Crime

Convicted Miami River cop charged again in cocaine smuggling case

A former police officer who served one of the stiffest prison sentences in the notorious Miami River cops case — a crime rife with drug rip-offs and murders — has been charged again with cocaine trafficking.

Osvaldo Jesus Coello, among about 20 former Miami police officers convicted in the river case, faces federal trial next month with two other men on charges of conspiring to smuggle multiple kilos of cocaine on a power boat into Miami in September. All three defendants — Coello, 56, Frankley Ortiz, 44, and Manuel Rafael Franco — have pleaded not guilty and are still in custody because they have not met their bonds. If convicted at trial, they could receive maximum punishment of life in prison.

Coello’s defense attorney, Elio Vazquez, declined to comment on Tuesday.

According to an FBI affidavit, Customs and Border Patrol agents detected a 35-foot Marlin center console with twin engines traveling 20 miles off the coast of Miami on Sept. 25. As the vessel approached Miami, federal agents and Miami-Dade police K-9 units stopped it and found 15 bundles of suspected cocaine hidden inside a compartment. A field test confirmed cocaine in one of the packages, the affidavit said. Ortiz, Coello and Franco each invoked their right to remain silent or their right to an attorney, giving no further statements.

Previously, authorities said, Ortiz had been stopped on the same boat with about $1.4 million in cash while he was traveling from South Florida to the Bahamas.

Coello's latest encounter with the law pales compared with his involvement in the region's most scandalous police prosecution.

In 1988, a federal judge sentenced Coello to 35 years in prison — the stiffest term handed down so far in the massive corruption case. At the time, U.S. District Judge Kenneth Ryskamp said that while Coello was no more culpable than five of his co-defendants who received 30-year sentences, he had to be punished for jumping bond.

Coello, then 27, was free on bond after the first river cops trial ended in a mistrial on Jan. 21, 1987. The following May, about to be re-arrested, Coello fled the country. He spent 5 1/2 months as a fugitive in Jamaica and the Bahamas before he was captured in October 1987. While Coello was a fugitive, his father committed suicide hours after he had been arrested for shoplifting meat from a grocery store.

In February 1988, a federal jury convicted Coello and co-defendant Mario Carballo on racketeering, cocaine and conspiracy charges.

The prosecutor sought an even harsher sentence of 60 years, saying Coello demonstrated a propensity for violence by beating up victims of drug rip-offs, punching out witnesses and committing home invasion robberies.

But the judge noted that the U.S. attorney's office was willing to accept a plea from Coello of 40 years in prison. Coello wanted to accept the deal, as long as he did not have to plead guilty to civil rights violations in the drownings of three smugglers, the judge said. Those plea negotiations fell apart when prosecutors insisted on the civil rights counts.

Jurors acquitted Coello in the deaths of the smugglers, who drowned in the Miami River during a July 1985 rip-off of 400 kilograms of cocaine at the Jones Boat Yard.

Although Coello was sentenced to 35 years in prison, he served about two-thirds of that time because of good behavior.

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