Public War, Private Fight

The U.S. Attorney and Miami-Dade's top cop clash over a major corruption case

This is also not the first time Carlos Alvarez and the head of the Miami-Dade Police Department's corruption unit, Maj. Carlos Gonzalez, have protested when prosecutors didn't feel a case was strong enough to go to trial. In 2000 they clashed with the State Attorney's Office over the investigation of a politically connected tree farmer. Police believed Manuel Diaz conspired to defraud the county by withholding hundreds of trees worth nearly a million dollars. The corruption cops complained that prosecutors were slow to file charges. Eventually Diaz was arrested, but a judge dismissed the case because the statute of limitations had expired. (Diaz's lawyer, Thomas Tew, accused police of leaking information about the case to the press.) Then in 2001 police grumbled loudly that county Commissioner Pedro Reboredo, accused of hosting no-show employees on his taxpayer-funded staff, was allowed to resign from office in exchange for not being criminally charged.

At least some of that fulminating can be attributed to the corruption unit's growing pains. It was created in 1998 after a drop in homicide rates freed up resources at the same time the public's concern was shifting from crime to corruption. A number of homicide detectives were reassigned to the new unit, which now has about 40 investigators. But white-collar cases, with their extensive paper trails, are notoriously more complicated to assemble than violent crimes. Often just identifying criminal intent is tricky. A veteran homicide cop might well find the process an exercise in frustration.

"When we disagree, that's a healthy relationship [between police and prosecutors]," Alvarez ventures. "It's good to argue. And we've gone on to make dozens of [state] cases after those. But don't accuse people of leaks when it's a 'gut feeling.'"

Defense attorneys Prieto and Chaykin say the alleged leaks in the Host Marriott case are anything but a gut feeling. They claim reporters have asked them to comment on material that could only have come from grand jury proceedings, and they've complained to prosecutors. "The reality is that investigators have, in fact, leaked secret grand jury information to the Miami Herald," Prieto charges. "Such leaks, as every investigator knows, are federal crimes. Ironically the leaks in this investigation are far more serious than the underlying conduct that the investigators have been investigating." Meanwhile, he adds, any allegation that Jimenez is swayed by his relationships with defense attorneys is just "ludicrous." Says Prieto: "I have never -- not once -- spoken to Marcos Jimenez about this case."

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