Fired cop turns the tables on accusers

 

Only one city of Miami police officer has ever been referred for criminal prosecution on a "Collars for Dollars" allegation.

In 1993, Wilfredo Perez-Borroto, then a 25-year-old patrolman, was accused of stealing overtime money by going to court on cases he had nothing to do with. But prosecutors couldn't prove he stole a dime. The department decided last year to fire him anyway.

So he called The Herald. "They've accused me of theft, " he said in August. "You want to see theft? I'll show you what theft is." He said he had evidence that numerous Miami midnight shift officers were getting court overtime they didn't deserve. His research gave a starting point to Herald reporters, who documented hundreds of additional abuses in the Miami, Metro-Dade and Miami Beach departments. "Don't throw rocks at me when you live in a glass house, " Perez-Borroto said. At first, Miami Police Chief Donald Warshaw told The Herald that Perez-Borroto was fired because he had been stealing. "It's a theft of money, " Warshaw said. Informed that an investigation by the state attorney's office failed to establish theft, Warshaw said later, "I'll retract the word 'stealing.' He was found guilty of misconduct, untruthfulness, making a false statement, filing a false report." Perez-Borroto insists he was falsely accused. "These guys set me up, " he said. "It was personal." An ironic twist Wilfredo Perez-Borroto's story is laden with irony: A lowly cop, accused of stealing overtime, turns the accusation against the department itself. "Every now and again, a goat has to be culled out of the herd and tied up and left out there for the lions to chew on, " said Douglas L. Williams, Perez-Borroto's lawyer. "And this time Willie was the goat." He turned out to be a goat with fangs. After he was suspended, stripped of his badge and uniform, he set out to investigate his own department. He bought a computer and spent more than $1,000 to copy court documents. "I did to them what they did to me, " Perez-Borroto said. A cocky, aggressive man who never went to college and joined the Miami police force out of the U.S. Army at age 20, Willie Perez-Borroto is a maverick with a temper that gets him into trouble. "I was my own worst enemy, " he says now. "I let my mouth get ahead of my head." Clashed with supervisor As a cop on the midnight shift in Miami's Central District, he enjoyed chasing down car thieves. Criticized for being too aggressive, Perez-Borroto clashed with his supervisor, Sgt. John Campbell. "Perez-Borroto was a kid I really tried to turn into a good cop, " Campbell, now a lieutenant, told The Herald recently. "He was one of my failures." Campbell described Perez-Borroto as "above average" in performance but lacking in judgment. "He was kind of losing control on the street, " Campbell said. "He was like a loose cannon." Perez-Borroto responds that Campbell wrote him 21 commendations in 13 months. Perez-Borroto's file also shows that he earned the "Blue Knight" award as division officer of the month in December 1991. After his run-in with Campbell, Perez-Borroto was transferred to a desk job. In October 1993, Perez-Borroto was abruptly relieved of duty "pending criminal investigation." For four months, he sat home. He had to hire a lawyer, and his legal bills were killing him. His marriage collapsed. "I lost my home. I lost my marriage, " he said. "I was suicidal."

Rumors circulated that he had stolen a massive amount of overtime money by falsely claiming to be a witness in hundreds of cases. (Officers who write their names on the back of arrest forms are automatically subpoenaed to court as witnesses and paid overtime.)

Reaction to rumors Perez-Borroto said he was stunned by the rumors. He said he had not collected a massive amount of overtime. But he said overtime abuse was rampant in the department. Veterans, he said, schooled rookies to list fellow officers and even supervisors as witnesses so they could all go to court and earn overtime. They joked about it, he said, bragging about buying expensive cars with the extra money. "How can you nail me for something that you know has gone on here for years?" he said he thought at the time. In January 1994, he was allowed to return to work on limited duty as the investigation continued. He remained the goat. He answered phones at the front desk in plain clothes. His tires were slashed in the parking lot. He was transferred repeatedly. "His car was vandalized on several occasions, " said former Miami Police Sgt. Pete Miranda, who retired this year. "I firmly believe he was the victim of a hangman mentality. I think they threw him to the wolves, and everybody got a piece of him. And it was a great injustice because Willie was a good street policeman." Perez-Borroto eventually learned that Sgt. John Campbell had started the investigation against him. Campbell later said that a midnight shift officer complained that Perez-Borroto was listing himself as a witness in cases he had nothing to do with. Campbell spent a day checking out the tip and then referred a complaint to Internal Affairs. Eight days later, Perez-Borroto was suspended. "It is evident, even in this initial investigation, that there is serious potential wrongdoing, " Campbell wrote in a letter to Internal Affairs. Case for suspension Campbell mentioned theft and misconduct. In his letter, he cited three of Perez-Borroto's cases. Campbell stated that Perez-Borroto "collected overtime, at least twice and perhaps three times for one case that he had no participation in." That turned out to be incorrect. In a 22-month investigation, Internal Affairs Detective Jesse Kelly looked at 121 more of Perez-Borroto's cases. He presented six to prosecutors as evidence. But none of them showed that Perez-Borroto stole money. "I became aware very quickly that even if there was a theft involved, it wasn't going to be a great deal of money, " Kelly said. "Whether he made any money on these cases or not, the intent was there. There's absolutely no doubt in my mind as an investigator." But prosecutors closed the case without charges. "It would be unreasonable to expect a jury to convict Perez-Borroto of attempting to steal overtime compensation when he clearly had numerous opportunities to do so but either did not appear in court or did not put in for any overtime pay, " prosecutor Juan Antonio Gonzalez concluded. With no stolen money in evidence, the case turned into a misconduct allegation before the city's Civil Service Board. The issue: Did Perez-Borroto lie by listing himself as a witness in the arrest reports for the six cases? Chief Warshaw said Perez-Borroto lied because he was far from the crime scenes and couldn't have witnessed anything. Warshaw said this is what makes Perez-Borroto's case more serious than piggybacking, which the chief describes as more officers than necessary showing up at a scene in order to make court overtime money. Officer's side of story Perez-Borroto said he listed himself as a witness in the six cases only after defendants made statements to him while he transported them from the scene or took them into custody in the station. But Perez-Borroto admits he made a mistake: He did not write what the defendants said to him in the arrest reports, and he failed to inform the other officers in the case. Prosecutor Gonzalez said he found it "incredible" that Perez-Borroto didn't write down what he heard. But Gonzalez also said that the fact Perez-Borroto did not make money raised questions about the case against him. "Which leads you to the conclusion: One, it really wasn't a scheme and what he said was true but just incredible, " Gonzalez said. "Or two: He had just started doing it." To counter Perez-Borroto's defense, the city called in officers who said they did not know why Perez-Borroto was listed as a witness in their cases.

