Last December, a Miami Beach fire inspector suspected of squeezing a club owner with code violations if he didn’t pay him bribes decided to broaden his horizons, authorities say.
So Henry L. Bryant unwittingly asked an undercover FBI agent posing as the manager at Club Dolce on Ocean Drive if he “needed help with anything else.”
The agent said he needed “protection for the transportation of drugs from the nightclub,” according to a recording of their conversation.
Now, a Miami federal jury must decide the fate of Bryant, Miami-Dade police officer Daniel Mack and Bryant’s friend, Octavius McLendon, accused of conspiring to possess and distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine. If convicted, each could face up to life in prison.
The challenge for prosecutors during the trial that ended with closing arguments Tuesday: proving that Bryant, 46; Mack, 48, and McLendon, 31, believed they were involved in the conspiracy to distribute two loads of cocaine totaling 19 kilograms. Jurors must make that finding to convict them because the men were paid $25,000 by the undercover FBI agent at Club Dolce to transport “sham,” or fake, cocaine, from Miami Beach to Aventura.
“Each of these defendants knew what was being moved in those bags,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Dwyer argued, pointing to the black duffel bags allegedly used to transport the bricks of sham cocaine in December and January. “Each of these men knew they were moving drugs.”
The defendants’ attorneys argued that their clients did not know they were transporting cocaine. They claimed the defendants believed the bags contained money being secretly shipped by the owner of Club Dolce.
“[The prosecutors] have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince you that Daniel Mack had a clue” that these loads contained drugs, said his attorney, Andre Rouviere.
“This is a case where the government wants you to assume this is about a drug deal,” Rouviere told the jurors. “The government wants you to take leaps and bounds of assumptions.”
Said Bryant’s attorney Anthony Stonick: “The U.S. government — they want to have their sham case and eat their sham case, too.”
The conspiracy case against the three grew out of an FBI probe of the Miami Beach Building Department’s code compliance division and fire inspection unit. The probe resulted in the arrest of seven employees, including Bryant, on extortion charges.
The FBI began investigating the ring of code officers and fire inspectors in June 2011 after a South Beach club owner complained that lead code enforcement officer Jose Alberto threatened to fine his club $30,000 for littered promotional fliers unless he received a $3,000 bribe, according to an FBI affidavit.
The FBI made the owner a paid informant, gave him money to pay bribes and sent the undercover agent to pose as club manager.
At about that same time, Chai Footman, a Beach fire inspector, introduced himself to the club’s owner and offered to protect the club from fire inspections in exchange for comped parties.
Footman then introduced the agent to Bryant, the Beach senior fire inspector, when the club needed to secure a permit for a new sign, according to the FBI affidavit. And in early December, Bryant offered to help the undercover agent further, and the agent asked him to assist with distributing drugs, the affidavit said.
Bryant said he knew two Miami Beach cops and four Miami-Dade County cops who could help, and said the Miami Beach officers would follow him until the city limits, the affidavit said. No Miami Beach officers were charged in the case.
On Dec. 21, 2011, Bryant went to the club and picked up nine individually wrapped kilograms of “sham” cocaine in a duffel, drove north in his own car and was followed by a gold sedan until he left Miami Beach. Bryant’s passenger during the trip: McLendon.
A marked Miami-Dade police cruiser driven by Mack began tailing the firefighter until he reached a drop-off point at the Aventura Mall, the affidavit said.
Agents gave Bryant $10,500 for the job, to be split among himself, Mack and McLendon.
On Jan. 14, Bryant, with McLendon, transported one more 10 kilogram bundle of “sham” cocaine with an escort from Mack, who wore his uniform when he met the agents and agreed to the deal at a North Dade restaurant, according to the affidavit. Bryant allegedly got $14,500 for the deal.