At Long Last Busted

The effort to bring felony charges against Manuel Diaz was fraught with innuendo, suspicion, and an alleged conflict of interest

Says police department assistant director Frank Boni: “I was unaware of [Novicki meeting with Tew last year to seek his support]. I would think that would be a delicate situation for her. I have confidence in Trudy's judgment, and I hope she gets the judgeship.”

Novicki retorts, “I met with a lot of people in town [in search of recommendations]. I met with defense attorneys, judges, other lawyers. If I was going to have a conflict with everybody I met with, I guess I would have to stop working.”

On July 28 the Miami Herald disclosed that Diaz was under criminal investigation for allegedly not delivering the trees. Tew says he was incensed at certain details in the article that indicated to him police sources were leaking information to the press. After reading the story, an irate Tew left a voice-mail message for Assistant State Attorney Mark Smith. “I said something to the effect that if you can't control your people, then all gloves are off,” the defense attorney recalls.

Manuel Diaz relinquishes his tie, belt, and watch before being hauled off to jail on grand theft charges
Photo by Ed Cox
Manuel Diaz relinquishes his tie, belt, and watch before being hauled off to jail on grand theft charges

But several law-enforcement sources claim the phone message also included intimidating political remarks, such as vowing to fight against State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle's re-election this fall. One source who heard the message claims Tew said, “Now she'll see what political backing can do.” In addition sources say Tew declared that Trudy Novicki could forget about a judicial appointment.

Tew denies making those comments. “I never would do that,” he says. “And anybody who would do that out of vindictiveness is not fit for this profession.”

Novicki says she was never informed of the call, adding that she and Tew have not discussed her interest in a judgeship during the time she's been working on the Diaz case. Prosecutor Smith declines to comment “one way or the other.”

But mere rumors of the alleged phone message were enough to make police investigators uneasy about the fate of their case against Diaz, which prompted them to confront the prosecutors, threatening to close the case and release the files to the public.

“Trudy is a professional,” Tew offers. “Taxpayer money is being well spent on her. Any delays are because we are exchanging detailed legal factual analysis. If someone is characterizing this as the State Attorney's Office taking a long time, it's because they have a hard-on for Manny Diaz.”

One law-enforcement source remains skeptical. “How often,” he asks, “do less prominent defendants get to have their lawyers negotiate the charges and come back again and again to explain things away?”

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