Federal authorities are investigating the disappearance of thousands of dollars in cash from a Sweetwater police evidence room, Sweetwater Mayor José M. Díaz said Tuesday.
Money is also missing from payments made to recover towed vehicles in the city following police arrests, Díaz said.
As far as I know, it amounts to thousands of dollars, Díaz said. I dont know who was responsible for that money.
Díazs revelations took place at a press conference called to show off a new bicycle patrol an attempt to erase the shadows that have fallen upon the city in recent months.
In August, FBI agents arrested then-Mayor Manny Maroño, together with the mayor of Miami Lakes and two lobbyists, in an undercover corruption operation.
According to a document filed Tuesday in federal court, Maroño and one of the lobbyists, Jorge Forte, plan to change their pleas from not guilty to guilty om one count of conspiring to commit fraud during a Nov. 12 hearing in Fort Lauderdale. Both face up to five years in federal prison.
Meanwhile, authorities are investigating possible links between Sweetwater officers or officials to the towing company, Southland, which operated under a verbal agreement with the city until February. Several sources have said authorities are looking into whether police officers or other officials received kickbacks in exchange for directing business to the company.
State records show that Maroño was the companys owner until 2009, though he continued to represent it during negotiations in Doral the following year. El Nuevo Herald and CBS4 have been investigating Southland and its connections in Sweetwater for months.
The feds looked at other issues in Sweetwater. In early September, interim Sgt. Reny García and detective Octavio Oliu were suspended from their jobs as part of a federal investigation, sources said. A week before, the FBI arrested detective William García on charges of credit card fraud and identify theft.
Díaz said money missing from the evidence room had been seized during arrests.
The man in charge of supervising evidence at the time the investigation began was Catalino Rodríguez, a longtime officer who resigned on Oct. 7, the same night that he was named city commissioner.
He denied taking any money.
I dont know anything about that, Rodríguez said. My conscience is clean.
Rodríguez said that early in October, two reserve officers and a civil employee entered the evidence room without explaining why and began to remove evidence. Rodríguez, who thought they were following instructions from the new mayor, said he felt offended for not having been informed of their actions.
There were drugs, money, weapons in there, Rodríguez said. If thousands of dollars are missing, maybe they should investigate why evidence was removed from the room that day.
Last week it was revealed that some detectives kept evidence, including counterfeit luxury handbags and clothes, as well as machines for detecting fake currency, in a secret evidence room on an off-site warehouse. A commander who oversaw these detectives has told authorities Maroño authorized the use of the warehouse earlier this year.
Rodríguez said he did not know that this evidence room even existed.