Miami-Dade detective faces trial on charges of protecting pot ring

Alex Santiesteban, member of pot-growing clan.
Alex Santiesteban, member of pot-growing clan.

Onetime Miami-Dade County narcotics Detective Roderick Silva, who faces trial this month on charges of protecting a notorious pot ring, might have been too smart for his own good.

Almost six years ago, Derrick Santiesteban, the boss of a family-run grow-house racket, contacted Silva to fill him in on rival gang members posing as cops who had ripped off about 50 pounds of pot from his southwest Miami-Dade home.

Santiesteban wanted the police detective to help him recover the hydroponically grown shipment stolen on June 25, 2009, according to federal prosecutors. But Silva warned him that arresting the robbers “would likely bring down scrutiny on” his pot syndicate — so Santiesteban told the detective “to just forget it,” prosecutors say.

Three days later, the leader of the rival gang, Fidel Ruz Moreno, was found fatally shot on the street in the Hammocks area. Silva, who learned about the murder immediately, waited a full day before reporting snippets of his relationship to the Santiesteban clan to Miami-Dade investigators.

Prosecutors believe Silva went to county homicide detectives in an attempt to cover his tracks and that he lied to them. He also refused “to go on the record” with his statement, saying he feared retaliation if he testified against Derrick Santiesteban, according to a police report.

Silva’s statement, however, would expose him as a possible suspect. Silva, who worked as a Hammocks area patrolman at the time, was immediately reassigned to the Miami-Dade Police Department’s records unit.

Silva, now relieved of duty, was charged last year with aiding and abetting the Santiestebans’ marijuana-distribution conspiracy and with extortion for accepting $1,500 from the family to keep quiet.

Silva, 45, who joined the Miami-Dade force in 2003, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on both counts. His trial starts April 20 before U.S. District Judge Robert Scola. It was continued from last month, possibly to allow more time to work out a plea deal between lead prosecutor Pat Sullivan and Silva’s defense attorney, Nathan Diamond. He declined to comment Friday.

The prosecutor disclosed Silva’s police statement earlier this year in a court motion seeking to introduce evidence about the former detective’s use of cocaine at social gatherings with Santiesteban family members to show they “trusted” him. Diamond — whose defense maintains that Silva used Derrick Santiesteban as a “confidential source” — countered that the cocaine allegation was unrelated to the charges against his client and would harm him in the eyes of a jury.

But Scola, the judge, sided with the prosecutor, allowing that evidence at trial.

Scola concluded “the evidence of Silva’s cocaine use ... is offered to show his acceptance into the Santiesteban family, his co-conspirators’ trust in him, and his motivation to provide information and support to the enterprise.”

The former detective is the brother of one of the key members of the Santiesteban family’s operation, David Silva.

According to a federal indictment, Roderick Silva tipped off the organization about upcoming police raids, allowing them to dismantle and move their indoor hydroponic grow-house operations.

Silva, who is alleged to have been paid by the gang, also passed along the locations of rival marijuana grow houses, information the Santiestebans used in home-invasion robberies, the feds say.

He also gave the clan tips on how to avoid police and even passed along misinformation to his fellow detectives about the Santiestebans’ large-scale operation.

The Santiestebans — headed by patriarch Gilberto Sr. and joined by sons Derrick, Gilberto Jr., Alexander and Darvis — were charged along with 16 others over the past three years. All but Roderick Silva have been convicted.

Investigators say the Santiesteban clan operated 20 indoor hydroponic marijuana grow houses, yielding at least 1,146 potent pot plants that produced millions of dollars in profits from a distribution network in the Northeast.

Miami-Dade police and Drug Enforcement Administration agents took down the outfit after they began investigating the gang’s murder of the rival doper, Ruz.

The group was accused of fatally shooting him in June 2009 after the man had ripped off about 50 pounds of marijuana from Derrick Santiesteban as he and his wife were packaging the load at their southwest Miami-Dade home to transport to New York.

All of the gang members are serving long prison sentences, including Derrick Santiesteban, who received a life sentence. He is expected to testify for the prosecution against Silva, zeroing in on their conversation after rival gang members posing as cops who stole his pot shipment.

“Conspirator Derrick Santiesteban will testify at trial that he had exterior surveillance cameras on his house, which recorded the police-impersonators stealing his marijuana,” according to court papers filed by prosecutors.

“He will further testify that he met up with defendant Roderick Silva to discuss how [the] defendant could aid him in recovering his marijuana, and that he showed the tape to [Silva].

“He will testify that [Silva] told him that perhaps law enforcement authorities could find and arrest the police-impersonators, but if so, arresting them would likely bring scrutiny on him, Derrick.”

Santiesteban told the narcotics detective to ignore his plan. A few days later, the rival doper, Ruz, would be murdered.