Miami Beach

Miami Beach code officer gets prison time

 

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

A fired Miami Beach code enforcement supervisor who led the shakedown of a nightclub owner for thousands of dollars was sent to prison Tuesday for more than four years.

Jose L. Alberto, 42, was taken into custody immediately after U.S. District Judge Robert Scola sentenced him.

Alberto was arrested along with six other Miami Beach employees earlier this year in an FBI sting operation that shook City Hall. Collectively, the ring extorted $25,000 from the Miami Beach nightclub owner, who tipped off authorities.

In August, Alberto pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit extortion. He admitted personally accepting 22 separate cash bribes totaling $16,600 from the Club Dolce owner and an FBI undercover agent.

Alberto, whom the city hired in 1993, earned $122,000 with overtime pay in 2011 as the second-in-command of the Building Department’s code compliance division.

Prosecutors accused Alberto and his colleagues of shaking down the owner of Club Dolce on Ocean Drive while demanding he pay for “protection” to avoid city fines and inspections.

The sensational sting featured the undercover FBI agent posing as the club manager who fooled them all as he partied with some of the municipal employees.

According to a recorded conversation in November 2011, the agent told Alberto that he "would take care of people" to ensure the nightclub’s success. Alberto responded: “As long as you ain’t no FBI or none of that s---. We are straight.”

Alberto was charged along with fellow Miami Beach code officers Willie Grant, 56; Orlando Gonzalez, 33; Ramon Vasallo, 31; and Vicente Santiesteban, 30. They have all pleaded guilty.

Miami Beach firefighters Chai Footman, 37, and Henry Bryant, 46, also were charged for their roles in the same alleged extortion scheme. Both have plead guilty.

After accepting a few thousand dollars in bribes to help the South Beach club gloss over code violations and tax debts, Alberto introduced club management to Bryant, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Dwyer.

Bryant conspired to expedite permits while finding police escorts for cocaine deals, Dwyer said.

A separate indictment charged Miami-Dade police Officer Daniel Mack, 48, with helping Bryant transport more than a dozen kilograms of fake cocaine for undercover agents in exchange for $25,000. Mack and Bryant were charged with conspiring to possess and distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.

In October, Bryant, Mack and co-defendant Octavius McLendon, a friend of Bryant’s, were each found guilty of conspiring to possess and distribute multiple kilos of cocaine and using a firearm to protect the shipments. Together, the convictions carry a minimum sentence of 15 years and could lead to life in prison.

Bryant and McLendon also were convicted of two additional counts of attempting to possess and distribute drug loads last December and in January. Mack was acquitted of the former count, but convicted of the latter.

The challenge for prosecutors during the trial: proving that the three defendants believed they were distributing real cocaine. The charges involved two loads of fake coke, totaling 19 kilograms. The defendants were paid $25,000 by the undercover FBI agent at Club Dolce to transport the "sham’’ drugs from Miami Beach to Aventura.

The arrests shocked Miami Beach officials, even though accusations documented by FBI special agent Matthew Fowler in criminal complaints suggested the employees were taking bribes or transporting drugs for years - in a scheme strikingly similar to past Beach corruption cases.

Alberto began working for Miami Beach as a parks and recreation attendant, applied to become a code officer in 1996, and by the time he was arrested was the lead code administrator.

He supervised 43 staff members and was considered a key part of the city’s code compliance operations. He was credited with the idea of placing plainclothes code officers on the beach after residents complained about litter on the shoreline.

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