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

In September 1993 Genaro Recinos was arrested for DUI by Ofcrs. Ariel Rojas and Jeffrey Locke. From the IA report: "According to the complainant, he was searched by one of the officers, who removed $320 from him. Mr. Recinos added that when he was released from the Dade County Jail, he did not recover his money." In a follow-up interview, Recinos backed away from his original allegation by claiming that neither Rojas nor Locke took his money. Both officers were cleared.

In November 1991 Douglas Fishman filed a complaint in an effort to retrieve the money he thought was owed him. An admitted scalper, Fishman tried to sell Locke six tickets above face value for a University of Miami vs. Florida State University football game scheduled to be played in Tallahassee.

The sale took place at Monty's seafood restaurant in Coconut Grove, where both Locke and Laura worked off-duty jobs. According to Fishman, Locke was wearing a Monty's T-shirt and blue jeans, and did not appear to be a cop. After agreeing to buy two $25 tickets for $250, Locke introduced Fishman to an unidentified friend, who inspected four more tickets. When the friend was told the tickets would cost him $125 each, he identified himself as a police officer and, according to Fishman, demanded that he be sold the tickets at face value or he would arrest Fishman and confiscate the tickets.

Van Buren watches the "missing" videotape featuring Thomas Laura on the walkie-talkie
Michael Steinbacher
Van Buren watches the "missing" videotape featuring Thomas Laura on the walkie-talkie

"Mr. Fishman stated he believed at that time that he could not walk away with the tickets and that he had to sell them at face value to avoid arrest," states the IA report. He sold six tickets in all to Officer Locke, and only for their total face value of $150. Afterward he was escorted to a police vehicle, where the second officer entered his name, driver license number, and social security number in a notebook. Several times during the incident, Fishman claimed not to believe Locke was a police officer, according to the IA report. Fishman was never charged with a crime.

The IA case was closed when Fishman withdrew his complaint: "Mr. Fishman stated that his initial motive to file the complaint was an attempt to recover the money from the sale of the tickets. However, after contemplating his motives, he concluded that he no longer wished to pursue the investigation."

The second police officer at Monty's that day was never identified. Fishman, who apparently has left Miami, could not be reached for comment.


Just as he didn't know about the Marlins tickets evidence when he filed his federal lawsuit, Van Buren didn't know about Fishman or any of the other IA complaints lodged against Laura and Locke. The sheer number of complaints and the fact that most of the investigations were inconclusive fuel his overall dissatisfaction with the internal affairs bureau. "If you have a problem with the police department, don't go to internal affairs," he almost shouts. "That is the last place. Do not go there! Go and hire an attorney. The internal affairs bureau is a cover-up squad."

Reaching for a cliché, he claims that any day now a "smoking gun" will appear to prove his innocence and the cops' guilt. He offers several leads, none of which check out. First he suspects that photocopies of the four Marlins tickets were planted in the internal affairs file and were never actually logged in as evidence at the police department's property room. That's not the case; records show that Laura logged in the tickets on June 8, 1996, the day of the arena arrest.

Learning this, Van Buren speculates that Laura must have turned in the evidence to the property room after the fact, and postdated the log-in entry. An examination of the evidence logged in before and after the tickets should prove his suspicion. Again, not so. The three pieces of evidence logged immediately before the tickets and the three logged after were all dated June 8, just like the Marlins tickets.

As if this would deter Van Buren, who now suspects that the baseball tickets may be evidence from a separate arrest of another scalper. "If you pull my actual arrest form at the criminal court," he says, "I'd bet you anything that the arrest number does not correspond to the arrest number used when the Marlins tickets were logged in to the property room."

He shouldn't have bet. The numbers on file at the criminal court exactly match the numbers on file in the property room.

Okay, Van Buren says finally, what about Miles Guy, a friend of his arrested by Laura in 1995 for selling Chicago Bulls tickets outside the Miami Arena. Van Buren bailed him out of jail. "If you go to the property room right away, before they know you're coming, you'll see that [Laura] never turned in tickets or money," Van Buren asserts. "If [Guy] was supposedly selling tickets, how come there wasn't any money turned in?" The property receipt for Guy's arrest indicates that Laura turned in both tickets and money, disproving Van Buren's hypothesis. (Guy did not return repeated pages left at a number provided by Van Buren.)

"This complaint," concludes Chief O'Brien, "is bulllllllllshit. I talked to Laura about [the Van Buren] case this afternoon. I asked him if there was anything he would have done differently. He said only one thing. He wishes he'd been assisted by another officer besides Locke."

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