The Opa-locka city commissioner who took his own life before he was to surrender to face bribery charges had also been investigated for possession of child pornography on his cellphone, court documents show.
But while investigators found three child-porn images on his Samsung Galaxy phone, state prosecutors said they were unlikely to charge Terence Pinder. The reason: Pinder thought a virus was to blame for the images, and an official forensic analysis of the device found evidence that might have backed up that assertion.
“We could not disprove his explanation for the illegal images,” Ed Griffith, a Miami-Dade state attorney’s office spokesman, said in a statement in response to a Miami Herald request for an update on the investigation.
Pinder’s defense attorney, Ben Kuehne, said that he and his client insisted that Pinder’s personal cellphone had been hacked or infected with a virus and urged the state attorney’s office to conduct the forensic analysis — asserting that it would show he had not downloaded the illegal images.
On Thursday, Kuehne said he was upset with the office’s comment about the child-porn investigation, saying it should have clearly stated that the evidence showed no crime was committed.
“The language used is parsed to leave open the question that Terence Pinder may have committed the crime,” Kuehne told the Herald. “That’s an outrageous position for the state attorney to take. It’s an equivocal response designed to leave open the suggestion that he’s probably guilty but they can’t prove it now that he’s dead. It’s not only disrespectful but undercuts the rule of law.”
Kuehne also condemned the state attorney’s office for unsealing a search warrant containing the allegations of Pinder’s possessing child-porn images on his cellphone two days after his death.
“It begs the question whether the release was an unfair attempt to diminish Mr. Pinder’s reputation,” Kuehne said. “Given the enormous power of the state to cause injury, a fair exercise of judgment and discretion should have led to these matters remaining under the court seal.”
Florida’s public-records laws, however, are very broad, and most records become public once an investigation is complete. In this case, the investigation was closed once Pinder took his own life.
The Miami Herald requested, and was given, copies of the warrants after Pinder died.
The bribery and child-porn warrants, and details of what was seized in the raids on Pinder’s home, were also filed publicly in the Miami-Dade clerk’s office, which is standard in almost all state criminal investigations. Search warrants filed with that office are routinely reviewed by members of the news media.
Pinder, 43, plowed his city-issued Chevy Tahoe into a tree near the Opa-locka airport on May 24, the day before he was to surrender to state prosecutors to face a bribery charge. His death added another layer of intrigue to the saga of Opa-locka, which remains mired in a wide-ranging federal corruption probe as the state has taken control of the municipal government’s finances in the perennially scandal-ridden, mismanaged city.
The state attorney’s investigation into Pinder was unrelated to the federal probe, which is targeting City Manager David Chiverton and Commissioner Luis Santiago, among other officials.
Pinder was accused of accepting more than $7,000 in cash payments from a businessman who once had a solid-waste contract with Opa-locka and later asked the commissioner for a political favor to obtain a transfer station designation to haul garbage. The businessman, Jose Flores, was actually working undercover for police and recorded over a dozen meetings with Pinder as the two allegedly plotted schemes from June of last year through February.
Pinder and his lawyer repeatedly denied the bribery claims. They insisted that Pinder was merely trying to collect a debt from Flores, CEO of Ecological Paper Recycling, who once employed the commissioner as a consultant when he was not in office in 2012-1013. Pinder later filed a claim for $25,000 in back pay that he asserted was owed to him when Flores’ company filed for bankruptcy in 2015. Pinder dropped his claim after Flores paid him the cash.
Detectives in the bribery probe stumbled upon the child-porn images after a raid on Pinder’s home in March. Details of the case were outlined in a search warrant filed in Miami-Dade circuit court.
While searching Pinder’s city-issued cellphone for evidence in the bribery case, a Miami-Dade police detective found three images of child pornography. According to the warrant, a Miami Beach detective immediately stopped his search so another search warrant could be secured to seize Pinder’s computers, which led to the discovery of DVDs featuring adult pornography.
Pinder’s cellphone was eventually analyzed with the help of the U.S. Secret Service, which specializes in computer forensics.
A friend who worked with Pinder at the Opa-locka flea market said the commissioner was not only worried about the bribery probe but also the child-porn investigation before his death. Julio Uzat said Pinder insisted that a virus caused the illegal images to infect his phone.
Said Uzat: “It was another thing that troubled him before he took his life.”