River of Sleaze

A top Miami-Dade schools cop is the focus of a probe that recalls the area's biggest police scandal

They drove by Fiallo's house and saw that nobody was home. "At which time they met up with de la Vega and Gonzalez, who were surveilling the location approximately one block away.... They told de la Vega and Gonzalez to stay there.... They were going to check the discotheques to see if they [could] find Fiallo."

Arias, Coello, and Martinez drove to Casanova's in Hialeah, then to another disco at the old Bakery Centre in South Miami (now the site of the Shops at Sunset), but saw no sign of Fiallo. As they returned to their quarry's house, another car approached with high beams on; Coello and Martinez panicked, thinking it was cops investigating the home invasions, so they fled "at a high rate of speed," drove around trying to lose the car, then went to a friend's house and switched the 280ZX for a pickup truck. De la Vega then beeped Arias; it turned out he had been driving the car with the high beams.

The five then returned to Fiallo's house with a new plan: "Coello and Martinez were in the flatbed of the pickup truck, armed with Mac 10 machine guns, and the plan was to wait for Fiallo to arrive and that they would drive by his residence; as they exited the vehicle, Coello and Martinez would stand up in the bed of the truck and shoot him down with the Mach [sic] 10 machine guns."

Pepe Gonzalez didn't tell the school board about his good friend the River Cop
Steve Satterwhite
Pepe Gonzalez didn't tell the school board about his good friend the River Cop

After an hour and a half passed, they revised the scheme: "Coello and Martinez ... decided that they would hide in the bushes of Fiallo's residence and wait for him to arrive and shoot him as he [came] out of the car.... At approximately 5:00 a.m., Martinez and Coello returned to the truck and stated they got tired of waiting around the area and that a dog started barking at them from Fiallo's house.... They met with de la Vega and advised [him] they were finished for the night, at which time de la Vega took Gonzalez home."

Gonzalez's attorney Glenn Kritzer says this entire story is hogwash -- except for the party. "There was a time when José had a Christmas party and he invited Coello," Kritzer says, noting that Arias had described the party as having been some months after the holiday season. "At that same party, Coello apparently invited Arias. The rest [of Arias's story] is fiction. De la Vega and Martinez weren't there; [Gonzalez] never left the house; he didn't even own a shotgun."

Where are they now? Osvaldo Coello was sentenced to 35 years in the River Cops case in February 1988 and is still in federal prison. Pablo "Tatico" Martinez was arrested in 1989 on federal drug trafficking charges not directly related to the River Cops case. He was convicted shortly thereafter and currently is serving a 24-year prison sentence. Dick Fiallo did indeed testify in the home-invasion case; he is now a free man. Arturo de la Vega got 30 years but has been paroled. Arias served three and a half years in prison, then spent some time in the witness-protection program before returning to Miami in the mid-Nineties. Since then he has worked as a chef at several Cuban restaurants. New Times was unable to locate Arias for comment on this story. The lead River Cops investigator, Alex Alvarez, now a private attorney, declined to comment.

And José Gonzalez? The only blemishes on his eighteen-plus-year record as a school board cop: His department's internal-affairs unit has twice investigated him for alleged misconduct and twice cleared him of serious violations, though he did receive administrative rebukes for minor breaches of department policies in each of those instances. He became an assistant chief in January 1997. He is one of two officers of that rank who report to the chief of police.

The 37-year-old Gonzalez has never been charged in connection with the alleged attempt on Dick Fiallo's life. "We're looking into it now," says Assistant State Attorney Trudy Novicki, who prosecuted the original River Cops case. "I don't have a good answer for why it took us thirteen years to investigate this, but the honest answer is that the information was part of large investigation that eventually went over to the U.S. Attorney's Office." Another prosecutor who handled the River Cops case, Russell Killinger, did not return several phone calls from New Times seeking comment. Novicki says her office revived the inquiry about a year ago, when "someone brought it to our attention."

Glenn Kritzer says his client believes Commander Vivian H. Monroe, the former chief of school police and Gonzalez's greatest political enemy within the department, made the call. (One possible piece of evidence for Kritzer's allegation: During the reporting of a recent New Times cover story, "Cop Out," [March 9], which detailed questionable conduct by Monroe, an anonymous letter circulated among school officials and the media. It accused several high-ranking cops of malfeasance and included the fact that an assistant chief was under investigation for his connection to the Miami River Cops case.) Monroe was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Novicki would not say when the probe might conclude. Even after all these years, there isn't any particular hurry. "[Arias] described an attempted first-degree murder with a firearm," she says. "It's my understanding that there's no statute of limitations on that."

Kritzer finds the whole affair disheartening. "It's very scary that, thirteen years after an alleged incident that never even happened, José is put in a position where his job, his reputation, and, indeed, his freedom, are in danger."


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