South Florida

Cop witness in middle of Miami police sting takes the heat at trial

Schonton Harris, left, a veteran Miami cop, was sentenced in April to more than 15 years in prison by a federal court judge. She was accused of protecting drug dealers and selling a police uniform and badge for use by a purported hit man. To her right are Kelvin Harris and James Archibald, two Miami cops Schonton Harris is accused of recruiting into the racket. They’re both standing trial in June.
Schonton Harris, left, a veteran Miami cop, was sentenced in April to more than 15 years in prison by a federal court judge. She was accused of protecting drug dealers and selling a police uniform and badge for use by a purported hit man. To her right are Kelvin Harris and James Archibald, two Miami cops Schonton Harris is accused of recruiting into the racket. They’re both standing trial in June. Miami

Catina Anderson messed up plenty as a Miami cop.

She abused painkillers, skipped work from time to time, and got caught running a small-time protection racket for an opioid pusher in the inner-city.

But after flipping for the feds and claiming to go straight, the troubled 12-year police veteran became a key player in an FBI undercover investigation into corrupt cops. Anderson helped investigators zero in on a trio of fellow Miami cops suspected of using their badges just like her to make quick cash on the side.

The probe’s biggest police target has already pleaded guilty, while two other cops are standing trial in Miami federal court on charges of protecting drug traffickers as they moved what the officers thought were bricks of cocaine.

The cocaine was sham, but the FBI investigation was for real.

“Do they tell you what to say?” defense attorney Sabrina Puglisi asked Anderson during the jury trial of the two remaining Miami officers.

“No, the goal is to feel the person out,” Anderson, 45, responded during her testimony Friday.

“Your job is to help the FBI make a case?” Puglisi followed up.

“I was in a sting to look to see if they were corrupted and if they wanted to participate or not,” Anderson declared.

Sting operations have been used for decades in the criminal justice system, as long as cooperating witnesses, confidential informants and undercover investigators don’t induce potential targets to commit crimes they otherwise wouldn’t. In other words, authorities can’t entrap their targets just to make arrests. They have to show the targets are predisposed.

Anderson came close to crossing that line when she suggested the name of a potential police target to a veteran cop whom she had already reeled into the FBI-directed drug-protection scheme. Last September, Anderson told the veteran officer, Schonton Harris, that she thought a young cop named James Archibald seemed ripe for joining their racket.

“Whatever you have to do, get him,” Anderson told Harris in a recorded undercover conversation last year.

Archibald’s defense attorney, Puglisi, accused Anderson of making the suggestion, instead of letting Harris bring up his name first.

“Yes, I said it,” Anderson responded. “Maybe it was not right.”

Through her cross-examination, Puglisi drove that point and many others home, suggesting to the federal jurors that Archibald was wrongfully lured into the FBI sting. She said he also was threatened by Schonton Harris if he didn’t go through with his commitment to protect a series of cocaine loads. The undercover recordings quoted Harris, a 20-year Miami police veteran, with saying she was willing to throw Archibald into Biscayne Bay.

Despite scoring that critical point, the defense still had to confront a trove of undercover recordings and videotapes of Archibald. Among the most damaging: a surveillance shot showing the police officer dressed in plain clothes as he carried a cooler of cocaine into a Marriott hotel to meet up with an undercover drug dealer last October. The dealer then emptied the bricks of cocaine onto a hotel bed so Archibald could see the illegal white powder, which was actually fake. Schonton Harris was with him during the transaction, which involved transporting a second cooler of cocaine to another local Marriott hotel, according to trial evidence.

Afterward, Archibald collected $4,000 in cash from Anderson and Harris, but he refused to dine with them and the dopers at a celebratory dinner at the Fontainebleau hotel on Miami Beach.

Archibald, 33, is standing trial with fellow officer Kelvin Harris, 53, who had been on the Miami force for more than 26 years before his arrest. Both cops, who worked in the North District Substation in Model City, are charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, attempting to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.

Both Archibald and Harris were recruited into the alleged protection racket by Schonton Harris, the 51-year-old ringleader who pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and was sentenced to 15 1/2 years in prison.

Schonton Harris was initially singled out as a likely target in the FBI sting operation after Miami police internal affairs investigators confronted Anderson about running a small-time protection racket for opioid dealers and extorting a bookie. Anderson pleaded guilty to an extortion charge in April and is awaiting sentence.

During trial on Monday, Kelvin Harris’ defense attorney tried to portray Anderson as a liar, accusing her of contradicting her grand jury testimony in January.

Attorney Jonathan Schwartz said that Anderson previously testified that she and Kelvin Harris were in her police cruiser at the Crandon Park marina in Key Biscayne last October, when she witnessed Schonton Harris and Archibald unload two coolers of cocaine off a truck and onto her Mercedes SUV to carry to two local Marriott hotels. But on Monday, Anderson admitted that she was actually in the marina area and did not directly witness the unloading of the cocaine.

Anderson testified that she and Kelvin Harris followed Schonton Harris and Archibald after they left the marina. She also testified that she later saw Kelvin Harris get out of her police cruiser and help Schonton Harris unload the coolers at the Marriott in downtown Miami.

“Can’t you just admit that you’re lying?” Schwartz told Anderson on the witness stand.

“The same story I told today is the same story that happened,” Anderson said. “I can’t change [my testimony] because everything was recorded.”

Schwartz also accused Anderson of lying that Kelvin Harris was carrying a gun during the drug-protection scheme. But Anderson insisted that Harris was carrying his personal weapon, a Sig Sauer, and had shown it to her at Schonton Harris’ home before doing one of their protection scams.

“He told me he had a gun,” Anderson testified, “but I didn’t actually see it.”

Despite the tense exchange in court, Anderson recorded herself paying Kelvin Harris thousands of dollar in cash for his take of the protection racket. After one job last September, Kelvin Harris is videotaped as he leans through the window of Anderson’s police cruiser while Schonton Harris counts out $2,500 in cash — just a few blocks from the North District Substation.

“She was counting his money out for him,” Anderson testified. “I gave it to Schonton, and she gave it to him.”

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