Cop convicted of stealing $277 in gas sentenced to three years’ probation

Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Emil Van Lugo in the garage of his Kendall home in 2015.
Miami-Dade Police Sgt. Emil Van Lugo in the garage of his Kendall home in 2015. Miami Herald File

Emil Van Lugo, a decorated Miami-Dade cop with an affinity for expensive sports cars and a fondness for Magnum P.I., was sentenced to three years’ probation on Tuesday after a jury convicted him of stealing $277 worth of county gas.

State prosecutors, who initially offered to drop the case if Lugo gave up his badge, were pushing for a four-month sentence. But Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Diane Ward said she saw no need to jail the first-time offender who was convicted for a nonviolent crime.

“It’s always a dark day in our community when someone such as a police officer is found guilty of a crime,” Ward said.

Lugo must also pay some court costs and complete 100 hours of community service for each year of probation.

Prosecutors say Lugo made more than 50 trips to county Fuel Site 17 at 7900 SW 107th Ave. between January and March of last year. Working undercover, detectives videotaped Lugo pouring gas from a red container into his wife’s BMW in the family’s Kendall garage.

But Lugo, a sergeant earning $130,000 a year and who once compared himself to the mustachioed Magnum P.I., said they were mistaken. He said the two Ferraris and the BMW that filled his garage only used high-octane gas and that he took home extra fuel to top off the standard Crown Victoria he used for work.

At trial in September, jurors took just over two hours to convict the 16-year veteran of theft and organized scheme to defraud. After his arrest last year, Lugo had been relieved of duty without pay. His job was terminated before his conviction in September.

Fuel theft has become an issue within the police department. Last year, authorities arrested Miami-Dade Police Officer Rose Stabio and her husband for filling up their personal cars from a county fueling facility. Each had their charges dismissed after completing a program for first-time offenders. Stabio agreed to leave police work.

Lugo, who has a 9-month-old son, began selling real estate to support his family after he lost his job. He was forced to sell one of his Ferraris to pay for his legal team.

Still, Tuesday was a victory of sorts for Lugo and his family, who pleaded with Judge Ward not to sentence him to jail.

“Emil has an incredible heart. He’s an amazing father and an amazing husband,” his wife, Irene Lugo, told Ward. “He’s suffered enough. He really has.”

Lugo’s attorney, David Edelstein, argued that his client was forced into a corner by not accepting the state’s initial offer to drop the charges if the officer gave up his badge.

“What the state is asking, in effect, is that my client be punished for the right to go to trial,” Edelstein said.

Finally, Lugo spoke: “My whole dream was to become a police officer. Incarcerating me will only tear my family apart. … Please, I beg you, don’t put me in jail.”