Taking Heat

Maj. Frank Christmas, the Miami Police Department's top in-house investigator, finds himself the subject of a criminal investigation

The anonymous letter prompted an investigation by internal affairs, the results of which confirm that Christmas had a girlfriend named Angie Lambert and that Lambert had a niece named Velda. "Ms. Lambert said she has heard from family members that Frank has had a sexual relationship with Velda for many years," the investigative report states. "She believes that Frank is currently living with Velda, who is now in her early twenties." Lambert also told internal-affairs investigators that during their relationship, she never had reason to believe Christmas had sex with Velda or any other minors. Velda was sixteen or seventeen years old at the time. Christmas's ex-wife, Joanne, told investigators in 1992 she believed Christmas was then living with Velda. A friend of Christmas, Arthur Washington, then an executive assistant in the department, told investigators: "Lieutenant Christmas always had a lot of girlfriends, even when he was married to Joanne."

Investigators noted that Velda could not be reached. Christmas was never interviewed, and eventually the investigation was dropped. Subsequently Christmas married Velda.


Chief Martinez has vowed to restore his department's credibility, an uphill battle
Steve Satterwhite
Chief Martinez has vowed to restore his department's credibility, an uphill battle
Frank Christmas will remain head of internal affairs pending the outcome of the State Attorney's investigation
Frank Christmas will remain head of internal affairs pending the outcome of the State Attorney's investigation
Frank Christmas will remain head of internal affairs pending the outcome of the State Attorney's investigation
Frank Christmas will remain head of internal affairs pending the outcome of the State Attorney's investigation
Lt. Israel Gonzalez languishes on the midnight shift while the man he says allowed a killer to go free was appointed head of internal affairs
Lt. Israel Gonzalez languishes on the midnight shift while the man he says allowed a killer to go free was appointed head of internal affairs
Lt. Israel Gonzalez languishes on the midnight shift while the man he says allowed a killer to go free was appointed head of internal affairs
Lt. Israel Gonzalez languishes on the midnight shift while the man he says allowed a killer to go free was appointed head of internal affairs

Following the meeting with the chief, Christmas got to work on transferring Pino. First he claimed Pino was a problem employee who was on probation, a disciplinary action taken before Lt. Israel Gonzalez became head of the homicide unit. "When I first got here to homicide, Christmas tells me he's having problems with Pino's team," Capt. David Rivero recalls. "They had a low clearance rate [solving cases], and he wanted to break them up."

But John Campbell, who was the lieutenant in charge of homicide before Gonzalez, says that's not true. Pino was one of his best detectives. In fact, adds Campbell, Pino was so good at eliciting confessions from murder suspects that officers working under him were not getting the experience they needed. So Campbell instructed Pino to give other detectives a chance to interview suspects. As a result the murder-clearance rate temporarily dropped. "We solved all those homicides; it just took us longer," Campbell says. "That was my decision in order to train the rest of the staff."

Christmas apparently was referring to that episode when he claimed Pino was on probation. "Pino came to me and asked me to tell Christmas that he was not on probation," Campbell explains. "And I did. And that's when Christmas said to me: “I ordered them to drop that murder investigation. We've got plenty of other murders to work on.' I said, “Frank, we don't do that.'"

By November Christmas had succeeded in removing Pino and Gonzalez from the homicide unit. Gonzalez was transferred to the patrol division, where he currently works the midnight shift. Then, in late December, Pino was transferred to the local FBI office as the department's liaison -- against his wishes. He's since been reassigned to the patrol division on the midnight shift. Two of the three detectives working the Wayne Williams homicide case -- Altarr Williams and Moises Velazquez -- also were transferred to midnight patrol. Only David Patton remains in homicide.

"It's an injustice what's happening to Frank Christmas," complains Rivero. "All the facts are completely wrong." (Rivero says Gonzalez was moved because of his insubordination during the meeting with the chief, not as retaliation.)


On May 21 prosecutors in the State Attorney's Office convened a meeting with Pino to discuss the Williams murder case. That's when he told them the investigation had been dropped on Major Christmas's orders. Pino even produced a tape recording of the witness's mother telling officers that Christmas had promised to remove her son's name from the witness list and that the family wasn't required to cooperate with police.

"He recorded a conversation he never should have," Rivero fumes. "And he sat on it for a long time." Rivero suggests that act might amount to withholding evidence. Further, he adds, what Christmas allegedly told the witness's mother "is standard operating procedure in murder investigations. That's how we get witnesses to cooperate."

Subsequent to his meeting with prosecutors, Pino was summoned to the department late at night to provide a statement about the tape. The officers who interviewed him were from internal affairs. Rivero hedges when asked whether Pino is under investigation. "First of all," he says, "they need to investigate Frank Christmas and clear his name."

Clearing the major's name could be problematic, especially for prosecutors who work with the Miami Police Department's internal-affairs unit. The investigations are so sensitive that even the perception of risk is enough to inhibit cooperation. As one source within the State Attorney's Office says, "We feel Christmas's appointment [as head of IA] casts concerns over the security of pending investigations."

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