By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Most embarrassing of all, Piedra, who also accused Manser of speeding, was asked if he knew the speed limit on the island's one road. His response: "I would have to go back to look at the memorandums."
The rancor carried over to the lawyers in the room A village labor attorney James Crossland and Manser's counsel, Greg Ross A who often sounded ready to come to blows. "This is not some chickenshit criminal law proceeding!" Crossland bellowed at one point.
On February 2, 1993, LeBrun terminated Manser.
Three weeks later Chief Berger and Lieutenant Woods released their report. LeBrun, who had incessantly whined about the months spent preparing "that damn stupid little report," as he called it, could not have been pleased to read the final product. After reviewing hundreds of documents, and taking a dozen sworn statements, Berger backed everything Ronny Kay had told LeBrun six months earlier. And he urged the immediate dismissal of Piedra and Cerda.
Of the 70 administrative violations Berger enumerated, a few proved especially mortifying.
On November 15, 1992, Officer Miguel Mata showed up for work intoxicated. The chief spoke with Mata on the phone, gave him approval to remain at the station, and ordered another on-duty officer to care for his drunken colleague, who later vomited. But in his sworn statement to Berger, Piedra denied speaking to Mata. The chief was apparently unaware the conversation had been tape-recorded on a police line and that Berger had already heard the tape.
Piedra testified to Berger that he was unaware his men worked off-duty as security guards for the Saudi prince, though in at least two memos he acknowledged the practice. Based on interviews with former and current officers, the report noted that Sergeant Cerda "worked as coordinator for that employment and received untaxed, unreported cash income."
The chief admitted to hiding some pages of the police logbook, "to protect the city."
Jose Martinez, the chief's pal, admitted under oath that he once abandoned his post, then lied to cover up his actions. (As a result of Berger's report, LeBrun fired Martinez. Mata is still on active duty.)
The investigators also concluded that the chief had helped Cerda avoid paying taxes on his home-alarm equipment, and sold his cellular phone, then reported it stolen. Their report also implied that Piedra might be involved in far more serious insurance fraud. The chief, they discovered, had a history of submitting big-ticket burglary reports from his boat and residence, including a 1991 incident which claimed losses of more than $18,000, $2800 of that in cash. When asked under oath if he had filed any burglary reports, Piedra responded, "No. I can tell you I feel this is irrelevant." The report went on to state ominously: "Piedra lives in a home assessed in 1991 at $494,724, with [annual] taxes of $12,786.95. His annual salary at Indian Creek Village Police Department is under $40,000."
The accusations went on and on. "The more we looked, the deeper we got sucked in," says investigator Marylou Woods. "These guys are just a disgrace to any police uniform. And remember, this was just an administrative review. We didn't even push the criminal stuff."
That, presumably, will be left to the State Attorney's Office, which is winding up its investigation.
Piedra and Cerda continue to deny all wrongdoing. They insist the report is the result of biased investigators and false statements. More recently they have taken to accusing Berger, a chief widely respected for his integrity, of a conflict of interest. The conflict: an old girlfriend of Ronny Kay works as a dispatcher for the North Miami Beach Police Department.
On a final, curious, note, since the release of the report last month, the mayor and city manager of North Miami Beach have both begun receiving anonymous letters and phone calls alleging that, among other sins, Chief Berger is involved in an extramarital affair with Woods. "These are guys that apparently stop at nothing," laughs Woods. "It's really kind of pathetic. God only knows why they're still working."
God, of course, and the village manager, who receives $41,000 A plus a $1200 car allowance and insurance A to oversee Indian Creek.
The police department, which accounts for nearly two-thirds of LeBrun's $1.1 million annual budget, easily ranks as his largest responsibility. It might seem odd, then, that LeBrun commemorated the release of Berger's report by taking a week's vacation. And odder still that LeBrun returned in early March proclaiming that he had not yet finished reading the report.
But then, LeBrun is not without his quirks. Prone to mumbling nonsequiturs, the career bureaucrat has been known to present honored guests of his village with palm tree seedlings.
LeBrun, a native of Canada with a ninth-grade formal education, learned his trade in Coral Gables, where he spent 27 years. He started in 1960 as a deputy tax collector and worked his way up to city manager, only to resign in 1987 under a cloud of controversy. In May of that year, commissioners presented LeBrun with a lengthy list of grievances, and placed him on probation. Six months later he bid his $75,000 salary a teary farewell. "The city is poised on the brink of a major evolution. We need someone intellectually able to cope with that," Mayor George Corrigan observed at the time.