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
In the fifteen years since prosecutors opened the shameful chapter in South Florida history known as the Miami River Cops scandal, about 100 officers have been arrested, fired, suspended, or reprimanded. At least 20 have been sentenced to prison for robbing cocaine dealers of cash and dope. Some are now free men; others are still in the slammer.
It seems as though at one time or another every law-enforcement agency in Miami has investigated some aspect of this case, from county police to the FBI, the State Attorney's Office, and the U.S. Attorney's Office. A river of paper winds from Miami to West Palm Beach to Washington, D.C.
Now, twelve years after Miami's own "trial of the century," the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office is taking a closer look at a small yet chilling tributary. The new probe focuses on an alleged incident in early 1987, when three River Cops and two accomplices are said to have plotted to murder a man who was preparing to testify against one of them in another case.
In a 1987 pretrial statement to police, River Cop Rodolfo "Rudy" Arias turned state's evidence. In addition to flipping on fellow criminals in his department, Arias also admitted that he, two other River Cops, a civilian, and a Dade County school district police officer waited outside the house of a witness named Dick Fiallo one night in early 1987, planning to kill Fiallo when he returned home.
According to this statement, the school cop's name was José F. "Pepe" Gonzalez. In 1987 he was a patrol officer. Today he is an assistant chief of the Miami-Dade Public Schools Police.
The State Attorney's Office is investigating, but has not charged Gonzalez. The assistant chief himself declined to comment for this story. His attorney, Glenn Kritzer, says his client willingly spoke with investigators last week. "Either Mr. Arias was confused, or he's lying," Kritzer says. "The statement is incorrect, inaccurate, and untruthful." But Kritzer acknowledges that Gonzalez was once good friends with one of the most notorious of the River Cops, Osvaldo Coello.
In July 1985 six men who were offloading drugs at the Jones Boat Yard on the Miami River panicked at the sight of police and jumped off their boat, the Mary C.Three of them drowned. This incident gave rise to both the investigation and the defendants' nickname.
When the SAO filed charges against seven City of Miami officers in December 1985, Gonzalez stood up on behalf of Coello. At a January 1986 bond hearing, Gonzalez described himself as a "good friend" of Coello. "I've known Osvaldo Coello for approximately six or seven years," he testified. "We entered the [police] academy together." (At that time Gonzalez had been a school cop for a little more than four years.)
Gonzalez's father, José R. Gonzalez, wrote a $7500 check to bond Coello out of jail. Other collateral included Coello's own house, the younger Gonzalez's house, and a 1985 Corvette that the elder Gonzalez owned. In his testimony Officer Gonzalez admitted that Coello drove the car "on occasion."
Because the case involved so many defendants, the lengthy discovery and deposition process in state court could have bogged things down for years. So in June 1986, state prosecutors took the case to a federal judge. The first trial ended in a hung jury in January 1987. While prosecutors were preparing another attempt, they caught a major break: Rudy Arias, one of the defendants, agreed to become a prosecution witness.
Then-Metro-Dade Police Det. Alex Alvarez, the lead investigator in the case, interviewed Arias in May 1987. The resulting 122-page document, called a debriefing, was a gold mine of evidence against the other six River Cops. It also helped lead to the indictment of six more City of Miami officers.
According to Arias, Pepe Gonzalez's friendship with Osvaldo Coello went far deeper than helping to bail a pal out of jail. As Arias describes it, Gonzalez was willing to commit murder to aid his corrupt buddy.
The following description of the incident is drawn from Arias's debriefing, which is not a sworn document but part of a closed criminal investigation. New Times obtained it in response to a request made under Florida's public records law.
Sometime between early February and early May 1987, Arias and Coello met at Sergio's Cafeteria in Southwest Dade. Coello said he had been involved in several robberies. He was worried because one of his cohorts, Dick Fiallo, "was a witness against all of them in the home-invasion case." Coello requested Arias's help to kill Fiallo. The pair met with a civilian thug named Pablo "Tatico" Martinez, who also was part of the robbery gang, and cased Fiallo's house; they later secured a pair of Mac 10 machine guns for the job.
"The following day Coello invited Arias to a party at the residence of Metro-Dade school board officer José 'Pepe' Gonzalez," the debriefing reads. Also present was another River Cops defendant, Arturo de la Vega. "At the conclusion of the party, de la Vega, José Gonzalez, Coello, and Martinez decided that they were going to kill Dick Fiallo that evening. The group agreed to meet at a shopping center.
"De la Vega was in his red [Nissan] 200SX along with José Gonzalez, who was armed with a shotgun, which he loaded with birdshot and was in the back seat of de la Vega's vehicle.... Osvaldo Coello and Pablo Martinez were in Arias' [Nissan] 280ZX."