back of the arrest form that listed the names of the officers. "Miami Beach case, " she wrote. "Back of A-form would have 10 extra useless officers."

Herald Research Editor Dan Keating contributed to this report.

A GALLERY OF COLLARS-FOR-DOLLARS COPS THE FOLLOWING OFFICERS WERE REPEATEDLY LISTED AS WITNESSES IN CASES IN WHICH THEY DID LITTLE OR NO POLICE WORK, WERE NOT ESSENTIAL TO PROSECUTING THE CASE IN COURT OR UNNECESSARILY SPLIT WORK WITH OTHER OFFICERS. METRO-DADE POLICE Ignacio Alvarez Charlie Daye Jilbearte Caraballo Helly Caraballo Jacinto Corzo James Edwards Albert Falcon Joseph Meyer Bryan Rudy Catherine Rudy

MIAMI POLICE DEPARTMENT Sandra Blanco. Dawn Campbell. William Clayton Carlos De Los Santos. Alberto Garcia. Jackie Jesurum. Jorge Morin. Ariel Rojas. Barbara Shaffner. Luis Taborda. MIAMI BEACH POLICE DEPARTMENT Guillermo Berrier Mark Causey Alberto Estraviz Jerry Millican Rigoberto Olivera Alberto Prieto

Mario Rojo Hector Trujillo David Williams David Young

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