Thursday, April 12, 2012

Corruption: Miami vice - Firefighters, police officer charged in public corruption investigations

U.S. Attorney’s Office 
Southern District of Florida

Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; and Dena E. Choucair, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Miami Field Office, announce that eight individuals have been charged in two separate complaints involving public corruption allegations. The first complaint, 12-2494-Garber, charges the lead code compliance inspector for the city of Miami Beach (Jose L. Alberto), four Miami Beach code compliance officers (Willie E. Grant, Orlando E. Gonzalez, Ramon D. Vasallo, Vicente L. Santiesteban), and two Miami Beach firefighters (Henry L. Bryant and Chai D. Footman) for their participation in a scheme to extort cash payments from a South Beach nightclub. The second complaint, 12-2495-Garber, charges Daniel L. Mack, a Miami-Dade police officer, and Henry L. Bryant (who was also charged in the first complaint) for their participation in a drug trafficking conspiracy in which they agreed to transport and protect what they believed to be multiple kilograms of cocaine. The defendants are expected to make their initial appearances in federal court today at 2:00 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Garber.

U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “When government officials misuse their offices and abuse their power to line their own pockets and satisfy their greed, they erode the public’s trust in good and efficient government. It is incumbent upon all of us to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for corruption, at any level of government. I encourage victims to come forward, report shakedowns of this kind, and help us shine a light on backroom corruption.”

“When corrupt officials break the law for their own personal gain, they breach the public’s trust and violate the very principles they have sworn to uphold,” said Dena E. Choucair, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Miami Division. “This should serve as a reminder to all of our public officials that no one is above the law.”

The first complaint (the extortion complaint) charges Alberto, 41, of Miami Beach; Grant, 56, of Miami; Gonzalez, 32, of Miami; Vasallo, 31, of Miami Beach; Santiesteban, 29, of Miami; Bryant, 45, of Miami Gardens; and Footman, 36, of Miramar, with one count of conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a). If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of up to 20 years’ imprisonment.

Miami Beach nightclubs are subject to inspection by both the city of Miami Beach Code Compliance Division and the city of Miami Beach Fire Department for compliance with municipal code regulations. Both the fire department and the Code Compliance Division can issue citations for code violations. According to the extortion complaint affidavit, in early June 2011, Alberto, the lead code compliance inspector for the city of Miami Beach, solicited a cash pay-off from a Miami Beach nightclub owner in exchange for not enforcing a large fine for a code violation. The nightclub owner reported the alleged extortion to the FBI, which commenced an undercover investigation. During the investigation that followed, an undercover FBI agent posed as the manager of the nightclub and, along with the nightclub owner, made a series of cash pay-offs to Alberto and co-defendants Grant, Gonzalez, Vasallo, Santiesteban, Bryant, and Footman. The purpose of the cash pay-offs was to allow the nightclub to continue operating and to avoid any future potential code violations. According to statements made by Bryant in a recorded conversation, he and Alberto had worked together “for about 12 years on every little gig that [they] had.” Bryant also bragged that he and Alberto had kept another business open despite multiple code violations because the business had paid them “four grand.” Over the course of the investigation, which lasted seven months, the undercover agent paid more than $25,000 in cash pay-offs to the various Miami Beach public employees.

The second complaint (the drug trafficking complaint) charges Mack, 47, of Miami, and Bryant, of Miami Gardens, with conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1) and 846. If convicted, the defendants face a maximum statutory penalty of up to life imprisonment.

According to the affidavit filed in support of the drug complaint, in early December 2011, the undercover agent and Bryant discussed the possibility of recruiting police officers who could provide protection for the movement of cocaine. Over the following weeks, during recorded meetings and conversations, Bryant explained that he knew police officers that would escort the cocaine and that he would personally move the cocaine in his own vehicle. After reaching an agreement with the undercover agent, Bryant transported what he believed to be cocaine from the nightclub in Miami Beach to pre-determined drop-off points in Miami-Dade County on two separate occasions: on December 21, 2011, the defendants moved approximately nine kilograms of sham cocaine; on January 14, 2012, the defendants moved approximately 10 kilograms of sham cocaine. On both occasions, Bryant picked up the sham cocaine and returned for cash payment. On both occasions, Bryant’s vehicle was escorted by the Miami-Dade Police Department police cruiser assigned to defendant Mack, who had been introduced to the undercover agent as a police officer who would be providing security for the movement of cocaine. At that meeting, Mack wore his Miami-Dade Police Department uniform, was armed, and drove his Miami-Dade police cruiser. For these two transactions, the undercover agent paid the defendants a total of $25,000 in cash pay-offs.

The case was investigated by the FBI Miami-Area Public Corruption Task Force, assisted by the Miami-Dade Police Department Professional Compliance Bureau and United States Customs Border Protection Office of Internal Affairs. These cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jared E. Dwyer and Robin W. Waugh.

A complaint is only an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.