Miami-Dade County

Former Miami-Dade cop convicted of fraud on the job

The last of four local police officers caught falsifying reports for thousands of dollars to assist people with bad credit histories has been convicted of fraud in Miami federal court.

After deliberating on Wednesday, jurors found that former Miami-Dade police officer Rafael Duran conspired with a ring that submitted hundreds of fabricated reports that allowed people to clean up their poor credit histories by claiming they were victims of identity theft.

Trial evidence dating back to 2010 showed that the veteran county officer wrote 10 false incident reports for customers of a crooked credit-repair business as well as for himself and a family member.

Duran, 44, was immediately placed in custody after being found guilty of eight counts of conspiracy and wire fraud. He was acquitted of two counts of honest-services fraud. Duran, who joined the force in 1994, now faces several years in prison at his July 26 sentencing before U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez.

Duran’s role in the scheme, orchestrated by a couple who owned a credit-repair business, was minor compared with that of his former colleague, another veteran Miami-Dade officer, George Price. Last year, Price pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge after admitting he wrote 159 police reports claiming the couple’s customers were victims of identity theft. He fabricated the reports and sold them for $200 to $250 each so they could be used to remove blemishes from the purported victims’ credit histories.

Price, 43, who joined the force in 1999, was sentenced to four years in prison.

Price did not operate alone, according to the FBI. Through an intermediary, he was working for Vanessa and Mario Perez, a Miami-Dade couple who pleaded guilty. They made more than $322,000 by clearing up the lousy credit reports of people with bad bill-paying histories, according to court records.

Vanessa Perez's “intermediary” in dealing with Price was Mitchell Page, one of her customers and a friend of the officer’s. In 2014, Page pleaded guilty for his role. A statement filed with his plea agreement noted that Page “would deliver a portion” of each bribe payment to Price and “keep the remainder for himself.”

Also involved in the scheme: the couple's assistant, Fatima Ruiz. In April, Ruiz pleaded guilty to helping obtain false police reports and writing letters about the ID theft “victims” to the credit reporting agencies Equifax, Transunion and Experian.

The false ID theft claims provided the couple’s customers — who paid $1,500 each for their services — with an official excuse for their bad credit histories so they could get negative items removed from their reports, according to court records. In turn, the customers could boost their credit scores with reporting agencies and obtain credit cards, loans and other financing again.

Duran’s defense attorney, Douglas Hartman, argued that his client was an actual victim of ID theft and hired Vanessa Perez in 2010 to help clean up his credit mess before eventually firing her. But federal prosecutors Michael Davis and Ilham Hosseini disproved that claim, showing that Duran, who testified at his trial, falsified those reports and put them in the name of a fellow Miami-Dade detective without telling him.

Evidence showed that Duran wrote the false report for himself so he could remove a blemish from his credit history for failing to make mortgage payments on a Naples condo he had acquired in 2007.

In addition to Duran and Price, two other local police officers, Richard Muñoz, 46, and Lazaro Fernandez, 41, who respectively worked in the cities of South Miami and Miami, pleaded guilty to participating in the couple’s scheme. Muñoz was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison and Fernandez to two years of probation.