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Miami police officer sentenced to more than one year in prison following FBI ‘sting’

Harold James always wanted to be a Miami police officer, and got his foot in the door when he joined the department’s volunteer Explorers as a 15-year-old.

Flash forward: On Tuesday, James, 29, found himself crying in front of a federal judge as he pointed to his wife, mother and other family members sitting in the courtroom. James, convicted of accepting hundreds of dollars in bribes as a police officer to protect a Liberty City check-cashing business, tried to convince U.S. District Judge Robert Scola that his “stupid” crime did not tell his life’s story.

“If anybody asked me for the shirt off my back, I gave it to them,” James told the judge. “Church and work, that’s all I do.”

Scola, a former state prosecutor and circuit judge, reminded the eight-year veteran that some people in the community have a hard time believing police officers because of the wrongdoing of cops like James and others in his embattled department.

“It seems the City of Miami Police Department has a culture of corruption that exceeds all other police departments,” Scola said, before sentencing James to one year and three months in prison. “You threw away your career for chump change — $800.”

James, who had resigned in November, was targeted by a fellow police officer who flipped for the feds after Miami-Dade police raided a sports gambling ring in Liberty City last year. It marked the beginning of an FBI probe that would expose internal corruption and shake up the Miami Police Department.

The judge’s punishment fell below the federal sentencing guidelines for James’ two extortion convictions, which ranged from 2 to 2 1/2 years. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin Waugh and James’ defense attorney, Anthony Moss, jointly recommended that he receive 1 1/2 years in prison, citing his February plea agreement, prompt admission of guilt and cooperation with investigators.

“He was entrusted with protecting the public from crime ... not with using his badge to abuse that trust,” Waugh said.

Moss tried to soften the defendant’s misconduct, saying he had been “on his way to a solid career in law enforcement.” He also said that James pocketed the illegal protection money because of his family’s “financial desperation”.

Anya James, who had worked as a civilian employee for the Miami Police Department, described her husband as an “honorable man” who “went out of his way to help others” — but was ultimately exploited by a fellow officer whom the husband had looked up to as a “father figure.”

The fellow officer: Nathaniel Dauphin, 42, who had joined the police department in 1996. Dauphin began cooperating with the FBI a year ago. Dauphin was one of several Miami police officers implicated in an off-duty protection racket at the Liberty City sports betting business. It operated out of the Player’s Choice Barber Shop, 6301 NW Sixth Ave.

At the direction of FBI agents, Dauphin called and met with James last April and paid him $100 for providing “protection coverage” at the betting operation, according to court documents and sources familiar with the case. Then, while secretly recording their meeting, Dauphin enticed James to provide protection for another business that was purportedly cashing fraudulent tax refund checks.

The “cat is doing something shady ... trying to keep from getting hit,” Dauphin told James, referring to the check-cashing proprietor. Dauphin told James he would be paid “cash under the table.”

James’ response: “Sounds good to me.”

James, while under surveillance by the FBI and Miami police internal affairs detectives, provided protection for the Liberty City check-cashing store – in reality, part of an undercover “sting” – five times in April and May 2012, according to a statement filed with his plea agreement in federal court.

He was paid $800 by Dauphin, who had told him the detail was to protect a courier worried about getting robbed and for “warning” about “police activity” around the check-cashing store at Northwest 79th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Although Dauphin was not identified by name in James’ plea statement, multiple sources familiar with the investigation said it referred to Dauphin, who they said began cooperating with the FBI’s corruption task force soon after the sports gambling operation was shut down in March of last year. The court document refers only to a “cooperating defendant.”

Dauphin, who helped organize the protection racket for the Liberty City sports-betting operation, pleaded guilty in February to a single charge of extortion conspiracy. It alleged he “protected and facilitated illegal activity – gambling – in exchange for receipts of cash payments” between November 2010 and March 2012.

Dauphin was paid $5,000, according to court records. He is scheduled for sentencing next Monday.

James and Dauphin are among 11 Miami police officers facing federal criminal charges or internal discipline related to the gambling protection scheme and other criminal activities, The Miami Herald has learned. Among the other criminal offenses: stealing names from a state driver’s license database for tax-refund fraud schemes.

The officers, who worked in the Model City substation, have already resigned or been relieved of duty.