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Veteran Miami police sergeant convicted of stealing drugs and money from dealers

Miami police Sgt. Raul Iglesias swore from the witness stand that he did nothing wrong as the boss of an undercover squad that targeted street dealers.

Iglesias insisted he didn’t steal drugs and money from traffickers, didn’t pay informants with dope, didn’t plant cocaine on a suspect and didn’t lie to federal agents.

But jurors didn’t believe him, concluding Friday that Iglesias did all of those dirty things — except plant the cocaine.

The 12-person federal jury, after a full day of deliberations, convicted Iglesias of eight of nine counts in a tense corruption trial that pitted him against his own detectives.

Inside the courtroom, members of the Fraternal Order of Police union sat on one side to show support for Iglesias, while the department’s Internal Affairs investigators who worked with the FBI in making the case sat on the other side.

Outside the courtroom, the case created a chasm between Iglesias’s supporters, who characterized the detectives who testified against him as “rats,’’ and Iglesias’s detractors, who say the department needs to clean up internal corruption.

Iglesias, 40, who once ran the Crime Suppression Unit, was found guilty of two civil rights violations, along with conspiracy to possess and possession with the intent to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine. He was also found guilty of obstruction of justice and making false official statements. He was acquitted of one civil rights conspiracy count.

Iglesias, an ex-Marine who fought in the Iraq War, faces up to 20 years in prison at his sentencing on March 28 before U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga. He was not taken into custody.

The investigation into Iglesias’s wrongdoing began after a letter was sent on April 13, 2010, to Internal Affairs, claiming Iglesias stole drugs and money from dealers two to three times a week over a four-month period.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer said the corruption case illustrated how an officer can fail to uphold the trust that the community places in him or her.

“He broke the law by planting drugs on a private citizen, distributing drugs, obstructing justice, and making false statements,” Ferrer said in a statement, of Iglesias. “My office, and the honest and dedicated men and women in law enforcement, have zero tolerance for such corruption.”

Gloom hung over Iglesias and his defense team after the guilty verdicts were announced early Friday, following a two-week trial. They expressed disbelief over the outcome for the 18-year veteran, who was relieved of duty in May 2010.

Defense attorney Rick Diaz had argued to the jury that the case was the result of Iglesias’s attempts to tame an undisciplined anti-drug squad, prompting his detectives to turn against him.

After the verdict, Diaz said the “result would have been different” had the jury been allowed to hear evidence that those same detectives made “several false arrests with falsified arrest reports.”

“An appellate court will allow that evidence at a new trial, and he will be vindicated,” Diaz said. “In the meantime, the verdict suggests that we should put all city of Miami police officers on a leave of absence and give their guns and badges and cruisers to the crack addicts in the city of Miami.”

The jury acquitted Iglesias of only one count: conspiring to violate the civil rights of a suspect upon whom he was accused of planting a small baggie of cocaine in a downtown Miami parking lot.

The jury’s reasonable doubt on that one count apparently came down to a lack of proof. Detectives testified that a colleague of Iglesias’s showed up at the scene to give him the drugs, but admitted they did not actually see the alleged hand-off to the sergeant. Iglesias said the colleague, Ricardo Martinez, did not show up at all on that day in January 2010, accusing the detectives of lying.

The indictment stemmed from what federal prosecutors Ricardo Del Toro and Michael Berger described as four separate incidents of misconduct between January and May 2010, when Iglesias led the CSU, which targets street-level drug sales.

Iglesias was convicted of stealing drugs and money from a suspected Allapattah dope dealer in May 2010, and of lying to investigators about a box of money left in an abandoned car as part of an FBI sting. Agents placed $3,000 in the box, but $800 went missing after Iglesias handled the money.

One member of Iglesias’ CSU team, former detective Roberto Asanza, who pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drug charge from the Allapattah rip-off, testified that his boss said it was OK to pay confidential informants with drugs. Asanza also testified Iglesias saw him give a small baggie of cocaine to an informant while all three of them were sitting in Asanza’s truck.

During closing arguments Wednesday, the jury heard prosecutors depict Iglesias as a dirty cop and his defense attorney portray him as a clean officer.

The trial pitted Iglesias against four detectives in his former squad, characterized as “heroes” by the prosecution for testifying against him but as “liars” by the defense.

“We had four eyewitnesses, police officers who stood up to corruption, who stood up to what was wrong,” Del Toro told the jury during closing arguments.

“What reason do these guys have to lie? None,” added fellow prosecutor Berger. “Which person has the only reason to lie? That’s the defendant. And that’s because his liberty, his job and his livelihood are at stake.”

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