Miami Beach code enforcer at center of FBI nightclub sting pleads guilty

A top Miami Beach code enforcement officer pleaded guilty in federal court to shaking down an Ocean Drive nightclub owner for “protection.”

08/06/2012 5:00 AM

08/06/2012 11:21 PM

Miami Beach’s lead code enforcement officer at the center of a bribery scandal that rocked City Hall pleaded guilty to a federal extortion charge Monday.

In April, Jose L. Alberto, 41, was among seven Miami Beach employees arrested by the FBI on charges of conspiring to extort a South Beach nightclub owner out of $25,000 last year.

In his plea agreement, Alberto admitted personally accepting $16,600 in bribes. Other charges in an indictment will be dismissed.

Alberto, who was hired by the city in 1993, earned $122,000 with overtime pay in 2011 as the second-in-command of the Building Department’s code compliance division. Now fired, Alberto is facing up to six years in prison at his Nov. 2 sentencing before U.S. District Judge Robert Scola.

Prosecutors accused Alberto and his colleagues of shaking down the owner of Club Dolce on Ocean Drive while demanding he pay for “protection” to avoid city fines and inspections. The sensational sting operation featured an undercover FBI agent posing as the club manager who fooled them all as he partied with some of the municipal employees.

According to a recorded conversation in November 2011, the agent told Alberto that he “would take care of people” to ensure the nightclub’s success. Alberto responded: “As long as you ain’t no FBI or none of that s---. We are straight.”

Alberto was charged along with fellow Miami Beach code officers Willie Grant, 56, Orlando Gonzalez, 32, Ramon Vasallo, 31, and Vicente Santiesteban, 29. Both Gonzalez and Santiesteban pleaded guilty this summer.

Miami Beach firefighters Chai Footman, 36, and Henry Bryant, 45, were also charged for their roles in the same alleged extortion scheme. Footman also pleaded guilty this summer.

After accepting a few thousand dollars in bribes to help the South Beach club gloss over code violations and tax debts, Alberto introduced club management to Bryant, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Dwyer said in court papers.

Bryant allegedly conspired to expedite permits while finding police escorts for cocaine deals, Dwyer said.

A separate indictment charged Miami-Dade police officer Daniel Mack, 47, and accused him of helping Bryant transport more than a dozen kilograms of fake cocaine for undercover agents in exchange for $25,000. Mack and Bryant were charged with conspiring to possess and distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine.

The arrests shocked Miami Beach officials, even though accusations documented by FBI special agent Matthew Fowler in criminal complaints suggest the accused employees were taking bribes or transporting drugs for years — in a scheme strikingly similar to past corruption cases in the city.

Alberto began working for Miami Beach in 1993 as a parks and recreation attendant, applied to be a code officer in 1996, and by the time he was arrested was serving as the lead code administrator.

Alberto supervised 43 staff members and was considered a key part of the city’s code compliance operations. He was credited with the idea of placing plainclothes code officers on the beach after residents complained about litter on the shoreline.

According to his personnel file, Alberto wrote in a 2004 city document that he had been arrested for petty larceny, cocaine possession — twice — and driving under the influence. He said he had been placed on probation three times for the drug and drinking arrests.

In 2006, Alberto was accused of simple battery on his ex-wife, also a Miami Beach employee, when he allegedly snatched a Bluetooth earpiece from her ear.

Miami Herald staff writer David Smiley contributed to this report.

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