A prisoner’s offer to turn in dirty cops was supposed to reduce corruption.
Instead, it led to murder.
THE FIRST VICTIM
A disoriented, beaten man staggered to a parked Police car. With duct tape still attached to his arms, the victim told cops he feared for his life and sought protection from his attackers. Detectives were called to investigate.
The victim had been beaten by his drug supplier. I usually hated drug dispute cases because the victims wouldn’t be completely honest and there was usually more to the story. This victim was different. He was very honest, admitting that he was a small time drug dealer who sold on Miami Beach. He said his supplier was a South Beach “gangster” named Roman.
The victim was called to Roman’s house to discuss a past due drug payment. Soon after he arrived, the victim was attacked and forced into bedroom. Roman and his sidekick Samuel bound the victim’s hands and feet with duct tape, and beat him repeatedly. Roman and Samuel discussed killing the victim as a gun was placed to his head. The victim was held for several hours until he agreed to make his payment, with interest, within 24 hours. The victim was warned he would be killed if he didn’t get the money. Roman bragged of Mafia connections and told the victim no matter where he ran, he couldn’t hide. The last place Roman and Samuel thought the victim would run was to the Cops, but he did.
I believed the victim’s story, and he had the injuries to back it up. We recorded conversations between Roman and the victim, and developed probable cause for arrest and search warrants. We used the SWAT team to serve the warrant at Roman’s house and arrested Roman and Samuel there. We recovered a firearms and a large amount of drugs.
When I interviewed Roman I found him to be cocky with a desire to be a big Gangster. He bragged about what he had done to the victim, leaving me with the feeling he would likely kill the victim if he was released from jail.
I charged Roman and Samuel with attempted murder, kidnapping, trafficking in cocaine and felony possession of marijuana.With those charges, Roman and Samuel were not getting a bond. They would sit in jail until their trial which could be years away.
3 months later…
What I didn’t know was that while he was sitting in jail, Roman created a story to get released. He convinced a Prosecutor and State Public Corruption Agent that he knew corrupt Miami Beach cops. He said would work as an informant to help set them up, but to do so he had to be out of jail. The Prosecutor fell for it, and Roman was released after signing a contract to work as an Informant. The Agent was his “Handler”, responsible for Roman while he worked as an Informant.
Ramon was released from jail on June 20th, 3 months after his arrest. Samuel was released 6 days later after pleading guilty to the charges and received 5 years of Probation. Their releases were kept secret.
2 months later…
On August 5th the body of a white male was discovered floating in Biscayne Bay. The victim’s body was recovered just off the City of Aventura, about 15 miles north of downtown Miami. The Aventura Police Department had just been formed that year, and they would be investigating the murder.
A few days after the body was recovered I received a call from my squad partner, Det G. He had worked an off duty security job at a South Beach nightclub the night before. He was approached by Joe, a club employee, who had a question. Joe said he had watched a television program where investigators had recovered a handcuffed body from the ocean. Joe was curious if Police were able to lift fingerprints from handcuffs that had been sitting in salt water. Luckily, Det. G knew about the handcuffed body recently recovered from Biscayne Bay.
The next day we met with the Aventura Detectives who were investigating the homicide, and all agreed that Joe had to be questioned. We picked him up and talked to him, and I was surprised by what he told us.
Joe said he received a call from his friends Roman and Samuel, the two I had arrested in March. They said they were going to rob someone and had an easy victim. The target was a South Beach bartender who was selling a lot of ecstasy out of his club. Roman set up a deal to sell the bartender a large amount of pills worth $75,000, but they were going to rob him instead. The robbery was planned to take place at Joe’s apt in Miami, and Joe was needed for muscle. A South Beach bouncer named Tony was also there to help. I had been looking for Tony for an unrelated robbery.
The Bartender arrived alone and was carrying $75,000 in cash. When he entered the apartment he realized immediately that this was a drug rip. He was overpowered, handcuffed and thrown to the ground. The Bartender was strangled to death, then his body placed into the trunk of his car. It was driven to a causeway, then thrown into the bay. He was still wearing the handcuffs. The murder gang split the $75,000.
Joe said he helped because he thought it was only going to be a robbery, and he needed the money. He was surprised to find that Roman had other plans. According to Joe, Roman said “I learned from the last time, you never leave a snake without cutting off his head”. It was a reference to releasing his last victim instead of killing him. He said this victim had to die, then they strangled him to death.
The Aventura Detectives, Det. G and I met with the Prosecutor and Agent. We asked how they could take a chance with these guys, who were violent gangsters I had charged with serious crimes just a few months before. The Prosecutor and Agent’s desire to catch alleged corrupt cops cost a man his life.
THE COVER UP
After we vented, it was agreed that the murder case had to be built and there was plenty of evidence. Cash, new cars, witnesses. The Prosecutor wanted to catch these guys and put the away for life, or so we thought.
While we were searching for Roman’s crew, I received a call from a Defense Attorney. He told me he represented Tony, the bouncer who was present for the bartender’s murder, and who I was looking for on the unrelated robbery. The Attorney said Tony was hiding out in Texas because he feared for his life, but he wanted to cooperate fully. Tony would come back and testify against Roman and Samuel, so this was great news. The Attorney asked for the Prosecutor’s name, and said he knew him and would contact him directly. I never heard from the Attorney or about Tony again. What did the Prosecutor tell Tony’s Attorney? I never got an answer.
Samuel was captured in Kentucky. He was caught driving the murdered bartender’s car, and was in possession of thousands of dollars in cash. While Samuel awaited extradition, Roman contacted the Public Corruption Agent and arranged to turn himself in at the Agent’s office.
When Roman arrived he was placed into an interview room. The Agent gathered the Detectives together and said he had a plan. He told us he had a very good rapport with Roman, and he would “soften” him up before we interviewed him. I didn’t like the idea. I had just interviewed Roman five months before and had no problem convincing him to talk. We felt it was a mistake to let the Agent speak to Roman before we interviewed him, but he did. Not to our surprise, the Agent exited the room and said Roman didn’t want to talk to us. We attempted to interview him Roman but he didn’t talk. I’m not sure what the Agent told Roman, but I think I know.
CHARGES AND SENTENCING
Joe was given probation for his involvement in the murder of the bartender. He wasn’t required to provide additional cooperation.
Samuel was charged with violating the terms of his original probation, and sentenced to 8 years and 7 months. He was initially charged with 1st degree murder, armed robbery and the kidnapping of the bartender, but the murder charge was reduced to manslaughter. The robbery and kidnapping charges were dropped. The sentence ran concurrent with his violation of Probation sentence. Samuel received a light sentence without any cooperation.
Roman pled guilty to the original charges I had arrested him for 6 months before. He received a 19 year prison sentence. He was never charged with murder of the bartender.
I was really surprised Roman agreed to the plea bargain without a fight. No depositions, no hearings, no trial. He just walked off quietly to spend the next 19 years in prison. I’ve always wondered if the plea was an agreement so he wouldn’t be charged with murder.
The bartender’s murder was not good for the Prosecutor or the Agent. The Prosecutor released Roman from jail to work as an Informant, and the Agent was responsible for him. Instead of catching corrupt cops, Roman was robbing and killing the bartender.
This case left so many questions. Why did Tony, the bouncer who wanted to cooperate, disappear? Why did the Agent insist on talking to Roman before we did? Why wasn’t Roman charged with Murder?
I can only come up with one conclusion. Roman got away with murder because he wasn’t the one with the most to lose.
Photo Credit by Press of Atlantic City