After initially fighting the move, Miami-Dade Police last week returned four vehicles it had confiscated in its investigation into Sweetwater public corruption.
The vehicles went back to Southland The Towing Company, which federal agents are examining as part of a wide-ranging investigation into the Sweetwater Police Department. Many people whose cars were towed after arrests in Sweetwater have alleged that their vehicles were illegally repossessed and sold off.
The company had previously belonged in part to former Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño, according to state records. It operated for years in Sweetwater through a verbal agreement until February. Maroño was arrested in August in an unrelated federal public corruption case.
Two weeks after Maroño’s arrest, federal authorities arrested Sweetwater officer William García on charges of identity theft and credit card fraud. Officers Reny García and Octavio Oliu also are under investigation and have been suspended from their jobs with pay. Auxiliary officer Richard Brenner was fired.
El Nuevo Herald and CBS-4 have been investigating Southland’s questionable links to Sweetwater officials since August.
Now, with the latest developments, owners are questioning why Miami-Dade returned the vehicles to Southland, which initially objected to a request from the towing company to return the vehicles. Southland had filed a lawsuit in July to recover them.
County attorneys did not respond to messages from El Nuevo Herald Friday.
Juan Pérez, Miami-Dade’s Police deputy director, said the case was settled “between lawyers.”
“Our legal advisors, after consulting with the county’s attorneys and the FBI, decided to release the vehicles,” said Pérez, who said he couldn’t elaborate due to the ongoing probe.
But the decision raises new questions about the investigation of Sweetwater’s Police.
The department has been criticized for towing vehicles during arrests even when the vehicles were not connected to the alleged crimes. Many of the charges were later dropped in court.
Until recently, Sweetwater charged owners an administrative fee of $500 to recover a towed vehicle.
Among the cars returned to Southland on Friday was a white Porsche Panamara that Sweetwater police had towed after arresting Lazaro Dalmauc more than a year ago.
“How is it possible that they returned my car to a company that is being investigated by the FBI?” asked Dalmauc, who said he testified earlier this year in the federal case against Sweetwater police. “I cooperated in their investigation. Now I don’t know who to trust.”
Dalmauc was arrested at his Miami home on attempted murder charges a day after a bar fight at Dolphin Mall in October 2012. He has pled not guilty and is awaiting trial.
During his arrest, Sweetwater police officers – including many now being implicated in the federal investigation – took jewelry, a gun, computer equipment and $120,000 in cash. Dalmauc said his mom won the money gambling. After the family produced proper documentation, a judge ordered the return of his belongings, including the money.
But the Porsche was not returned.
Dalmauc, who first spoke to Channel 41, América TeVe, said he tried to get the car back.
“Do you think I’d allow a $100,000 to be taken from me because of a $375 fee?”