On one occasion, a group of Sweetwater cops ransacked a man’s home, stealing computers, iPads, TVs and even the man’s truck.
Another day, the cops badly beat a suspected thief for hours inside the Sweetwater station, masking the sounds by blaring reggaeton music, all while taking “trophy” photos.
Yet another suspect was pummeled and “water-boarded” – forced to swallow water, in a dark room, until he falsely confessed to a burglary. The man had to be hospitalized with broken bones in his face and a rib fracture.
These are just some of the allegations against a group of Sweetwater police officers, a pair of whom were charged Tuesday in what prosecutors say was a disturbing pattern of theft and physical violence against citizens.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
Sgt. Reny Armando Garcia, 46, was arrested to face charges of organized scheme to defraud, racketeering and conspiracy.
Also charged was former Sweetwater detective William Garcia, 42, who is not related to his former co-worker. William Garcia is already in federal prison on unrelated identity theft and fraud charges.
A third, Octavio Oliu, was charged years ago on allegations he used a stolen license plate to shirk road tolls. He too will face racketeering charges.
Oliu’s defense attorney, C. Michael Cornely, called many of the victims “scoundrels” and crooks making false allegations against the police officers.
“We’ve been defending this case for over a year,” Cornely said. “They keep adding defendants. They’re stalling. It’s like they won’t want to go to trial and get the truth out.”
Tuesday’s arrest upset Reny Garcia’s lawyer, Douglas Hartman, who said federal authorities long ago cleared his client and that the sergeant had even returned to work.
“It’s an absolute outrage,” Hartman said. “My guy was cleared by the feds. He’s a great, hard-working cop.”
The arrest is another blow for the small West Miami-Dade city beset by the arrests of public officials in recent years, many of them stemming from a twisted relationship with a tow company that worked in cahoots with cops to shake down motorists.
That included former Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño, who served federal prison time for corruption.
“The arrests are part of a larger investigation based on decades of corruption, cultivated from the top down, at the Sweetwater Police Department and city,” the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said in a press release.
“The investigation has not revealed criminal wrongdoing of the current Sweetwater police administration, and its chief has fully cooperated.”
The FBI probe began when Sweetwater was headed by former police chief Roberto Fulgueira, who left the office in 2013. His replacement, Jesus “Jesse” Menocal, left two years later before he was replaced by current top cop Placido Diaz.
The feds worked alongside Miami-Dade Police and the FDLE, which spent years compiling the alleged wrongdoings. In all, they listed eight separate episodes of beatings or theft, or both, in 2012 and 2013.
Among the other allegations:
▪ Reinel Valdiva, the man who was water-boarded, also had his truck seized by police and Southland Towing; the vehicle disappeared even though a judge ordered it returned. As for Valdiva’s beating. he described “William Garcia making strange movements, imitating karate-type moves and hitting him the ear and rib area.”
▪ The officers essentially stole one man’s pickup truck, using it as a police vehicle – installing sirens and lights – while racking up toll violations.
▪ The trio of officer, without permission or a warrant, barged into one couple’s house in Homestead, stealing money and electronics and a Nissan Altima, while William Garcia made racists remarks about Colombians. One of the residents was also severely beaten – he told investigators “he thought he would die from the beatings.”
The case will be tried by the Attorney General’s statewide prosecution office.