Prosecutors: Miami Police sergeant on trial did “wrong instead of right’’

 

Prosecutors painted a corrupt portrait of a Miami police sergeant who ran a drug-fighting unit, but his lawyer said the supervisor was not guilty, at the start of his federal trial.

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

Miami Police Sgt. Raul Iglesias chose to do “wrong instead of right” in 2010 when he took over an undercover squad fighting drug dealing in the inner-city, a prosecutor said during opening statements of a federal trial Thursday.

Iglesias planted cocaine on a suspect and stole drugs and money from street dealers, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro told a 12-person jury. He also lied to FBI agents when they questioned him.

“He abused his badge and his authority and he committed crimes,” Del Toro told jurors.

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 between January and May 2010. Iglesias, who was relieved of duty with pay in 2010, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

The two-week trial is expected to be tricky for prosecutors, who plan to put on the stand several undercover detectives who worked in Iglesias’ street unit to testify against the 18-year veteran cop. Moreover, it was apparent from the opening statements of Iglesias’s attorney, Rick Diaz, that he plans to put on a vigorous defense by attacking the government’s portrayal of his client as a corrupt supervisor.

Diaz said Iglesias was actually striving to clean up a dirty Crime Suppression Unit, and that several undercover officers turned against him because they didn’t want to play by his rules.

Some of the CSU officers reported Iglesias’s alleged misconduct to the Miami Police Department’s internal affairs section, which notified the FBI.

But Diaz warned jurors: “Perception is sometimes not reality,” saying that the prosecutor “sees it one way and I see it the other.” Diaz declared he will show his client “is not guilty of each and every” count in the indictment, adding that the government’s case was largely built on the “word of convicted felons.”

The indictment cited at least four dates when Iglesias allegedly stole or planted drugs, or lied to investigators.

On Jan. 27, 2010 — his first day on the job as the CSU supervisor — Iglesias allegedly ordered two of his officers to search a man identified in court documents only as “R.H.” He was identified in court Thursday as Rafael Hernandez, who has a criminal history.

When cocaine was not found on him, Iglesias allegedly asked his officers, Luis Valdes and Suberto Hernandez, for some “throw-down dope” to plant on the suspect. But Valdes and Hernandez, who are scheduled to testify Friday for the prosecution, refused to carry out Iglesias’s order, Del Toro said.

A third officer from a gang unit, identified only as “R.M.,” gave Iglesias some cocaine to plant on the suspect, according to the indictment. That officer was identified in court as Ricardo Martinez. In 2011, he pleaded guilty in a separate federal case to helping fence a shipment of about 10,000 stolen Bluetooth headsets with plans to sell them on the black market.

“This was the first day [on the job] to see if his officers were going to play ball,” Del Toro said.

But Diaz said that account was not true. The defense attorney said Valdes and Chalumeau “missed” the drugs during the search, and Iglesias later found them on the suspect before making the arrest.

On April 8, 2010, Iglesias also allegedly stole “money and property” from someone identified as “C.R.,” according to the indictment. His name is Carlos Rivera, who also has a criminal record.

But Diaz said he plans to call Rivera as a witness, and asserted he will testify that “nobody took money from him that day.”

Then on May 5, 2010, Iglesias and another CSU officer allegedly stole marijuana and cocaine from a drug dealer who operated out of an Allapattah window-tinting shop.

One of Iglesias’s detectives, Roberto Asanza, pointed the finger at his boss after FBI agents detained the officer, seizing 10 bags of cocaine and two bags of marijuana stolen from the tinting shop.

According to court documents, Asanza told agents that he and Iglesias used some of the stolen cocaine to pay off a confidential informant, identified as David Altoro in court records. Altoro had tipped them off to the drugs at the tint shop, which led to the arrest of a dealer, Luis Roman.

“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 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. The ex-Marine also gave up his law-enforcement certification. He is expected to testify for the government.

Twenty days after the May 5 bust at the tint shop, Iglesias allegedly lied when he told FBI agents that he did not know how much money was stashed in a shoebox seized that day as well.

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