Officers with the Miami-Dade police public corruption unit collected more than $58,000 in overtime pay during an investigation that led to the arrest of four employees for stealing $3,000 in entry fees at a county park in Hialeah.
“This case has raised concerns,” Miami-Dade Police Director J.D. Patterson, told el Nuevo Herald on Tuesday. “And I say concerns because there was a significant investment of resources for such a small case.”
The officers involved in the probe collected $58,288 after logging in 934 overtime hours during the investigation between February and May. It focused on the actions of employees at the popular Amelia Earhart Park, 401 E. 65th St.
The case placed the police unit’s actions under intense scrutiny because of the substantial overtime costs, setting off alarms that prompted Patterson to redeploy the corruption section with the support of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez. Several detectives were reassigned to team up with the FBI’s anti-corruption task force.
In the 2013 fiscal year, officers with the Miami-Dade corruption unit collected more overtime than the rest of the police department. During the same period, 7 percent of the unit’s budget was used to pay overtime to its officers, while the entire department used only 5 percent.
Juan Perez, the department’s deputy director, told el Nuevo Herald a probe into the excessive overtime began after an anonymous complaint reached the top police brass and cited the county park employee investigation as an example.
According to the complaint, the overtime presumably covered work performed by the corruption unit officers. The complaint said there was sporadic supervision of the detectives assigned to watch the employees while collecting a full day’s pay.
Pérez said the alleged abuse was investigated internally by the department and later sent to the Miami-Dade’s state attorney’s office, which concluded that no criminal act was committed.
“There has been a conversation with the unit’s investigators and supervisors and they have been given new directives to work more serious and more important cases,” Pérez said. “And it has been clearly established that the budget must be handled more efficiently.”
Patterson, who took over as chief last year, said in August he had concerns about the management of the public corruption unit. At the time, the police hierarchy was strongly criticized for the unit’s downsizing.
In July, Patterson decided to redeploy the unit’s 20 officers, with some transferred to the department’s internal affairs section and others moved to certain crime units.
Most significant, the police director assigned four Miami-Dade detectives and two sergeants to the FBI’s anti-corruption task force. With a total of 22 officers from Miami-Dade, Miami and other law enforcement agencies, the FBI task force is the bureau's largest in the nation, targeting wrongdoing by politicians, officials and police officers in the county and its municipalities.
"I think that one of the best things a police department or municipal government gains by participating on our task force is that we are apolitical," said John Jimenez, the FBI's supervisory special agent who runs the task force. "They are going to get objectivity when they assign officers to us. ... We have no restrictions on the level of corruption that we can investigate."
During the Hialeah park probe, a total of 26 Miami-Dade officers were assigned at different times to investigate the Amelia Earhart Park employees. The squad included five sergeants and 15 detectives from the corruption unit. One sergeant and five detectives also joined the team from internal affairs technical support, according to police records obtained by the el Nuevo Herald.
Corruption unit detective Eduardo Torga headed the investigation under the supervision of Sgt. Kelly Sullivan. The two collected 167 and 110 overtime hours, respectively, according to records. In the case of Torga, 59 of his overtime hours were used to review surveillance videos.
To monitor the city employees on weekends, the detectives used an undercover SUV vehicle to shoot video.
Two months ago, Miami-Dade police announced the end of the investigation with great fanfare. Arrested were park employee Jamal Sheffield, accused of stealing $1,686; Charles Simons, charged with stealing $1,320; and Camilo Felipe and Manuel Valdés, both accused of stealing more than $50 each.
“If there had been better results there wouldn’t be so much criticism,” Pérez, the police deputy directo, said. “When the case is ongoing, it’s difficult to know what the overtime payment to detectives would be.”