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Sweetwater mayor makes changes to force amid FBI probe

Sweetwater has announced a flurry of promotions, demotions and resignations in a police restructuring marking another shakeup on the force already under FBI investigation.

Mayor José M. Díaz issued a news release Thursday announcing the changes and did not give any specific reasons for the moves, other than they will “positively benefit and streamline day-to-day operations of the agency.”

He made no mention of the recent controversy that has plagued the city of nearly 21,000 residents, which began when FBI agents arrested Mayor Manuel Maroño on bribery charges.

Gov. Rick Scott has suspended Maroño.

The announcement comes about a month after the FBI arrested detective William Garcia on charges of using fake credit cards and stealing other people’s card numbers and weeks after two more officers — Detective Octavio Oliu and Acting Sgt. Reny Garcia — were relieved of duty with pay for alleged misconduct.

In addition, civilian employee and police auxiliary member Richard Brenner was suspended with pay.

Earlier this month, the Miami Herald reported that the disciplinary actions against Oliu, Reny Garcia and Brenner were a result of a widening FBI investigation. Brenner has since returned to work.

“I’ve been working on this decision for several weeks, day and night, and came to the conclusion that this will improve agency efficiency,” Diaz said in a prepared statement.

Among the moves announced Thursday:

- Major Roberto Ochoa and Captain Jesus “Jessie” Menocal were promoted to deputy chief of police in charge of administration and operations, respectively. Menocal was police chief from the 1990s until 2003, when former mayor Manny Maroño demoted him amid a police brutality scandal where he was accused of witnessing fellow officers beat an 18-year-old resident.

- Jorge Oliveros was reassigned from police administration to code enforcement. Oliveros plead guilty in 2000 to stealing cocaine from undercover agents while he was an officer for Miami-Dade County. He served seven years in federal prison.

- Two officers, Jorge Fernandez and Ignacio Menocal — twin brother of Jessie — were reinstated to their previous ranks of lieutenant.

- Officer Rolando Perez was promoted to lieutenant in charge of internal affairs.

- Sergeant-At-Arms Manny Saavedra will be assigned to work uniform patrol, due to his seniority, in accordance with the bargaining agreement with the police union.

The changes do not come with salary increase, according to the release.

After Díaz announced the changes to the department Wednesday, Lt. Richard Pichardo resigned, telling Police Chief Roberto Fulgueira he would be looking for a job elsewhere. Pichard previously worked with Miami-Dade Police before resigning in 2009 amid domestic abuse charges.

Another employee, Antero Espinosa, who is married to former Manny Maroño’s aunt, resigned from his position as director of the maintenance department. He had worked for the city since 1996.

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