Tales from the Script

ALFONSO: I'm going to tell the truth.
HERBELLO: You know, I understand, but...you're going to say the truth, fine. But I'm saying, cooperating, as uh ... what about if they ask you to tape conversations, would you, to clean yourself?

ALFONSO: To tape conversations?
HERBELLO: In other words, uh, you know, to try to cooperate with them, to try to get more evidence, more stuff.

ALFONSO: I would do what it takes to clean myself.
HERBELLO: And that's what you got to keep in your head.

HERBELLO: You tell your lawyer, "I want to talk to the state, I want to talk to FDLE --"

HERBELLO: "-- and I want to cooperate."
ALFONSO: No, no, I don't want to talk to them.
HERBELLO: Okay, "I want to --"
ALFONSO: Let's see what's coming up [unintelligible] with this case.

HERBELLO: "-- I want to cooperate with them a hundred percent, no matter what it might mean." Even though your attorney might be against it. Okay?

ALFONSO: Uh-hum.

Two days later, Herbello met with De Goti.

HERBELLO: Jorge, be careful, man. Don't move. Let me tell you something. You are talking too much to Rene.

DE GOTI: No, but I don't talk to him [unintelligible].
HERBELLO: Okay, listen. When he comes by, you make excuses, you tell him, "Listen, I can't talk to you." Because you know what he told me [unintelligible]? He said, "I'll do whatever I have to do."

That same day Herbello talked to Hernandez.

HERBELLO: I'm telling you right now and I told Jorge, don't trust Rene.
HERNANDEZ: No, I don't talk to him....
HERBELLO: Wait, his words to me were, "I will do whatever it takes [unintelligible] even if it means cooperating with the cops"

Centorino says prosecutors had a feeling Hernandez and De Goti did not trust Alfonso. By having Herbello accuse Alfonso of being a traitor, prosecutors hoped Hernandez and De Goti would come to trust her even more than they already did. "We were able to turn things to our advantage," Centorino explains, "by having her point a finger at him."

Set aside for a moment De Goti's colorful use of language and Herbello's knack for undercover work. Are the tapes legally sufficient to convict Hernandez? With little doubt, the answer is no. "The tapes are what they are," says Centorino, "and we have significant evidence outside of the tapes. The tapes are a part of this case, but we will not be relying on them."

Hernandez is accused of taking part in a plan to conceal the vote fraud by creating documents -- lease agreements, rental receipts -- "proving" that people such as Herbello lived within the city when they voted last November.

In the case of Herbello, all that material was given to her before she began cooperating and wearing a recording device. In the months after, she tried to get Hernandez to admit he knew she had been given phony documents. But she never elicits a clear admission on tape.

Instead she receives lawyerly advice: She should not cooperate with investigators; if she is arrested, keep her mouth shut; if trouble looms, contact her own attorney immediately.

Hernandez's tone may sound disrespectful, especially when he tells Herbello that getting arrested is "no big deal," but it is hardly criminal, according to Hernandez's attorney, Jose Quinon.

The greatest value of the tapes seems to be as a propaganda tool for prosecutors. Given 30 hours of secret recordings, the public might naturally conclude that the vast majority of conversations involve Hernandez. They don't. The public might also assume that the principal subjects of discussion are ways to commit vote fraud or ways to cover it up. They're not.

Many of the conversations captured by Herbello are irrelevant and will be useless in court. For instance, one of the tapes includes a section in which De Goti explains to Herbello why he doesn't like to swim in the ocean and the terror he felt after seeing the movie Jaws.

Before the transcripts were released, members of the local media, myself included, relied upon snippets of conversations contained in Hernandez's arrest affidavit and in material provided by prosecutors and investigators during a press conference immediately after Hernandez and others were taken into custody.

Last week I made the mistake of reporting that Hernandez referred to Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle as a "bitch" and a "whore," and to the investigators in general as "fucking scumbags." What Hernandez actually said, according to the transcripts, was that callers on Spanish-language radio were branding Rundle a "bitch" and a "whore." While he certainly didn't distance himself from those remarks, it is unfair to say Hernandez himself used those terms. As for the "fucking scumbag" comment -- that was uttered by De Goti. Other such examples are contained in the tapes.

On May 28 the Miami Herald reported, "Humberto Hernandez and Jorge De Goti joked about taking the '21/2' -- half of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination -- if called to testify during the civil trial brought by former Mayor Joe Carollo. Tell half the truth, Hernandez joked."

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