Courts

Jurors to decide fate of Miami police sergeant in drug-corruption trial

 

Dueling accusations of lies dominate closing arguments in the federal drug-corruption trial of Miami Police Sgt. Raul Iglesias.

jweaver@MiamiHerald.com

After hearing closing arguments about lies, lies and more lies, a federal jury will start deliberations Thursday to decide whether Miami Police Sgt. Raul Iglesias is the dirty cop depicted by prosecutors or the clean officer portrayed by his defense attorney.

The brawling federal trial pitted Iglesias against four detectives in his former drug-fighting squad, characterized as “heroes” by the prosecution for testifying against him but as “liars” by the defense in a rare courtroom showdown.

“We had four eyewitnesses — police officers who stood up to corruption, who stood up to what was wrong,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Ricardo Del Toro told the 12-member jury during closing arguments Wednesday.

“What reason do these guys have to lie? None,” added fellow prosecutor Michael Berger. “Which person has the only reason to lie? That’s the defendant. And that’s because his liberty, his job and his livelihood are at stake.”

Iglesias, 40, who ran the police department’s undercover Crime Suppression Unit in 2010, stood trial on nine counts of conspiracy to possess cocaine, violating suspects’ civil rights, obstruction of justice and making false statements. Iglesias, who was relieved of duty with pay that May, fought back aggressively against accusations of planting dope on a suspect, stealing drugs and money from dealers, and lying to FBI agents. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

On Wednesday, his defense attorney, Rick Diaz, argued that none of the four detectives in Iglesias’ unit testified that they ever witnessed him stealing drugs seized from street dealers, and only one claimed he saw the supervisor swipe money confiscated from a trafficker in April 2010. Diaz said that detective’s testimony was a lie, pointing out that the dealer testified at trial that he had no money on him.

Diaz told jurors that an anonymous letter was sent on April 13, 2010, to Miami police’s Internal Affairs, claiming Iglesias stole drugs and money from dealers two to three times a week over a four-month period. He said it was written by detectives seeking revenge against their new boss because he was trying to tame the “undisciplined” squad and transfer a few officers.

“That letter came back and hit them in the head like a boomerang,” Diaz told jurors, adding that the prosecution’s case doesn’t “mathematically” add up. He suggested that Iglesias’ former undercover officers, internal-affairs detectives and FBI agents were “trying to set this man up.”

Diaz strived to portray Iglesias, an 18-year police veteran who served with the Marines in the Iraq War, as a man of character who deserved to be acquitted on all nine counts.

“This is all or nothing for Raul Iglesias,” Diaz implored jurors. “Make no mistake about it.”

Earlier this week, Iglesias testified that the four detectives lied on the witness stand, as well as a confidential informant who testified Iglesias paid him with cash and crack cocaine.

Iglesias also testified that another member of his unit, Roberto Asanza, an ex-Marine, also lied when he said on the stand that his boss gave him permission to pay informants with drugs and saw him do it once in his truck after a bust in the Allapattah area of Miami.

Asanza, who was a reluctant government witness, agreed to testify against Iglesias after prosecutors reduced a felony possession charge against him to a misdemeanor. Asanza, 33, who was relieved of duty and lost his police job, received a probationary sentence last year.

Asanza testified last week that “sarge said it was OK to pay confidential informants with dope.”

“That’s a huge piece of bought testimony,” Diaz argued, alluding to Asanza’s deal with prosecutors.

But Del Toro, the prosecutor, countered that Asanza had nothing to gain by testifying because he had already received the probationary sentence. “He wasn’t one of the heroes who stood up to the defendant, but in the end he did the right thing,” Del Toro said during closing arguments.

During his testimony, Iglesias denied again and again that he ever did anything illegal on the job, including asking detectives for “throw-down dope” to plant on a suspect in a downtown Miami parking lot in January 2010.

“Absolutely not,” Iglesias testified, disputing the recent testimony of two detectives. “That’s a ridiculous statement,” he said, calling his former colleagues “liars.’’

Earlier in the trial, CSU detectives Suberto Hernandez and Luis Valdes told jurors that Iglesias asked the pair if they had any “throw-down dope” to plant on the suspect after a search of the man during a Jan. 27, 2010, surveillance operation turned up no drugs.

“He looked at myself and Hernandez and he asked for throw-down dope,” said Valdes, an officer for nearly nine years.

“I said, ‘We don’t do that here. Nobody on this team does it.’’’

Moments later, a Miami police officer who knew Iglesias showed up at the scene. The officer, Ricardo Martinez, is suspected of giving a small baggie of powdered cocaine to Iglesias, who prosecutors claim planted it on the suspect.

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