When a Florida Highway Patrol trooper pulled over Sweetwater Police Detective Octavio Oliu for driving with a stolen tag, he was surprised and insisted the license plate was clean – and used for undercover work.
“I literally put it on this morning,” Oliu told the trooper, after rummaging through several other tags in the trunk of his police-issued unmarked sports utility vehicle.
State prosecutors this week released the FHP dashcam video that showed the initial traffic stop that ultimately led to the February arrest of Oliu, who is accused of using a stolen tag to shirk Sunpass tolls for months.
Oliu, 42, is facing charges of official misconduct and organized scheme to defraud. The video, according to his defense attorney, shows nothing.
“We’re prepared to show that this is a bunch of malarky,” said lawyer Michael Cornely, who appeared Wednesday for a brief court hearing on Oliu’s case.
The investigation into Oliu began in August 2013 when FHP trooper Simon Castro pulled over his black Chevrolet SUV, which had been seen “weaving between vehicles at a high rate of speed,” according to an arrest warrant.
The trooper ran a computer check of the SUV’s Michigan license plate and found that it had been reported stolen.
The video shows the stop was brief, informal and cordial. The trooper apologized but nevertheless insisted his dispatcher needed to double check that Oliu was indeed a Sweetwater detective.
Oliu was clearly annoyed, slipping in a few F-bombs as he explained he did not believe the tag was stolen.
“We actually, at times we go to junk yards and get them from the junk yards,” Oliu said.
Oliu added that the tag came up clean on the National Crime Information Center database. “Bro, we actually ran it on NCIC literally ran it this morning … yesterday.”
Castro let him go, and later met up with him to impound the tag, prosecutors said.
In fact, the tag belonged to a man named Oscar Marquez, who was arrested in August 2012 at a Best Buy parking lot on suspicion of possessing stolen credit cards. Within weeks, prosecutors dropped the case.
When Marquez was arrested, Sweetwater police towed the truck. Marquez’s aunt got the truck back from the yard — but it was missing the license plate. The aunt repeatedly called Sweetwater police and was told “the tag would not be returned,” according to an arrest warrant.
Stymied, the woman called police in Michigan to report the tag stolen. Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents believe that Oliu racked over 500 SunPass toll violations and even red-light camera citations.
“The use of impounded-confiscated tags is not condoned or authorized by the city of Sweetwater Police Department,” according to the warrant.
But Oliu’s defense attorney on Wednesday insisted that Oliu was merely driving the police vehicle given to him by the city.
“He used the tags provided to him by the department,” Cornely said.
Cornely has been fighting Sweetwater — a city plagued by corruption arrests in recent years — for copies of internal records that might bolster the defense. Police Chief Placido Diaz and an attorney for the city insisted at the court hearing that Sweetwater, undergoing a transition to a new administration, was working to find the records.