The Van Buren File

From deep within the Miami Police Department comes a convoluted tale of sketchy videotape, allegations of official misconduct, and two tickets to the Stanley Cup finals

THE NARRATIVE ACCORDING TO VAN BUREN'S LAWSUIT

Van Buren says that on the afternoon of June 8, 1996, he decided to treat his wife to that night's Panthers game because she's a big fan, because the team was playing in the Stanley Cup finals, and because it was the one-year anniversary of their engagement. He ordered two nosebleed seats at $65 apiece from Prime Tickets & Tours, a company listed in the BellSouth Yellow Pages and owned by an acquaintance. He says he paid for the tickets with his American Express credit card.

About an hour before the game began, Prime Tickets proprietor Steve Rosen met Van Buren at a downtown grocery store a couple of blocks from the Miami Arena. Rosen handed over two blue Ticketmaster tickets to that evening's game, according to Van Buren.

"This complaint," says Chief O'Brien, "is bulllllllllshit"
Michael Steinbacher
"This complaint," says Chief O'Brien, "is bulllllllllshit"
Attorney Miguel de la O had no problem turning over the credit card statement that internal affairs claims never to have seen
Michael Steinbacher
Attorney Miguel de la O had no problem turning over the credit card statement that internal affairs claims never to have seen

"As Van Buren was putting the tickets in his pocket, a patrol car from the City of Miami Police Department screeched to the curb in front of the store," states the lawsuit. Uniformed Ofcr. Thomas Laura demanded that Van Buren give him the tickets. Van Buren protested, saying he had no reason to hand over tickets he had legally purchased.

"Van Buren then became concerned that all [Laura] wanted to do was steal his tickets since he obviously had no reason to arrest him," according to the lawsuit. "Nevertheless Van Buren did not think that Laura would actually arrest him. As a result Van Buren put the tickets in his underwear and put his two hands in front of him and said, 'Then go ahead and arrest me. I'm going to the game with my wife. She's right there and they're my tickets.'"

Laura arrested him.

According to the lawsuit, Laura and at least one other unidentified officer "beat [Van Buren] to get [him] in the car." Laura then drove him to the arena, where he parked across the street by the railroad tracks. The lawsuit alleges that Laura then told Van Buren if he did not hand over the tickets he would drive Van Buren to the nearby Overtown neighborhood and he and other officers would "beat the shit" out of him.

Ofcr. Jeffrey Locke ambled over. Laura told Locke that Van Buren had refused to relinquish the tickets. Locke allegedly made comments that indicated to Van Buren the officer wanted the tickets for his own use. The quotes are ambiguous. "We'll do whatever we have to," Locke purportedly said. "And the game is starting soon ... needs the tickets right away."

The final scene: "Locke began pulling Van Buren's pants off and looking in his underwear.... Fearing the worst, Van Buren gave Locke the tickets [that were] hidden in his underwear." Without saying a word to Van Buren, Locke allegedly ran toward the arena with the two tickets.

THE NARRATIVE ACCORDING TO THE INTERNAL AFFAIRS FILE

Ofcr. Thomas Laura was working off-duty at the Miami Arena when he recognized Van Buren and Rosen as known ticket scalpers. From his squad car he observed Van Buren waving tickets in the air. A Latin male approached and was about to give him money.

Laura arrested Van Buren, put him in his squad car, and drove to a place near the arena where there were other officers. He met up with Locke, who was also working off-duty and to whom Van Buren voluntarily handed the tickets. Locke gave them back to Laura, who subsequently placed them in the police department's evidence room.

But there was something strange about ...

THE TICKETS

Van Buren claims he purchased from Rosen two tickets to a Florida Panthers vs. Colorado Avalanche playoff hockey game. But Locke and Laura both told IA investigators under oath that Van Buren handed over four tickets, not two. And they were not to a Florida vs. Colorado hockey game but to a Florida vs. Colorado baseball game.

"The tickets taken from Mr. Van Buren were baseball tickets, the Florida Marlins versus the Colorado Rockies scheduled for August 15, 1996," concludes the internal affairs report. "Based on Mr. Van Buren's and Mr. Rosen's past records of arrests for scalping, the preponderance of evidence indicates they were attempting to sell the baseball tickets as tickets for the hockey game to unsuspecting citizens."

A photocopy of four tickets is included in the internal affairs file. They are clearly Marlins tickets, general admission to "AT&T Phone Card #2" night. Three of the tickets cost $1.50 each; one cost $4.00. Coding on the tickets indicates they were purchased June 2, six days before the arena arrest.

As unbelievable as it sounds, Van Buren and his attorney, Miguel de la O, filed the federal lawsuit without knowing about the Marlins tickets evidence. They both claim to be shocked by the news. "This is the first I heard of it," says de la O, who operates a modest private practice on Coral Way in Miami. "It didn't come up in [criminal] court, where the case was dismissed for lack of prosecution. No one at internal affairs ever told us about it. And if he was trying to sell baseball tickets to hockey fans, why wasn't he charged with fraud?"

The arrest report filed by Officer Laura does not say. In fact it doesn't say anything at all about tickets, only that Van Buren was charged with vending without a license and resisting arrest without violence.

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