Members of the Miami Police Department’s drug-fighting squad turned against their boss, Sgt. Raul Iglesias, accusing him in an unsigned letter of “stealing drugs and money as they are recovered from the hands of criminals.”
“In most instances there is a discrepancy in the amount of drugs and money [Iglesias] gives back to the officers to be reported in the arrest affidavit and turned into [the] property [room],” stated the April 13, 2010 letter, sent to the department’s internal affairs/corruption unit. “This happens 2-3 times per 4-day work week.”
“The officers are stunned each time, but feel that they have no recourse,” the letter concluded. “This has turned into a hostile work environment.”
The anonymously written letter sparked an FBI investigation that led to the federal prosecution of Iglesias, 40, who is standing trial on nine counts of conspiracy to possess cocaine, violating suspects’ civil rights, obstruction of justice and making false statements.
But Iglesias’ defense attorney, Rick Diaz, has chipped away at the broad-stroked allegations in the letter, which underscore the indictment brought against the 18-year police veteran. Diaz introduced the letter as evidence Monday, in an effort to demonstrate to jurors that the feds’ case is overcooked and vengeful.
Diaz, on cross-examination, compelled detective Suberto Hernandez, a member of the Crime Suppression Unit under Iglesias, to admit that he collaborated on the letter, though he said he did not write it. Hernandez further testified he never actually saw Iglesias plant drugs on a suspect, or steal narcotics or money from dope dealers.
“I did not,” Hernandez said repeatedly, adding that he did not know the author of the letter.
Two other detectives in Iglesias’ former unit, Rossicia Allen and Calvin Chalumeau, also testified Monday they knew about the letter sent to internal affairs, but did not participate in preparing it. Both also said they never witnessed Iglesias plant drugs on any suspect.
But Chalumeau testified Iglesias stole an unspecified amount of money seized from a Miami crack-cocaine dealer in April 2010, just days before the letter was sent to internal affairs.
Earlier in the trial, Hernandez, the detective, testified he found no drugs on a man who was suspected of buying small rocks of crack-cocaine from a dealer in a downtown Miami parking lot in early 2010.
Hernandez and fellow detective Luis Valdes told jurors that Iglesias asked the pair if they had any “throw-down dope” to plant on the suspected buyer after the initial search of the man during the Jan. 27, 2010, surveillance operation turned up no drugs.
Iglesias then told the detectives he found a tiny plastic baggie with cocaine residue in the back pocket of the suspect’s jeans — though neither detective saw Iglesias search the suspect. His defense attorney, Diaz, challenged the detectives’ stories and suggested that Iglesias simply found evidence that Hernandez had overlooked.
But the detectives said Iglesias called another detective from the police gang unit, Ricardo Martinez, who came to the scene and shook hands with Iglesias. After meeting with Martinez, Iglesias then produced a small baggie of cocaine.
Prosecutors Ricardo Del Toro and Michael Berger say Martinez — who was convicted of fencing stolen Bluetooth headsets in an unrelated case in 2011 — gave the bag of cocaine to Iglesias. But prosecutors are not expected to call Martinez as a witness.
Overall, the charges against Iglesias stem from what federal prosecutors have described as four separate incidents of misconduct over four months in 2010, when Iglesias supervised the undercover CSU.
Iglesias — an ex-Marine and Iraq War veteran — is accused of planting powdered cocaine on the suspect in January 2010, stealing cash after the arrest of a crack-cocaine dealer that April, ripping off drugs and money from a dope distributor that May, and then lying to investigators about a box of money left in an abandoned car as part of an FBI sting.
One member of Iglesias’ CSU team, former detective Roberto Asanza, has already pleaded guilty to misdemeanor drug charges from the alleged rip-off, and may testify against Iglesias later in the trial.
Iglesias, who was relieved of duty with pay in 2010, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.