Julia Kefalinos in the Miami Herald on Sunday– “Squad C: The untold story of the criminal investigation into Miami-Dade narcotics detectives”
In what seemed a routine and unremarkable case, a squad of Miami-Dade narcotics detectives busted a drug dealer holed up in a shabby Homestead motel, seizing more than $16,000 in cash and two pounds of marijuana stuffed in a red gym bag.
What the squad didn’t know: that dealer was no criminal.
He was actually an undercover officer posing as a doper in an elaborate sting designed to catch a suspected rogue narcotics detective named Edwin Diaz. But the carefully crafted operation last month took a surprise turn for investigators when $1,300 of the cash was taken — by a different officer.
Instead of Diaz, authorities say, a fellow Miami-Dade narcotics detective, Armando Socarras, pocketed the cash. Socarras, 30, is now charged with grand theft while both he and Diaz have been relieved of duty as Miami-Dade’s internal-affairs investigators keep digging into the activities of Narcotics Squad C.
Just the sheer gall and arrogance with which he was doing this — and the lying. It’s disheartening.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle
Newly released evidence in the case paints a broader picture of an investigation little noticed by the public but causing significant ripples in Miami-Dade’s criminal justice community. Prosecutors are now examining dozens of arrests made by Diaz and Socarras, some of which could end up dropped in court because the police witnesses now have damaged credibility.
“Just the sheer gall and arrogance with which he was doing this — and the lying. It’s disheartening,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said of Socarras. “But these cases will not be swept under the rug. These police officers who betray the public trust will go to jail or prison.”
Socarras’ defense lawyer, Julia Kefalinos, wouldn’t talk about the case. Nor would Diaz. Reached by phone, he said: “I can’t comment on an open investigation.”
Diaz’s attorney, David Donet, said: “He’s a decorated officer and he hasn’t been in any trouble. These guys were gunning for Ed and he didn’t do anything wrong. Socarras is the dirty officer here, not him.”
The arrest is another blow to the Miami-Dade Police Department, which has seen several officers arrested in major corruption cases in recent years.
In March, economic-crimes detective Karel Rosario was sentenced to 366 days in prison for trying to sell luxury jewelry stolen from a suspect’s house. Another Miami-Dade narcotics bureau detective, Roderick Silva, last year got three years in federal prison for secretly helping a violent marijuana-growing operation.
And last year, a former Miami-Dade police internal-affairs lieutenant, Ralph Mata, was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for working with a New Jersey cocaine-smuggling operation.
“The Miami-Dade Police Department values the trust we have built with our community and will always work to root out any employee who seeks to violate that trust,” the department’s assistant director, Alfredo Ramirez III, said in a statement after Socarras’ arrest.
In the Diaz probe, Miami-Dade’s internal-affairs bureau led the investigation, along with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney’s public-corruption task force.
The original target, Diaz, 44, has been with the department since 1998, with his career far from unblemished.
In 2003, Miami-Dade police arrested him for tampering with evidence, a felony, after he removed handgun casings from his home when officers arrived to investigate a 911 disturbance call there. A second officer, Sgt. Thomas Mangan, was also arrested after investigators said he lied about his role in the incident.
The case against Diaz fell apart, and the arrest was sealed and expunged from the court record.
In 2007, he joined the narcotics unit and by October 2008, he was back in the headlines again, this time when he was wounded in a shotgun blast after he and two other detectives approached a marijuana grow-house in Naranja. The gunman, Yoel Padron-Garcia, was convicted at trial and is now serving a life prison sentence.
In 2013, Diaz was also involved in a police shooting at a Miami-Dade grow house that left a suspect dead and the home in flames.
Details of the latest probe into Diaz emerged in sworn statements and police reports released to the Miami Herald under a public-records request in Socarras’ criminal case. Misgivings about Diaz had been swirling for years, including at least six complaints of theft from suspects since April 2007, according to court records.
In one case, Diaz arrested a man named Nelson Castineira for marijuana possession in June 2009. Castineira later complained that three watches valued at $3,800 were missing. Records showed that the narcotics detectives had not impounded the watches.
In another case, a Miami man arrested for keeping a marijuana grow-house complained that more than $15,000 vanished from a safe that Diaz had searched, the records show.
With the mounting complaints, police and prosecutors secured authorization from a Miami-Dade judge to secretly track the detective’s department-issued unmarked rental truck.
To implicate him, internal affairs detectives used a confidential informant with real-world ties to the drug world. The informant, in a double-agent role, began giving tips to Diaz, earning his trust while laying the groundwork for the corruption sting.
Ultimately, the informant tipped off Diaz that a known drug dealer would be holed up at the Inn of Homestead on Feb. 25, with cash and dope on him. But what Diaz and the narcotics detectives did not know was that the dealer had a fake name — he was actually an undercover state agent.
The stage was set.
Room 236 was outfitted with a hidden video camera along with two pounds of marijuana, 137.3 grams of powder cocaine and $14,314 in cash. The bills were marked, so they could be traced later.
The undercover agent also had $3,113 in cash in his pocket, along with two baggies of cocaine.
That afternoon, the narcotics squad watched the hotel — but they did not know that they, too, were being watched, by internal-affairs detectives and FDLE agents.
The undercover agent walked out to his Jeep in the Inn’s parking lot. Socarras confronted him, immediately searched his pockets and removed the cash, handing it to Diaz, according to a search warrant.
Diaz and another detective, Darrian Washington, could be seen counting the cash inside Diaz’s truck. The fake drug dealer gave them consent to search the hotel room and his Jeep.
But the narcotics detectives went a step further, court records show. They summoned an on-call prosecutor — who had no idea the case was part of a sting — and prepared a search warrant for the hotel room.
The warrant affidavit written by Diaz spun a scenario of purported “facts” that didn’t actually happen, according to prosecutors. Diaz’s affidavit reported that the dealer was seen through a window picking up the “felony amount” of marijuana in a clear package, something that never took place, according to a search warrant.
“The only thing I had in my hands at all times was my new phone … and an e-cigar,” the undercover agent posing as the dealer told investigators afterward. “None of those two objects look like a half a pound of weed.”
The undercover detective sat handcuffed in the back of a patrol car for seven hours as the scene was processed by the narcotics detectives. Internal affairs followed Diaz back to Miami-Dade police headquarters, where he impounded only $16,127 — $1,300 less than what had been planted as part of the sting.
In a carefully timed operation, internal affairs investigators pulled over every member of the narcotics squad as they left the station, handcuffing each man and hauling him in for questioning.
One of the narcotics detectives, Washington, refused to speak to investigators without his lawyer present. (He has since been transferred from narcotics back to patrol).
Agents found the wad of missing money stuffed in the sunglasses holder of Socarras’ car.
In an interview with police, a flustered Socarras claimed the wad of money must have been left behind in a red gym bag and he picked it up. He admitted that he did not take the cash to the property room.
“So within that time frame, you totally forgot about this large amount of roll of cash,” internal affairs Sgt. Matthew Fryer asked him.
“Yes, I’m so sorry,” he said, adding later: “Completely slipped my mind.”
In another interview, Socarras acknowledged that he had kept the money on purpose, waxing on about his internal struggle.
“When I was debating it, you know, I thought about, you know, my fiancée is unemployed, and we’re struggling, and mainly for my kid’s daycare, which is $170 a week, and I pay the mortgage,” Socarras said.
He also insisted the episode was isolated.
“Do you know anyone in the bureau, narcotics bureau that steals money or steals narcotics?” Fryer asked.
“No, at all,” Socarras replied.
Prosecutors formally filed the grand-theft charge against him last week. No trial date has been set.
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