Former Miami chief Exposito wore wire in unsuccessful criminal probe

Miguel Exposito, the former Miami police chief who continually sparred with the city’s mayor, secretly wore an FBI wire to try to implicate officials in what he thought was an attempt to bribe or extort him into leaving office.

But ultimately, the FBI declined to bring any charges and passed the case to state authorities.

And Miami-Dade prosecutors, in a report released Wednesday, concluded that the city’s proposed $400,000 “buy-out” of Exposito in January 2011 was just that — an attempt at a legitimate severance package.

The state investigation, handled by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, also concluded that Mayor Tomas Regalado’s role in the buy-out negotiations and efforts to oust the chief did not violate the city’s charter, which would have been a misdemeanor.

Exposito stood by his claims Wednesday that he felt that Regalado, the city manager and the chief financial officer broke the law by suggesting he would lose his job unless he took the money.

“I felt a crime was commited,” Exposito said. “They told me, you better take the money, or the commission is going to meet and fire you.”

After reading the final report, Regalado called Exposito’s actions “unheard of.”

“When I read the it, I thought, ‘This is really weird. The guy was trying to set up the administration,’” he said.

The revelation adds a twist to the already tumultous tenure of Exposito, who accused Regalado of meddling into an investigation of video gaming machines. The chief was also heavily criticized for a series of fatal police shootings.

The Miami City Commission ultimately fired Exposito in September 2011. The former chief unsuccessfully appealed his firing to a panel of Miami-Dade circuit judges; he is asking the Third District Court of Appeal to review that decision.

Back in January 2011, then-Miami Commissioner Rev. Richard Dunn — who had been critical of the police shootings of seven black men in inner-city neighborhoods — had been calling for Exposito’s ouster.

The “close-out” memo released Wednesday detailed how the efforts to remove Exposito unfolded.

Then-Chief Financial Officer Larry Spring told prosecutors that the mayor was tormented by his crumbling relationship with the police chief, whom the mayor himself had appointed in November 2009.

In a meeting with Regalado and then-City Manager Tony Crapp, Spring suggested setting up a peace-making meeting with the mayor and the chief. But when Spring called Exposito, the chief refused to participate.

Spring returned to the mayor and manager with another suggestion, he told prosecutors: offer a severance to Exposito for resigning.

The mayor agreed, as did Crapp, who told Miami-Dade prosecutors and state agents that he was the one who authorized the proposed settlement.

Spring called Exposito with the offer of a severance and a meeting was set. Several telephone calls were also exchanged.

But in the meantime, Exposito called the FBI, which agreed to outfit the chief with a secret recording device, the report said, “to see if the Mayor or any member of the Mayor’s staff would attempt to commit or actually committed a crime.”

A FBI spokesman declined to comment.

The final meetings took place on Jan. 12, and ultimately, Exposito did not agree to the buy-out, although an initial $200,000 check was cut by the city that same day. Another $200,000 check was to be given to him after he stepped down, Exposito said.

“The recordings revealed that it was the chief that set the amount sought,” the close-out memo stated. “The chief also expressed numerous times that that he did not want to pay taxes on the money, and that if the deal went through, it would need to be structured in a way to meet that criteria.”

Exposito said Wednesday that his insistence on not paying taxes was all part of the sting.

“I had no intentions of taking the money,” he said, blasting the administration for cutting a check — without city commission approval — from a “sovereign immunity” fund that is meant to pay settlements for people who sue the city.

Months later, a copy of the voided check appeared on a local blog, TheCrespoGramReport.com

Regalado said Wednesday that he feels “vindicated.”

“The memo and the taped conversations show that he was the one that asked us for the money,” Regalado said. “He was the one that wanted to set the different terms and not pay taxes. I hope people will see who he really is.”

Spring could not be reached for comment.

Miami Herald staff writer Kathleen McGrory contributed to this report.