South Florida

Hialeah cop pleads guilty to stealing IDs in exchange for goods, including MacBook

Hialeah police officer Raul Castellon
Hialeah police officer Raul Castellon

Raul Castellon, an officer with a troubled career in the Hialeah Police Department, has admitted to stealing dozens of IDs from a state database and giving them to an associate who bought goods at retail stores with the victims’ credit-card accounts.

In exchange for supplying Florida drivers’ IDs, the officer received gifts such as clothes, shoes, an Apple MacBook and an Apple iPad from the associate, Neilin Gonzalez Diaz, also of Hialeah.

Castellon, 38, pleaded guilty Thursday to the identity-theft offense and related charges before U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno. Gonzalez Diaz, 32, pleaded guilty to the same charges last week.

Both Castellon and Gonzalez Diaz face potentially stiff punishment at their sentencing hearing in July, including a mandatory minimum of two years in prison for aggravated identity theft in a retail scheme that lasted from June to October of 2016.

Federal prosecutors said that Castellon’s theft of about 40 Florida drivers’ personal information from the state database resulted in victims’ losses of between $40,000 and $95,000.

When federal agents confronted Castellon about using the database for the ID theft-retail racket, he said: “I realized what I was doing was wrong,” according to a statement filed with his plea deal.

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.

Castellon was charged in March with using his position to access Florida’s Driver Vehicle Information Database for personal gain, along with conspiracy and extortion. In the plea statement, Castellon admitted that he had accessed the system and had taken dozens of screen shots of license plate and Social Security numbers and passed them along to Gonzalez Diaz.

Then, Gonzalez Diaz accessed credit cards and directed a co-conspirator to go shopping. At a Floor & Decor store in Pembroke Pines last September, the co-conspirator spent $3,733 on merchandise, including tile. A day later, she directed the co-conspirator to spend an additional $2,078 at the same store.

The charges against Castellon, whose more than decade-long career is peppered with punishments and investigations into alleged misdeeds, come just a few years after the Hialeah Police Department thought it had put to rest a string of embarrassing situations involving officers.

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 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.

Less than two years later, an arbitrator returned Castellon to service after a hearing, but with a caveat: he would receive a 900-hour suspension without pay. In July 2016, Hialeah police became aware of the federal investigation; three months later, he was placed on leave again.