But at the same time, another officer surfaced who seemed to have done what Perez-Borroto was accused of doing. That officer, William Clayton, was listed as a witness -- with no apparent role -- in one of the cases in which Perez-Borroto was alleged to have had no role. Questions and answers Clayton was questioned about his role in that case at the Civil Service hearing. Clayton said he was listed by mistake. Clayton was asked if he went to court and earned money for the case. Clayton: "Not to my knowledge." But The Herald found that he did. On Oct. 28, 1993, Clayton went to court and put in forthree hours of overtime worth nearly $100 for the case, firearm and grand theft charges against a 17-year-old juvenile. (Clayton did not respond to a letter and a request The Herald faxed to Miami Police public information seeking his comment.) The Civil Service Board voted 5-0 that Perez-Borroto lied and should be fired. Perez-Borroto is appealing. He said he went public because he wants his 56-year-old father, an immigrant who speaks little English, to know the truth. "You know how hard it is to explain this?" he said. "You know how hard it is to get anyone to believe me?"

THE HEARING: WILFREDO PEREZ-BORROTO FIGHTS FOR HIS JOB WHEN CITY OF MIAMI POLICE DECIDED TO FIRE OFFICER WILFREDO PEREZ-BORROTO FOR A COLLARS FOR DOLLARS ALLEGATION, HE APPEALED TO A POLICE REVIEW BOARD AND WON. THE CITY TURNED TO MIAMI'S CIVIL SERVICE BOARD IN THE SUMMER OF 1996. PEREZ-BORROTO LOST AND WAS FIRED. HE IS NOW APPEALING. B. CLAYTON OR W. CLAYTON? Perez-Borroto's attorney, Douglas L. Williams, left, grills Miami Police Officer William Clayton at the civil service hearing. Perez-Borroto was accused of putting his name on the back of six arrest forms in cases in which he had no direct involvement. Ironically, in one of those cases, Clayton was also listed as a witness, even though he, too, had no apparent role in the case. Clayton said his name was mistakenly written down as "B. Clayton" by someone else. "My name is W. Clayton, I never use B. Clayton, " Clayton said. He said that he did not go to court on the case. The Herald found that he did and got paid overtime. Show me the money Williams also cross-examined Miami Police Internal Affairs Detective Jesse Kelly, who did the investigation of Perez-Borroto. After a 22-month investigation, Kelly was unable to show that Perez-Borroto stole any court overtime money. Williams: "Sgt. Kelly, you did not, in point of fact, determine that there was ever a time when Officer Perez-Borroto appeared with regard to any of these six cases, testified and was paid, did you?" Kelly: "I can't answer that with a yes or no. . . . I have information, but I was never able to get a statement from any of the [assistant] state attorneys." Civil Service Board chairman: "So the answer is you don't know." Kelly: "That's correct."

ODYSSEY OF A WHISTLE-BLOWER SEPT. 28, 1993 -- MIAMI POLICE SGT. JOHN CAMPBELL SAYS HE GETS A TIP THAT OFFICER WILFREDO PEREZ-BORROTO IS SIGNING HIS NAME TO ARREST FORMS SO HE CAN GO TO COURT AND STEAL OVERTIME. Oct. 6, 1993 -- Sgt. Campbell refers a complaint to Internal Affairs. Oct. 14, 1993 -- Perez-Borroto is relieved of duty with pay and sent home. Nov. 18, 1993 -- Internal Affairs refers case to Dade State Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution. January 1994 -- Perez-Borroto is allowed to return to the police department on restricted administrative duty pending the state probe. Dec. 24, 1994 -- Perez-Borroto is restored to full duty. July 5, 1995 -- Perez-Borroto is relieved again. July 12, 1995 -- Sgt. Israel Gonzalez recommends that Perez-Borroto be fired. Oct. 1, 1995 -- The Police Departmental Disciplinary Review Board recommends by a 3-2 vote that Perez-Borroto be reinstated. Dec. 17, 1996 -- State Attorney's Office closes case against Perez-Borroto without charges. March 16, 1996 -- Police Chief Donald Warshaw fires Perez-Borroto. Perez-Borroto appeals. July 30, 1996 -- The City of Miami Civil Service Board hears Perez-Borroto's case, votes 5-0 that he should be fired. Aug. 28, 1996 -- Perez-Borroto contacts The Miami Herald. Jan. 17, 1997 -- City Manager signs document officially terminating Perez-Borroto.

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