Vital Frederick, a young Miami cop, never disputed the undercover evidence revealing he accepted dirty money from two fellow police officers working with the FBI in a pair of sting operations.
But Frederick, who stood trial on extortion and other charges, testified his colleagues threatened that unless he took the cash they would expose his “secret” — that he was gay and had a 10-year relationship with a boyfriend from high school.
Frederick’s partner, unknown to his family members sitting in the federal courtroom, also took the witness stand to defend the police officer.
But Frederick’s surprise defense did not convince a Miami federal jury Friday. After a morning of deliberations, the 11 jurors unanimously found him guilty on four charges of extortion and three offenses of stealing identification records for tax-refund scams. Frederick, 27, now will face up to 22 years in prison at his sentencing in mid-December.
U.S. District Judge District Judge K. Michael Moore ordered Frederick, who had been free on bond after his arrest in March, taken into custody. About 20 family members and friends wept as they left the courtroom, including the defendant’s mother, who had to be held up as she cried, “My child, my child.”
Frederick’s decision to out himself as a defense tactic gave the trial a last-minute twist. He had testified Thursday that he never intended to accept a total of $1,400 in cash for protecting a check-cashing store and stealing IDs from a police database for tax-refund scams, which were the basis of FBI sting operations.
Frederick, who joined the Miami force in 2008, said he felt entrapped and then betrayed by two trusted fellow officers, Nathaniel Dauphin, 41, and Malinsky Bazile, 28, who threatened to reveal his homosexuality if he did not go along with their crimes. They all worked in the North Station in Liberty City.
“In my mind, he put a gun to my head,” Frederick testified, referring figuratively to Dauphin’s alleged threat to expose his secret.
But at another point in his testimony, Frederick said: “I didn’t care about the money; I was playing a game with him.”
But FBI undercover recordings contradicted his defense. They included not only his incriminating conversations with Dauphin and Bazile but also the defendant’s own words about having sex with women. That may have raised questions for jurors about his overall credibility.
Frederick’s attorney, Stuart Adelstein, put on a vigorous defense, calling the FBI’s sting operations “fake” crimes that illegally entrapped his client.
He also called the government’s deal with fellow officer Dauphin “disgusting,” pointing out that Dauphin was sentenced to just one year and two months for a similar extortion scheme and that his girlfriend, Miami police officer Carol Vargas, was spared prosecution despite her alleged involvement in his crime.
In closing arguments Thursday, Adelstein told jurors that Frederick had no choice: “Either do it, or his fellow police officers would disown him, his career would be over and it would destroy his mother and father.”
Prosecutors Michael Davis and Robin Waugh stuck to the undercover evidence in the case, gathered by an FBI anti-corruption task force, including Miami internal affairs detectives. The prosecutors reminded jurors that the recordings showed Frederick willingly agreed to participate in the staged criminal activities so he could make extra cash.
“The defendant had an opportunity to say ‘no’ and he said otherwise,” Waugh told the jurors. “The defendant is not contesting anything [in evidence], and there was no entrapment in this case.”
But perhaps Frederick’s biggest mistake was looking up to Dauphin as a role model in the first place.
From 2010 to 2012, Dauphin had led a group of officers suspected of providing off-the-books protection for a sports-gambling racket that operated out of the Player’s Choice Barber Shop, 6301 NW Sixth Ave.
Long before pleading guilty to an extortion charge alleging he received $5,000, Dauphin agreed to wear a wire for the FBI in a sting operation targeting other suspected bad cops.
Among his targets: Frederick. Last year, Dauphin persuaded Frederick to provide protection for a check-cashing store at the corner of Northwest 79th Street and Seventh Avenue.
Dauphin, who recorded their conversations, told Frederick that a courier would be carrying $40,000 or $50,000 in “stolen or fraudulent checks,” according to an affidavit written by FBI special agent Donald Morin.
Frederick agreed to protect the courier from possible robbers.
On four occasions while under FBI surveillance, Frederick escorted the courier driving a black Camaro to and from the check-cashing store. He was paid $200 each time, for a total of $800, in August and September of last year.
The following month, Bazile took over where Dauphin left off. Bazile, who joined the force in 2008 and had known Frederick from high school, asked his friend if he would be interested in supplying the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of people for a tax-refund scam.
Last October, Bazile paid his colleague $600 in cash for turning over two lists with 52 IDs taken from a police database.
At his own trial this week, Bazile, who chose not to cut a plea deal like Dauphin, was convicted of stealing 1,000 identities from the same police database for tax fraud and pocketing about $140,000 in IRS refunds in 2011-12.