The jokes came easy when a Hialeah police sergeant blamed his girlfriend’s pimp for setting him up when he was arrested on cocaine charges in April.
But it’s no laughing matter that his arrest follows a string of headline-grabbing incidents involving Hialeah cops during the past few years.
There was a husband-and-wife police team charged with illegally selling hundreds of guns. A detective involved in an accident that killed a 21-year-old Miami Dade College student, the daughter of a Miami-Dade School Board member. Two school traffic cops who were fired — one for allegedly drinking outside the school and the other for not reporting it.
And then there’s the latest: Hialeah Sgt. Tomas Muñoz’s arrest last month on charges that he had “several crack rocks” on a nightstand table in the Ernesto Motel on West Flagler Street, near the Magic City Casino. Muñoz, a 15-year-veteran of the Hialeah PD, was arrested at 2:50 a.m. and was in the room with an unidentified female.
He was charged with possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia. After he posted a $6,000 bond, Muñoz, who could not be reached for comment, told TV reporters that his girlfriend’s pimp set him up. His arraignment is set for May 28.
Tony Luis, a Hialeah police sergeant and union representative, worked with Muñoz on patrol for years. Luis said Muñoz, who has since resigned, was a superstar officer for years before his personal life took a turn. He said Muñoz kept to himself and over the past few months seemed preoccupied.
“He was a hard worker and great cop who fell on bad times,” he said.
Muñoz’s case is one of several high-profile episodes involving the Hialeah Police Department over the past two years. Indeed, even the former mayor of Hialeah has been in the news. Julio Robaina, and his wife, Raiza, turned themselves in Friday to federal law enforcement officials after they were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of income tax evasion, making loans at sky-high interest rates and failing to report secret cash payments.
On the issues involving the police department, Mayor Carlos Hernandez referred requests for interviews to Hialeah Police Chief Sergio Velazquez, who did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.
Luis and others familiar with the department have said it’s not unusual for a large department serving a blue-collar community to have occasional issues.
“Ninety-nine percent of the officers are good officers,” said former Hialeah Police Chief Mark Overton, now the Miami Beach deputy police chief. “You always have that 1 percent.”
Among the “1 percent”:
• In December, Hialeah police officer Rafael Valdes was indicted on gun-trafficking charges. According to the indictment handed down by a federal grand jury in West Palm Beach, Valdes and his wife, Tammy, a retired police officer in Golden Beach, illegally sold at least 600 guns over seven years. They are accused of selling the weapons over the Internet and at gun shows throughout South Florida. Authorities seized five rifles, four shotguns and 38 handguns from the couple’s home. Eleven law enforcement agencies, including the Hialeah Police Department, helped with the investigation. The case is ongoing. If convicted, each faces five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Valdes, if convicted, would face an additional 10 years and another $250,000 for lying about the sale of a weapon, according to the indictment.