Convicted Sweetwater police officer William Garcia told a federal judge Wednesday that he “loved” his job as a detective more than his wife, children and religion. Garcia then asked for a “fair” prison sentence in the two-year range for stealing people’s credit cards.
Instead, the 39-year-old Garcia, already in custody, got slammed with a prison term of more than nine years.
“The fact that he’s a police officer plays such a major role in his life, and it has to play a major role in my sentencing,” U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno said, before exceeding the prosecution’s recommendation in the seven-year range.
In April, a 12-person Miami federal jury convicted García of using a batch of counterfeit credit cards and conspiring to commit fraud with them — plus 10 counts of identity theft for using credit cards belonging to other people. The jury also found him not guilty of three other counts of identity theft.
The judge highlighted that Garcia’s actual documented charges amounted to so little money — less than $800. Yet, Moreno told him, “You yielded to the temptation.”
Garcia’s decision to go to trial rather than admit to his credit card scheme and cooperate with the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in a much bigger investigation has turned out to be a huge mistake.
Garcia, two other suspended Sweetwater police officers, the former Mayor Manny Maroño, and others are under investigation for allegedly running a racket involving falsely arresting suspects, beating them up, towing their cars and dividing up fines among themselves, according to sources familiar with the investigation.
It is possible that Garcia, now that he faces the grim reality of years behind bars, could offer assistance to federal authorities in the bigger probe — in the hope of reducing his lengthy prison sentence. But it has long been the policy of the U.S. Attorney’s Office not to cut a cooperation deal with a defendant once he has opted for trial over a plea agreement .
On Wednesday, Garcia’s defense attorney, Jacqueline Arango, tried to portray the 18-year veteran of the Sweetwater department as a man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and became his family’s breadwinner.
Arango rattled off that Garcia received numerous commendations, was named officer of the year, served on a Drug Enforcement Administration Task Force and participated in various law enforcement training sessions.
“He did what he could to better himself and to make himself a better detective,” Arango, a former federal prosecutor, told the judge. “His whole life is his family and his kids. He’s the center of his entire family’s life.”
She tried to persuade the judge to give Garcia a two-and-a-half year prison sentence, arguing that the loss of the job that defined him was already severe punishment. “This very public fall from grace is enough,” she said, as some family members wept.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Lacosta portrayed Garcia as a “hypocrite” who stole dozens of credit credits for his personal benefit. “He victimized the people he was supposed to be protecting,” Lacosta told the judge.
The prosecutor also said that Garcia stole eight credit cards from a criminal suspect, used them for his personal benefit and then tried to charge the man with having stolen the cards from others.
“When a police officer violates his oath, he should be punished and the punishment should be severe,” Lacosta said, recommending a seven-and-a-half year prison term.
Moreno ended up crafting a sentence of nine years and four months, which included stacking four minimum-mandatory two-year sentences for Garcia’s convictions on aggravated identity theft.
Moreno said he imposed the harsher sentence to promote “respect for the law,” especially from a police officer. He said “more is expected” of law enforcement officials, politicians, lawyers and clergymen who break the law.
Garcia was arrested by federal agents in August 2013 — just after then-Sweetwater Mayor Maroño was charged along with two Miami-Dade lobbyists in an FBI undercover operation targeting bribery. Maroño and the two lobbyists, Jorge Forte and Richard Candia, have since pleaded guilty.
The arrests unleashed a series of scandals in the small city in western Miami-Dade, including the suspension of two other Sweetwater police officers, acting Sgt. Reny Garcia and Detective Octavio Oliu.
William Garcia was a member of an elite detective unit now accused of unjustified arrests and of maintaining an evidence room separate from the official one to hide items seized after arrests.
FBI agents have been investigating Garcia since 2011, when they compelled informant Luis Camacho, a former friend of the detective's, to assist them.
Camacho, who created fraudulent credit cards using stolen numbers, gave some to Garcia and to former South Miami police officer Richard Muñoz. In January, Muñoz pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit fraud in a case related to the Sweetwater detective’s prosecution.
At Garcia’s trial, the jury found he made unlawful purchases totaling about $800 at several stores and restaurants. Federal prosecutors presented videos and audiotapes of conversations between Garcia and Camacho in which they talked about the purchases and counterfeit credit cards.
Camacho, Muñoz and Camacho’s nephew, Asnays Fernandez, testified at Garcia’s trial. They all made deals with federal authorities to receive reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony.
Camacho was not charged in the federal credit card fraud case. Instead, he received a 10-year probationary sentence in an unrelated state case. Fernandez, who supplied Camacho with stolen credit card numbers, got a five-year probationary sentence in the federal case. Muñoz was sentenced to two and a half years in prison.