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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cop Among Indicted in Corruption Case

6 arrested Miami Beach officials, 1 Miami-Dade cop indicted in corruption case
The Miami Herald by David Smiley - April 25, 2012

 A federal grand jury has indicted six Miami Beach code and fire inspectors accused of shaking down a South Beach nightclub owner, and a Miami-Dade police officer charged with providing protection for fake cocaine runs from the club to Aventura. Miami Beach’s lead code compliance administrator, Jose Alberto, and code officers Willie Grant, Orlando Gonzalez and Ramon Vasallo are charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit extortion. Fire inspectors Henry Bryant and Chai Footman face the same charge. In addition, all six are charged with at least one count of attempted extortion, based on the number of times federal agents say the men took cash bribes — or in one case, a comped bill — from the owner of the nightclub, which is unnamed in the indictment. The indictment was expected following the men’s April 11 arrest by local and federal authorities, who filed criminal complaints detailing a six-month nightclub extortion sting. In the complaints, the FBI said the club’s owner was forced to pay bribes to ensure that the inspectors would allow his club to remain open and turn a blind eye to violations, such as promotional fliers littering the street and roughly $25,000 in outstanding resort taxes the club owed to the city of Miami Beach. The owner reported the shakedowns to the FBI and agreed to work as a paid informant in an undercover operation targeting the employees. According to the indictment, the owner and an undercover FBI agent posing as a club manager paid bribes on 34 occasions to the code and fire inspectors. Federal agents say Alberto, the lead code compliance administrator, initiated the extortion scheme in June and took $16,600 in bribes on 22 occasions. If convicted, each extortion count carries a maximum 20-year sentence.

The grand jury also charged Bryant and Miami-Dade officer Daniel Mack, who are together accused of receiving $25,000 in payments to transport “sham” cocaine for undercover FBI agents, with one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and two charges of attempting to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. If the men are convicted, each count carries a maximum life sentence. Alberto, Footman, Grant, Gonzalez and Vasallo all pleaded not guilty Wednesday. Bryant and Mack are expected to enter pleas Thursday. An eighth man arrested, Miami Beach code officer Vicente Santiesteban, who according to court documents accepted a $400 bribe from an undercover agent, also pleaded not guilty Wednesday. Santiesteban, however, has agreed to a plea deal and will admit to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion, according to his attorney, Richard Sharpstein. Sharpstein said Santiesteban “made the decision to confront the situation early. He was minimally involved and totally unaware of the overall situation. He made an error in judgment in a brief moment in time and he’ll pay the price.” All those arrested have been suspended without pay. Miami Beach has filed paperwork to fire its accused employees.

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