Police

Miami-Dade Police Dept. scales back public corruption bureau

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

The Miami-Dade police public corruption bureau is being scaled back as the department beefs up its cooperation with federal authorities, the county’s top cop said Tuesday.

Ten detectives, three sergeants, one lieutenant, three civilian analysts and an administrator will be transferred to other units within the department, while four detectives will be detached to the FBI’s anti-corruption task force.

“It’s an effort to enhance our synergy and our collaboration with our partners who are already here,” Patterson told the Miami Herald on Tuesday. “It’s not an effort to avoid or dilute anything.”

That leaves one lieutenant, one sergeant and six to eight detectives in the police department’s public corruption unit, which had been tasked with investigating wrongdoing by county and municipal employees or contractors, as well as cases in which taxpayers are victims. That mission will be downsized now, targeting county matters only.

Miami-Dade’s police union quickly criticized County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, its longtime nemesis, accusing him of pushing through the changes.

“I think the mayor sends a strong message he doesn’t have an appetite to fight public corruption,” said Police Benevolent Association President John Rivera. “It’s an embarrassment, especially in a corruption-rich community like Miami-Dade.”

Gimenez called the criticism “laughable,” noting that the FBI came to him seeking stepped up cooperation.

“They asked for some help on public corruption, and I said that we would provide that help,” the mayor said, adding that working closely with the feds is particularly important when it comes to investigating county officials.

“To me, it seems that the FBI would be better suited to that, at least to take the lead while still having Miami-Dade police officers involved in the investigation.”

In 2011, the mayor successfully pushed for $56 million in labor concessions with the PBA. After months of tense negotiations, a new contract, struck in early December 2011, slashed some incentive pay and overtime costs for officers while imposing fees for take-home cars.

The PBA backed Joe Martinez last year in the mayoral election, which was marked by a Miami-Dade police public corruption probe into absentee ballot fraud.

The probe into ballot brokering, spurred by tips from a private eye, netted the arrest of one woman, Deisy Cabrera, who was seen entering Gimenez’s Hialeah campaign office. He denied wrongdoing.

Miami-Dade public corruption detectives, in an unrelated absentee ballot brokering case, arrested another man, Sergio Robaina, for alleged voter fraud. He and Cabrera are pending trial.

The PBA also backed Gimenez’s chief opponent, Julio Robaina, in an election two years ago.

Since the new contract was approved, the county’s largest police department has been downsizing.

On Tuesday, Director Patterson announced in a memo that the department’s public corruption bureau is merging with the professional compliance bureau, better known as internal affairs. The organized crime bureau was also merged with economic crimes.

The most high-profile case recently spearheaded by Miami-Dade public corruption detectives resulted in the June arrests of two former county employees accused of a complicated kickback scheme involving a technology contract that cost taxpayers more than $3 million.

Patterson said he hopes the new moves will free up his detectives to focus on crimes within county government, while allowing the feds to take the lead in cases involving other cities.

“The FBI has been trying to build our relationship since I’ve been here,” he said.

The FBI’s Miami Area Corruption Task Force also includes city cops from Miami, Miami Beach and Hialeah, as well as internal affairs agents from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The task force is the FBI’s largest anti-corruption squad in the country, John Jimenez, the supervisory special agent overseeing it, told the Herald last January.

Miami police have committed nine detectives to the FBI’s task force in recent years. They have partnered with their department’s Internal Affairs unit in the ongoing investigation of at least 10 officers suspected of providing protection to a Liberty City gambling house, or committing ID theft and tax-refund fraud.

The task force also cracked down on a Miami Beach code enforcement-extortion racket that led to convictions of seven code officers, including fire-rescue officials.

Jimenez told the Herald that participation on the FBI’s team can be politically risky for the police departments, because the task force could unearth embarrassing information. “We’re really proud of the fact that police departments are willing to participate,’’ he said in the prior interview.

Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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