Days after Miami-Dade police raided a sports gambling ring in Liberty City, a Miami officer implicated in a protection racket for the place “flipped’’ for the feds, agreeing to target another city cop.
Thus marked the beginning of an FBI probe that would expose internal corruption and rattle the Miami Police Department. New details were released Friday, with a guilty plea from one of the cops.
Officer Nathaniel Dauphin, at the direction of FBI agents, called and met with fellow officer Harold James in early April and paid him $100 for providing “protection coverage” at the betting operation, according to court documents and sources familiar with the case. Then, while secretly recording their meeting, Dauphin enticed James to provide protection for another business that was purportedly cashing fraudulent tax refund checks.
The “cat is doing something shady ... trying to keep from getting hit,” Dauphin told James, referring to the check-cashing proprietor. Dauphin told James he would be paid “cash under the table.”
James’ response: “Sounds good to me.”
James, while under surveillance by the FBI and Miami police internal affairs detectives, provided protection for the Liberty City check-cashing store — in reality, part of an undercover FBI “sting” — five times in April and May 2012, according to a statement filed with his plea agreement in federal court Friday.
He was paid $800 by Dauphin, who had told him the detail was to protect a courier worried about getting robbed and for “warning” about “police activity” around the check-cashing store at Northwest 79th Street and Seventh Avenue.
Although Dauphin was not identified by name in James’ plea statement, multiple sources familiar with the investigation said it refers to Dauphin, who they said began cooperating with the FBI’s corruption task force soon after the gambling operation was shut down last March. The court document refers only to a “cooperating defendant.”
James, 29, an eight-year police veteran who resigned in late November, pleaded guilty to two extortion charges Friday. He faces between 1 ½ and two years in prison at his April 23 sentencing before U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, according to the plea deal struck between prosecutor Robin Waug and defense attorney Tony Moss.
Dauphin, 41, who allegedly helped organize the protection racket for the Liberty City sports-betting operation, pleaded not guilty in January to a single charge of extortion conspiracy. It alleges he “protected and facilitated illegal activity — gambling — in exchange for receipts of cash payments” between November 2010 and March 2012.
Dauphin, a police officer since 1996, was allegedly paid $5,000, according to the charge. He is expected to change his plea to guilty eventually as part of his cooperation deal.
James and Dauphin are among at least 10 Miami police officers expected to face federal criminal charges or internal discipline related to the gambling protection scheme and other criminal activities, The Miami Herald has learned.
Seven of the officers under scrutiny, including James, have already resigned or been relieved of duty. The targeted officers, who worked in the Model City substation, are suspected of providing off-the-books protection to the sports gambling ring, which operated out of the Player’s Choice Barber Shop, 6301 NW Sixth Ave.
The FBI is expected to make more arrests in coming weeks.
James last worked in the Model City neighborhood, city records show. He generally received above-average performance evaluations, and he received nine commendations over his career. He was reprimanded seven times, mostly for traffic accidents or failing to appear for court hearings, records show.
Also relieved of duty are officers Malinsky Bazile, 27; Vital Frederick, 26, and Angel Mercado, 29, who are suspected of other criminal activity unrelated to the alleged protection racket. All continue to receive pay while the investigation continues.
In December, Officer Lashunda Hodge, 31, was relieved of duty with pay as part of the protection-detail probe.