Opening statements are scheduled for Thursday afternoon in the U.S. government’s sensitive case against a Miami police sergeant charged with planting cocaine on a suspect and stealing drugs and money from dealers.
Although federal criminal cases routinely lack transparency before trial, the prosecution of Raul Iglesias has been particularly secretive because police officers — including several Miami undercover detectives who once worked in his street unit — are expected to testify against the veteran cop.
Iglesias, 40, was indicted in July on nine counts, including violating suspects’ civil rights, conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, obstruction of justice and making false statements. Iglesias, who was relived of duty with pay in 2010, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Soon after Iglesias was indicted in July, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro sought a court order to restrict disclosure of witnesses’ names, grand jury testimony, FBI statements and undercover recordings. Iglesias’ defense attorney, Rick Diaz, agreed to the terms.
Del Toro’s request, approved by U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga, was intended “to protect the sensitive information in the discovery materials and to prevent intimidation of or tampering with the witnesses.” Under the terms, Iglesias’ attorney was required to hold all evidence in “strict confidence,” including requiring his witnesses to sign the protective order.
But the secrecy shrouding the sergeant’s drug-trafficking case will slowly fade at trial, when both sides begin questioning police detectives who initially snitched about their boss’ alleged misconduct to the Miami Police Department’s internal affairs section, which called the FBI.
Iglesias’ defense attorney, Diaz, plans to put on a defense accusing undercover detectives and FBI agents of setting up Iglesias by planting incriminating evidence on him in a sting.
Diaz, who declined to comment on the eve of trial, said after his client’s indictment that the defense was “looking forward to trying this case in front of a jury.”
Iglesias, who has been with the Miami Police Department for 18 years, ran the Central District’s Crime Suppression Unit, which targeted drug traffickers.
Iglesias’ indictment was not unexpected. One of his former detectives, Roberto Asanza, was arrested, pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with authorities in building the case against Iglesias.
Asanza was busted in June 2011. A year earlier, FBI agents had detained him, seizing 10 bags of cocaine and two bags of marijuana stolen from a window-tinting shop in Allapattah.
According to court documents, Asanza told agents that he and Iglesias used some of the stolen cocaine to pay off a confidential informant who had tipped them off to the drugs at the tint shop.
“Asanza admitted that he knew it was wrong to give drugs to the [informant], but that he was trying to build a rapport with the” informant, according to the criminal complaint for his arrest.
Asanza, an ex-Marine who was initially a reluctant witness against his boss, pleaded guilty last February to a minor drug charge of possessing a controlled substance, and was sentenced to one year of probation, court records show. He also gave up his law-enforcement certification.
The indictment cited at least four dates when Iglesias allegedly stole or planted drugs, or lied to investigators.
On Jan. 27, 2010, Iglesias ordered two of his officers to search a man identified in court documents only as “R.H.” When no drugs were found, Iglesias allegedly asked his officers for some “throw-down dope” to plant on the man.
A third officer, identified only as “R.M.,” gave him the drugs, and the man was arrested, according to the indictment.
On April 8, 2010, Iglesias stole “money and property” from someone identified only as “C.R.,” the indictment alleges.
Then on May 5, 2010, he is alleged to have stolen marijuana and cocaine from the Allapattah tint shop. Twenty days later, the indictment alleges, Iglesias lied when he said he did not know how much money was in a box seized that day as well.
Iglesias also “represented that he did not steal any drugs or money from arrest subjects when in truth and fact . . . the defendant did steal drugs and money from arrest subjects,” the indictment states.