Letters to the Editor

From the issue of September 7, 2000

At Long Last Busted
The effort to bring felony charges against Manuel Diaz was fraught with innuendo, suspicion, and an alleged conflict of interest
By Tristram Korten

Your Honor, the Defense Rests
Crime and politics and Mr. Diaz:
Along with attorney Thomas Tew, I represent Manuel Diaz in the pending criminal case that was the subject of Tristram Korten's article “At Long Last Busted” (August 31). I wish to provide more information than he apparently has on this case.

The thesis of Mr. Korten's article seems to be that the Miami-Dade Police Department has built a solid case against Mr. Diaz and that Chief Assistant State Attorney Trudy Novicki delayed filing charges because of her own political ambitions. Mr. Korten's thesis further seems to be that the police had in fact built a strong case for filing racketeering charges against Mr. Diaz and that Ms. Novicki took the unusual step of permitting Mr. Tew and me the opportunity to persuade her that those charges should not be filed, which resulted in the filing of lesser charges. Mr. Korten's thesis concludes that if not for the pressure of the police department, charges may never have been filed against Mr. Diaz.

The first thesis -- that the police built a strong case against Mr. Diaz on any charges -- is simply and flatly wrong. Over the course of the past year, I presented to the police and the State Attorney evidence from their own witnesses and county documents that proved their theory of criminality is wrong and that no crime occurred.

Last May the police persuaded the State Attorney to prematurely file charges against [former county parks director] Bill Cutie. Only after those charges were filed did the State Attorney finally listen and learn that counts two and four of their initial indictment were wrong. Mr. Korten may wish to ask his police friends and the State Attorney why they dropped those counts. They admitted to Judge Robert Scola in May that those charges would be dropped; they were always improper. That admission was only the first step in the many mistakes in this investigation.

The police now suggest to Mr. Korten that they had built a solid case for racketeering and that Ms. Novicki improperly rejected that charge. First, racketeering charges were never considered until May of this year. They were threatened in May only after the State Attorney learned that the statute of limitations had expired on almost all the other grand-theft charges they were considering. The police were pressuring the State Attorney to consider the racketeering charge in an effort to save their investigation.

Thomas Tew and I submitted a detailed 28-page, factual and legal letter to the State Attorney and Ms. Novicki, showing why the racketeering charge could not properly be filed. I would be happy to provide a copy of that letter to Mr. Korten. Ms. Novicki agreed not to recommend to the State Attorney that the racketeering charge be filed, not because of political pressure but in spite of political pressure from the police. She correctly determined that the state could not properly file a racketeering charge in this case.

Perhaps Mr. Korten overlooked the political pressure on the State Attorney that has been asserted by the police and the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) in particular. Perhaps he overlooked that the PBA has been supporting the challenger to the State Attorney and has accused the State Attorney of being soft on public corruption.

If Mr. Korten were to check, he would also find that the police have assigned at least five experienced detectives, including homicide detectives, to this case and that the police have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money pursuing this investigation. Perhaps he didn't know that in November 1998, two weeks before this investigation was commenced, the State Attorney rejected the police investigation of another landscaper on the same theory and facts. The State Attorney determined that no crime occurred.

As this investigation began, the frustrated police department imposed enormous pressure on the State Attorney to file charges to vindicate their investigation. While I found Mr. Korten's theory about political pressure interesting, I was surprised that he had not considered the real political pressures and motivations behind these charges. After we presented to the State Attorney all the reasons why the racketeering charge could not be filed, the police pressured Ms. Novicki to file grand-theft charges. But the police totally ignored another fatal defect in their case. Grand theft must be charged separate invoice by separate invoice. The invoices in this case were from October 1994 to May 1995. The statute of limitations for a grand-theft prosecution is five years. Thus by May 2000, all but one of the invoices was well beyond the statute of limitations and cannot be prosecuted. We explained that problem to Ms. Novicki in a June letter. I would be glad to give Mr. Korten a copy of that letter.

The law is absolutely clear on this point, and the State Attorney has ignored the law. The real political pressure in this case was the pressure of the police to file grand-theft charges they know are defective. They pressured a State Attorney who is facing a re-election fight because the police need vindication for their work. If the court dismisses the case, the police have the cover they need: They can blame the judge. In the meantime they have their photograph of the notorious Manuel Diaz in court. The State Attorney can show the public, before the election, that she is tough on crime. After the election, when the case is dismissed, it will be too late for the public to evaluate what really happened in this case.

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