Two former police officers began their trial this week in state criminal court accused of stealing money from drug dealers. Daniel Fernandez and Joe Losada, both former Miami-Dade police officers, are charged with grand theft and official misconduct. The prosecution characterized the defendants as officers that were stealing money from victims that were drug dealers or that had criminal records because law enforcement authorities would not believe victims with checkered pasts. The Miami criminal lawyers representing the defendants told jurors that their clients were actually the victims of a witch hunt and that the state's witnesses had credibility issues.
Both police officers wee members of the Miami-Dade County Police Department's Crime Suppression Team, and in fact, Fernandez was even named officer of the year in 2004. The defendants were arrested in 2006 when they were allegedly caught up in an undercover sting where they took $970 in marked bills from a fictitious crime scene. The internal affairs department orchestrated the bust by enlisting two men who had previously made complaints against the officers. One of the informants has a criminal past for drug possession and drug sales while the other informant also has a criminal record.
While the marked bills may be an issue at trial, it will be interesting to see if the state's key witnesses can survive what is certain to be a withering cross-examination by the criminal defense attorneys. In their opening statements, counsel for the accused regarded one of the informants as being involved in money laundering and drug trafficking. This particular defendant owns approximately $1,000,000 in real estate allegedly amassed by purchasing properties and fixing them up himself. The other informant has issues with a recent arrest for cocaine possession. Despite the arrest, the informant served a minuscule sentence in exchange for continuing to assist in the prosecution of the former Miami-Dade police officers.
The attorneys for the defendants have offered up explanations for the marked bills. One of the lawyers proposed that his client only held the marked bills for a few minutes before turning them over to another officer to be impounded as property. The lawyer for the second defendant explained that one of the officers had some of the money in his pocket, but that he received from another officer a the scene who owed him money. The case against the two officers has lingered for 4 ½ years, but the trial is expected to be concluded sometime next week.
While the arrests of the officers are unfortunate, other Miami criminal defense lawyers have used the case to their benefit. In many cases, other defendants have had their charges dropped or have received good plea offers because these officers were the only witnesses to the crime. In every case where police officers testimony is critical to proving the charges, defense counsel should request the internal affairs records of any officer whose credibility is at issue. Internal affairs documents are a public record and can be requested by anyone.
Theft Trial of Ex-Miami-Dade Officers Begins, The Miami Herald.com, August 26, 2010.