It wasn’t immediately clear what these allegations of misconduct had to do with the feds or their money — although large portions of the report were redacted as secret. Initially, Hunker was dismissive of the investigation, and he steadfastly denied wrongdoing.
The car dealer, for one, called the allegation about the Jeep deal nonsense. Steve Fury, finance director of Hollywood Chrysler Jeep, said Hunker “never asked for any special favors.”
Said Sharpstein: “He’s a straight-shooting cop.”
There are plenty of law enforcement officers who think Thomas Hunker is a first-rate investigator.
“In my dealings with him, I’ve seen nothing but effectiveness and aggressiveness,’’ said Richard Crock a retired supervisory agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration who worked cases with Hunker.
“He had a real good talent for investigations,’’ added Richard Barreto, a retired Miami Beach police chief who once supervised Hunker.
Thanks to Hunker’s prowess at generating dollars through federal forfeiture, Bal Harbour police had money to burn at a time when other cities and towns were scrimping through the recession.
Hunker also was able to pay tens of thousands of dollars in overtime to officers engaged in forfeiture investigations.
Those officers were members of an elite crew called the VIN unit, for vice, intelligence and narcotics. Some in the unit, created by Hunker, were able to double their pay.
The money also enabled Hunker to engage in charitable endeavors and build a network of influential friends. He spent thousands on group golf outings and dinners for the Miami-Dade Association of Chiefs of Police; solicited sponsorships and donations for the annual LEO Awards gala that recognizes local law enforcement officers; and doled out $20,000 to the South Florida Crime Commission, a nonprofit controlled by a friend and vendor doing business with the police department.
The influential friends whom Hunker cultivated over the years are now paying his legal bills through a private defense fund.
Friends and donors who supported Hunker’s charitable events reaped rewards — honorary BHPD badges and identification — not the kind that comes in a Cracker Jack box, but genuine shields specially made by a police supply house. He also bestowed badges on individuals registered as lobbyists with the village or who did business with the village.
Among the recipients:
• Stanley Whitman, owner of the Bal Harbour Shops; his son, Randall Whitman, and grandson, Matthew Lazenby — all of whom are registered lobbyists;
• Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi, who gave Bal Harbour police two autographed soccer balls to be auctioned for the Police Athletic League;
• Joe Dippell, a retired stock broker and philanthropist who lives part time in Bal Harbour and has donated generously to police chief dinners, golf outings and other law enforcement events;
• Luis Salom, a Miami Beach entrepreneur who considers Hunker a childhood mentor and donated to the chief’s annual Beach Bash, a drug awareness and education event. (He returned his badge after pleading guilty to falsifying a federal seal in 2011. Hunker testified as a character witness at Salom’s sentencing.);