In the 11 years Raul Castellon has been a Hialeah cop, he’s survived five internal affairs investigations, received 13 reprimands and four suspensions, crashed his vehicle five times, and was fired — before getting his job back through arbitration.
Late last week, Castellon — who was already on paid leave — was arrested and charged with accessing a private database and passing license plate and Social Security numbers of civilians to a woman, in exchange for “gifts.”
The federal indictment says the woman, Neilin Gonazalez Diaz, and co-defendants, then used the information provided by Castellon to gain access to credit cards and purchase items costing at least $5,800 at South Florida stores.
Just what gifts Castellon received from Gonzalez Diaz wasn’t clear Monday.
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But the charges against him as he made his first court appearance were: extortion, aggravated identity fraud, possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices and access device fraud. Gonzalez Diaz was charged with the same crimes.
The charges against the 38-year-old Castellon, whose more than decade-long career is chock-full of punishments and investigations into alleged misdeeds, comes just a few years after the Hialeah Police Department thought it had put to rest a string of embarrassing situations involving officers.
In rapid-fire succession in 2012, two school traffic officers were fired, one for allegedly drinking on the job, the other for not reporting an incident. Then, Detective Raul Somarriba was involved in a traffic crash that killed the daughter of Miami-Dade School Board member Susie Castillo. Two months later, Officer Rafael Valdes was indicted on gun-trafficking charges. Federal investigators said Valdes and his wife, a former Golden Beach cop, illegally sold more than 600 guns over seven years.
A few months later, in early in 2013, Hialeah police Sgt. Tomas Muñoz was busted for crack cocaine. He blamed it on his wife’s pimp.
The charges against Castellon are similar to those filed against two Miami police officers in 2013. That’s when federal investigators said Malinsky Bazile and Vital Frederick pocketed $140,000 in two years by gaining information on more than 1,000 people, then filing bogus tax returns in order to steal refunds.
On Monday in federal court, Castellon was formally charged with using his position to access Florida’s Driver Vehicle Information Database for personal gain. The indictment says he accessed the system and took dozens of screen shots of license plate and Social Security numbers and passed them along to Gonzalez Diaz.
Then, according to the indictment, Gonzalez Diaz accessed credit cards and went shopping. At a Floor & Decor store in Pembroke Pines last September, she spent $3,733.39, according to the indictment. A day later, the indictment says, she forked over $2,078.65 at the same store.
Castellon, hired in Hialeah in 2006, has been on paid leave since October. Hialeah police said his firearm and police powers had been taken away pending the outcome of the criminal investigation.
He is not being represented by his police union, the Police Benevolent Association. Its president, John Rivera, said the charges against him were “not in the scope of his duties.”
“Regarding Castellon’s employment history, in discipline and termination cases there are policies and procedures that cities must follow. Officers win their jobs back when cities violate these procedures and/or officers rights or have taken an unjust action against an officer,” Rivera said in an email. “If the current allegations against Castellon are true, then his actions would be a great disappointment and an insult to the brave men and women who serve and protect our community.”
Hialeah has been trying to rid itself of Castellon for years, but has been stymied by rules that administrators agreed to during tenuous collective bargaining sessions. Thirteen times, Hialeah police say, Castellon violated rules, regulation and policies. He was suspended four times for a total of 960 hours without pay. And he wrecked five cop cars.
Finally in October 2012, Hialeah’s police chief and the mayor had enough and Castellon was fired — or so they thought.
“The chief expressed that in Officer Castellon’s short career, he has disobeyed Hialeah police rules with regard to both the use and operation of his police cruiser, as well as other reasonable directives and traffic laws,” said Sgt. Carl Zogby, executive assistant to the chief.
Less than two years later, an arbitrator returned Castellon to service after a hearing, but with a caveat: Castellon would receive a 900-hour suspension without pay.
In July 2016, Zogby said, Hialeah police became aware of the federal investigation and became “active participants.” In October, Castellon was placed on leave again.