By Trevor Bach
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By Michael E. Miller
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Ronald Gotlin has been a law-enforcement officer with the Village of Biscayne Park for 21 years. He began as a part-time patrolman and worked his way through the ranks to captain. In 1998 the Biscayne Park Village Commission, which hires the village's department heads, rewarded Gotlin by naming him police chief and giving him an annual salary that began at $45,000 and now stands at $72,000.
Since becoming Biscayne Park's top cop, supervising thirty-four full-time and part-time sworn officers and two civilians, Gotlin has survived repeated allegations he abuses his position. "I live in a glass house and I've had a clean career," Gotlin boasts. Last month, however, the Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust hurled a boulder through the chief's glass house.
On May 23 the ethics commission released an investigative report alleging the 60-year-old Gotlin had improperly and possibly illegally padded his salary at taxpayer expense. According to the report, Gotlin received nearly $29,000 over the past four and a half years for "court time," overtime pay allotted to police officers who are required to appear in court as part of their job.
When questioned by an ethics commission investigator about 608 hours of court time, Gotlin divulged he had not actually appeared in court. "Gotlin, by his own admission, noted that few if any of these hours were in fact court-related," the report disclosed. "He could not recall a single court appearance in 2004 tied to his official duties."
Gotlin claimed that "99.9 percent" of his 78 court-time hours last year revolved around his own investigation of Ofcr. Enrique "Henry" Casabo, who has been unable to work since March 2004 as a result of work-related injury. Gotlin suspects Casabo has been lying about his injury.
The chief asserted that court time was "anything that would involve an investigation that could end up in court," a definition the ethics report called "a stretch." Gotlin's justification, the report added, could be construed as an attempt to defraud taxpayers by inflating his salary. The investigation also uncovered inconsistencies in Gotlin's explanation. For instance, more than 25 percent of the chief's 2004 court-time hours predated Casabo's alleged injury.
At the behest of the village, the county's Risk Management Division launched its own investigation of Casabo. A risk management investigator told the ethics commission the division had spent $4000 in 2004 to conduct surveillance. "Even so, she said [risk management's] effort does not seem to have satisfied Chief Gotlin in his zeal to catch Casabo," the ethics report stated. "She characterized relations between Gotlin and Casabo as 'an ongoing feud' that, in her opinion, has acquired personal dimensions."
The ethics commission recommended the Biscayne Park Village Commission, which represents some 3500 residents, require Gotlin to repay any compensation he received for unsubstantiated court time -- at least during 2004. In addition the report advised village officials to file a criminal complaint with the State Attorney's Office to determine if Gotlin had abused his position as a public official, a second-degree felony.
Gotlin denies any wrongdoing. "This is a small department," he says. "I don't have the money for an internal-affairs division. I had money in the department's court-time budget, so I used it to conduct surveillance on Casabo. Everything was legit. I fail to see where I did anything wrong."