Miami-Dade police lieutenant pleads guilty to aiding cocaine smugglers

An ex-Miami-Dade police internal affairs lieutenant who secretly teamed up with cocaine smugglers to smuggle guns through airport security pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court.

The arrest of Ralph Mata — cuffed by federal agents while at his office last year — shocked the Miami-Dade police department, which had assigned him to one of the agency’s most sensitive units.

Mata pleaded guilty to three federal charges, including aiding and abetting a narcotics conspiracy.

He remains free on bail while awaiting a July 14 sentencing in a New Jersey federal courtroom. The 45-year-old Mata faces from 10 years to life in prison.

“Ralph Mata has decided to accept responsibility for his conduct, and is remorseful,” said his Miami attorney, Bruce Fleisher. “The decision was made in his best interest, and in the best interest of his family.”

Fleisher said Mata’s long career as a police officer was “unblemished” until his arrest.

The disgraced ex-cop worked for a group of smugglers who had for years illegally imported drugs in shipping containers containing bananas from Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.

Mata — who nicknamed himself the “Milk Man” — admitted to buying six guns for the group run by a man named Juan Arias. Using his law enforcement contacts, Mata smuggled the guns through security checkpoints at Miami International Airport and onto planes bound for the Dominican Republic.

Federal prosecutors also said Mata helped plan the execution of two rival drug dealers, even proposing that his “contacts” could dress up like cops and pull over the men before killing them. But the plan was eventually scrapped.

According to the FBI, Mata also accompanied a suitcase full of drug money to the island, used his position as a cop to give secret intelligence to the group, and suggested ways to smuggle in dope through Miami.

Mata joined the Miami-Dade police in 1992. Among his duties: stints as a canine officer and a lieutenant in Miami Gardens, where he worked on busting drug and prostitution rings.

He had been with internal affairs, known officially as the Professional Compliance Bureau, since March 2010. The unit is dedicated to rooting out misconduct and crimes of fellow officers.