Sunday, December 29, 2013

Organized Crime: 'It's not just the Mafia anymore'


Criminal Enterprise: The FBI defines a criminal enterprise as a group of individuals with an identified hierarchy, or comparable structure, engaged in significant criminal activity.

Organized Crime: The FBI defines organized crime as any group having some manner of a formalized structure and whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities.

Source: FBI

The headline on the Organized Crime page of FBI's website pretty much says it all: "It's not just the Mafia anymore."

Consider these two recent investigations by the Miami Herald and the Sun-Sentinel:

Feds to Bal Harbour: Hand over $4 million in seized drug loot. 
The U.S. Justice Department shut down Bal Harbour’s celebrated federal forfeiture program and ordered the police to return more than $4 million, slapping the agency with crushing sanctions for tapping into drug money to pay for first-class flights, luxury car rentals and payments to informants across the country. -Miami Herald, Oct. 31, 2012


How Sunrise Police make millions selling drugs. 
SUNRISE — Police in this suburban town best known for its sprawling outlet mall have hit upon a surefire way to make millions. They sell cocaine.

Undercover detectives and their army of informants lure big-money drug buyers into the city from across the United States, and from as far north as Canada and as far south as Peru. They negotiate the sale of kilos of cocaine in popular family restaurants, then bust the buyers and seize their cash and cars.

Police confiscate millions from these deals, money that fuels huge overtime payments for the undercover officers who conduct the drug stings and cash rewards for the confidential informants who help detectives entice faraway buyers, a six-month Sun-Sentinel investigation found. -Sun-Sentinel, Oct. 6, 2013

As those stories show, in South Florida it's becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between the cops, the Corleones and the Sopranos.

Need more proof?

In a piece posted on the Herald's website, el Nuevo Herald reporters Melissa Sanchez and Brenda Medina report:
Sweetwater police officers knew what was expected of them when they patrolled the streets of this small city in west Miami-Dade.

They were to arrest the highest number possible of suspects in order to tow their vehicles, even if the towing had no connection to the alleged crime.

Sweetwater depended on the $500 administrative fine it collected from people recovering their vehicles. In fact, the city had set a yearly goal of $168,000 of these fines under the category of “miscellaneous revenue” in its police budget.

And the company, Southland The Towing Company, was partly owned by former Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño for quite awhile — although many officers apparently had no knowledge of that.

Arresting, then towing became the norm in Sweetwater, according to several officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Figures show 37 percent of all arrests in Sweetwater last year resulted in towing.
An analysis by el Nuevo Herald of the more than 460 arrests involving towing in 2012 found several trends. Among them:

• Two-thirds of the arrests were for traffic violations, including driving with a suspended license or without a license. In cases of criminal charges, 77 percent ended up dismissed by the state attorney’s office or a judge. Some 11 percent led to criminal convictions.

• One in four arrests with towing took place at the Dolphin Mall, a shopping center annexed into Sweetwater in 2010. That same year, Southland obtained the monopoly to operate in the city. Although the majority of the Dolphin Mall arrests occurred in the parking lot, the arresting officers did not allow subjects to leave their vehicles there. Even in the cases of shoplifting inside the stores, officers apparently went outside to the parking lot to search for the subjects’ vehicles to tow.

• The suspects usually had limited incomes and could not afford the $500 fine the city charged, in addition to the storage fee they had to pay Southland to get their vehicle back. Nearly one-third of the arrests were unemployed people, while 35 percent said they were workers or students. Many drove popular cars, like Nissan Altimas and Honda Civics, which were a majority of the cars towed by Southland.

• In 40 percent of the cases — most of which were for driving without a license or for possession of marijuana — officers released the suspects with a "promise to appear in court." Typically, charges were dropped before a public defender was assigned to the case.

(Read the complete el Nuevo Herald story - in English - by clicking here.)

But Mafia-like behavior by South Florida law enforcement isn't limited to just Sunrise, Bal Harbour and Sweetwater.

Earlier this year, a federal judge ripped the Miami Police Department for its "culture of corruption."

“It seems the City of Miami Police Department has a culture of corruption that exceeds all other police departments," U.S. District Judge Robert Scola remarked after sentencing a Miami cop to 15 months in prison for extortion.

And the corruption isn't just limited to law enforcement agencies.

As I reported here last May, Miami Beach elected officials, bureaucrats and shady businessmen, have for years, enabled two Miami Beach towing companies to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars annually from Miami Beach residents and tourists.


Miami Herald, Nov. 22, 2013: Tainted by scandal, Sweetwater Police Department is in turmoil.

Random Pixels: Bal Harbour police chief Tom Hunker and his department come under federal scrutiny

Random Pixels: Federal judge rips Miami Police Department's 'culture of corruption'

Random Pixels: Sweetwater...still dirty after all these years

Random Pixels: Sweetwater...still dirty after all these years (Part 2)

Read related Miami Herald stories on Sweetwater corruption by clicking here.

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