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.
This squalid theater in the heart of Opa-lockas Arabian Nights-themed city, an apartment complex known as the Back Blues, 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, accepted bribes, provided the armored car killer with a bulletproof vest and helped sabotage the FBIs drug sting, according to allegations made in court documents.
The probe that led to Baloms arrest is only one of many state, federal and local investigations into possible corruption within the Opa-locka Police Department, which has the reputation of being among the most troubled law enforcement agencies in the state.
Im 79 now and Im not going to jail for nobody, said Clarance Patterson, who as city manager of Opa-locka was in charge of public safety, including the police department. The things I was being asked to do, I just wouldnt do. Im not saying anybody asked me to do anything illegal, but the city and the police department have some serious problems and need cleaning up.
Confidential inquiry that wasnt
In January 2011, Patterson launched what was supposed to be a confidential inquiry into complaints he had been receiving about the department. The complaints ranged from mundane gripes to serious criminal allegations. Among them: that officers received sex from female suspects in exchange for leniency, that officers stole evidence, and that politicians asked for favors and otherwise meddled in departmental hiring and firing.
But the inquiry, which was handled by the citys human resources director, became public and, within weeks, all the officers who participated, as well as the human resources director, were fired.
Patterson abruptly resigned shortly thereafter, in June 2011, telling commissioners that Vice Mayor Dorothy Johnson had called his wife and claimed Patterson was having an extra-marital affair. Johnson admitted calling his wife, but denied she said anything about an affair. For Patterson, who served just 16 months on the job, it was enough.
They were essentially hiring people and firing people to satisfy certain elected officials, and thats not good, Patterson said.
The city, which was built in 1925 by millionaire aviator Glenn Curtiss, was modeled after the childrens 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. But over the past 50 years, its storybook veneer has crumbled under the weight of poverty, politics and crime.
Court documents, internal affairs files, police reports and Florida Department of Law Enforcement records obtained by The Herald over the past six months show: