Drug Money Fuels Miami-area Police Corruption
MIAMI (AP) _ The lure of easy drug money is tempting growing numbers of Miami-area police and even federal agents to cross the line into trafficking, armed robbery, kidnapping and possibly murder, officials say.
Scandals have rocked the region’s three largest police departments, and the FBI announced Friday it had joined the investigation of police corruption.
Eight active duty municipal or county officers have been arrested, fired, or relieved of duty in the last two months, and as many as 22 others are under investigation.
One of the biggest factors is the flood of drug money into the Miami area, the chief link between South American producers and U.S. consumers.
″You see millions of dollars being thrown around by drug traffickers,″ says agent Billy Yout of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. ″There’s so much money around, I’m sure they could buy anything they want - not just law enforcement, but prosecutors and judges if they were willing.″
Yout notes that most law enforcement officers earn $20,000 to $40,000 while chasing dealers earning 100 times as much.
″They say ’Look at these guys,‴ said Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesman Mike Brick. ‴He’s getting rich and I’m not. He’s driving away in his new Cadillac or new Jaguar and he’s thumbing his nose.‴
Even veteran federal agents have fallen to the temptation. Undercover FBI agent Dan Mitrione, 38, was arrested in March for entering into his own drug deals, and pleaded guilty. Former DEA agent Roger Schow, 43, pleaded guilty in Miami on Oct. 10 to charges of accepting bribes to turn over secret reports to suspected drug traffickers.
When Schow was arrested in May, Assistant U.S. Attorney Roberto Martinez said he had endangered the lives of two informants and an undercover investigator.
But hardest hit has been Miami.
One active and one retired officer were arrested in August and accused of selling weapons to undercover agents. They also allegedly offered to sell police badges and radios.
Two narcotics agents were relieved of duty with pay after $150,000 intended for use by undercover investigators was discovered stolen Oct. 9 from the department safe. No charges have been filed against them.
Two officers were arrested Friday and charged with possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia. Another was fired two months ago for using cocaine.
Law enforcement sources have told The Associated Press that as many as 10 more Miami officers are under investigation, at least some in relation to ″home invasions,″ in which armed robbers break into occupied houses. The Miami Herald has said investigators are examining the possible connection of Miami police to the slayings of three suspected drug dealers found dead Aug. 31 in the Miami River.
The Metro-Dade police department, which patrols the populous unincorporated area around Miami, last week arrested one of its own officers and charged him with a home invasion armed robbery, kidnapping, and attempted first-degree murder.
In Hialeah, which borders Miami and is the state’s fifth-largest city, Mayor Raul Martinez on Thursday fired an officer found innocent of murder in a home invasion robbery. Martinez said the firing was based on evidence not allowed in the courtroom.
Published reports say a dozen Hialeah officers are also under investigation. Martinez refused Friday to confirm details of the investigation, but said he has set up a panel to investigate recurrent charges of corruption and crime in the department.
Rapid recruitment in the face of an exploding population has been blamed for allowing unqualified officers into the police force.
Miami hired 400 of its 1,030 officers in just the last three years, says department spokesman Maj. Jack Sullivan. City Manager Sergio Pereira announced last week the formation of a panel to weed out bad applicants.
Sullivan said social hypocrisy about drugs has demoralized some young officers.
″The officer goes to a party and someone complains he’s busted their friendly neighborhood pusher who wasn’t doing anything wrong,″ he said. ″The officers take the heat.″