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Monday, October 24, 2011

2 Cops Accused of Stealing, Kidnapping and Lying

Two Fort Lauderdale cops accused of stealing, kidnapping and lying in drug case
The Orland Sentinel by Paula McMahon - October 25, 2011

At least two Fort Lauderdale police officers accused of stealing cash from pain clinic clients, kidnapping a man and lying about cases are expected to be criminally charged next week, sources say. Detectives Billy Koepke and Brian Dodge, of the department's Street Crimes Unit, have been under investigation for several months. The probe began with a hotel security video that contradicted the officers' accounts of two arrests they made at a Red Roof Inn in Oakland Park. Investigators from a police corruption task force now believe that Koepke and Dodge went after drug buyers and sellers, claimed they found cocaine on one person who had none, and stole several thousand dollars in cash that should have been placed in evidence, according to five sources. Koepke, 32, and Dodge, 30, have been "relieved from duty with pay" since April 18, police department officials said. A third suspended detective, Matthew Moceri, 28, is still under investigation, his lawyer confirmed. A sergeant in the unit, Michael Florenco, 34, was cleared of criminal misconduct by prosecutors this month, but the police department has not yet allowed him to return to duty, the sources said. Koepke and Dodge are paid $75,878 a year, Moceri's salary is $71,406, and Florenco's is $88,732. All four officers were at the Oakland Park hotel on Aug. 24, 2010, when two suspects were arrested on charges of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute.

An arrest form obtained by the Sun Sentinel shows that Koepke and Dodge said they had arrested a driver and passenger after they saw them dropping crack cocaine on the floor of their vehicle in the hotel parking lot. The officers wrote that the two suspects came to the lot to deliver drugs to the officers' "informational source." But when investigators reviewed video footage from the hotel's lobby and parking area, they found that the so-called "passenger" was not even in the vehicle and had been arrested in the lobby, several sources said. The video contradicted the officers' written reports as well as a sworn statement that Dodge gave about the arrest, the sources said. Prosecutors later dropped the criminal charges against both men. Meanwhile, the police corruption task force, comprised of Fort Lauderdale police, FBI agents and the Broward State Attorney's Office, went to work. Dodge's lawyer, Mike Dutko, said on Tuesday he had been hearing for months that his client was about to be arrested. "Based on my knowledge and insight into this investigation, I am unaware of any basis for these serious charges," Dutko said. He said he understands that there is a discrepancy between the police report and the video about where one of the suspects was arrested. Dutko said he knows there are "alleged inconsistencies between the Red Roof Inn police report and the videotape, but it's not an inconsistency that can't be explained … A mistake is not tantamount to [a] false statement." Reached by phone Tuesday, Koepke said he could not comment but that there are two sides to every story. "You'll have to contact my lawyer," he said. Koepke's attorney, James Stark, could not be reached for comment despite phone messages left with his assistant. Efforts to contact the other three officers on Tuesday were unsuccessful. Moceri's lawyer, Anthony Livoti Jr., said, "I can't talk to you about an ongoing criminal investigation but after a complete and thorough investigation by the State Attorney's Office, Officer Moceri will be vindicated." Livoti said Moceri is a Marine Corps veteran who investigates "pill mills." "This is difficult [work] and these guys are placed in difficult situations," Livoti said. "Things move very quickly in these situations." Florenco's lawyer, Howard Greitzer, said he could not comment. Koepke and Dodge are expected to be charged with racketeering, kidnapping, false imprisonment, grand theft and official misconduct. Police internal affairs investigators are also looking at whether departmental rules were violated. The sources said that a third man, who informed police about the two suspects at the hotel, was not arrested but was handcuffed and held against his will for several hours. Moceri and Florenco were at the scene of the arrest but they did not file reports. Florenco came under investigation because his initials and police identification number were written on some of the reports. However, he gave a sworn statement that he never initialed or signed off on the police records and the sources said investigators were satisfied it was not his handwriting. "Due to the fact that it is an ongoing investigation by the State Attorney's Office, we cannot comment on the case as we do not want to jeopardize their investigation," Detective Travis Mandell, Fort Lauderdale police spokesman, said on Tuesday. Tim Donnelly, the chief of the Broward State Attorney's special prosecutions unit, declined to comment on the case Tuesday. Defense attorney Carter Hilstrom, who represented the suspects charged at the hotel, also said he could not discuss the matter because he believed it was still an active federal investigation. Koepke joined Fort Lauderdale police about six years ago, Dodge is an 11-year veteran, Moceri came to the department in 2005 and Florenco has worked there since 1999. Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report. or 954-356-4533.

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