Crime

Miami-Dade officer pleads guilty to fraud for role in credit-repair ring

Moonlighting on the job, a Miami-Dade County cop wrote 159 police reports claiming people with bad credit histories were “victims” of identity theft, according to court records.

The reality: Veteran Miami-Dade police officer George Price fabricated the reports and sold them so they could be used to remove blemishes from the purported victims' credit histories.

Price, 42, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge Friday for his supporting role in an alleged credit-repair ring. Price, who joined the force in 1999, must resign by next week.

He faces up to 20 years in prison on his fraud conviction, but is expected to receive a significantly shorter sentence because he pleaded guilty and has agreed to assist the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in their investigation, according to a plea deal signed by Price, his defense attorney, Marshall Dore Louis, and the prosecutor, Michael Davis.

In the end, Price didn’t make much for exploiting his badge: $7,000. He must turn over to the feds the bribery payments he received in 2010-11.

Price was not operating alone.

Through an intermediary, he was working for Vanessa and Mario Perez, a Miami-Dade couple who already pleaded guilty. They made more than $322,000 by clearing up the lousy credit reports of people with bad bill-paying histories, according to court records.

Price and at least three other police officers and an unnamed person wrote 215 falsified police reports for $200 to $250 a pop that the couple used to claim their customers were victims of identity theft — when they were not, court records show.

Vanessa Perez’s “intermediary” in dealing with Price was Mitchell Page, one of her customers and a friend of the officer’s. Last year, Page pleaded guilty for his role. A statement filed with his plea agreement noted that Page “would deliver a portion” of each bribe payment to Price and “keep the remainder for himself.”

Also charged earlier this year with Price: fellow Miami-Dade police officer Rafael Duran, 43, who has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Also named in the alleged scheme: the couple’s assistant, Fatima Ruiz. She is accused of helping obtain false police reports and writing letters about the ID theft “victims” to the credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Transunion and Experian. Ruiz is also accused of providing the couple’s funds to Page to pay off Price, and of compensating the officer for false police reports to benefit her own credit-repair business, court records show.

The false ID theft claims provided the couple’s clients — who paid $1,500 each for the Pereze’ services — with an official excuse for their bad credit histories so they could get negative items removed from their reports, according to court records. In turn, the customers could boost their credit scores with reporting agencies and obtain credit cards, loans and other financing again.

Duran is also accused of writing additional police reports for himself and a “personal associate” — claiming they were victims of ID theft — then signing another officer’s name to the documents to avoid getting caught, according to the indictment.

Duran’s defense attorney, Douglas Hartman, said his client was an actual victim of ID theft and hired Vanessa Perez in 2010 to help clean up his credit mess before eventually firing her. Duran, who joined the Miami-Dade police in 1994 and worked in the sexual victims bureau before being relieved of duty, has pleaded not guilty and plans to go to trial.

Two other former veteran police officers, Richard Muñoz, 45, and Lazaro Fernandez, 40, who respectively worked in the cities of South Miami and Miami, also pleaded guilty to participating in the couple's scheme.

  Comments