Biscayne Boomerang

Missing money may have detoured through the fire but comes back to the Key

A funny thing happened on José Marti's way to the Key Biscayne Police Department, even though it is only steps from the island's fire-rescue department. Somewhere along the way a black plastic trash bag containing $9881.20, which he was supposed to deliver, became lost. The money was part of the Village of Key Biscayne's fundraising campaign for victims of the tsunami that devastated south Asia this past December. The loot walked off sometime January 18. Questions began to surface sometime April 7. Fire department Captain Marti was doing the asking.

The money's whereabouts during its three months of freedom on the tropical enclave of wealth and minor intrigue may never be fully known. Mysteriously, on April 26, the bag reappeared, underneath the desk of deputy fire-rescue Chief Franklin Barron.

Police Lt. José Monteagudo was assigned the task of unraveling the enigma. The money wasn't talking, but everybody else was. Rumors flew around the fire department. Initially the police wanted to handle the situation administratively, but an assistant state attorney advised them to open a criminal investigation.

It was at police headquarters where officers and firefighters would drop off collected monies. According to the report filed by Monteagudo, the donations were initially handled in an extremely casual manner. While standing at intersections, firefighters collected money in their boots. The cash was taken to the fire station, counted, placed in a locker, and later transferred to the police department. Once there, the money simply sat in an unlocked desk drawer or file cabinet, until police Chief Charles Press noticed and had it transferred to a safe for future deposit in the bank.

At some point somebody noticed there was a discrepancy between the amount of money reportedly collected during the campaign (more than $13,000) and the amount deposited in the bank (less than $5000). This variance puzzled the fire chief's administrative assistant, so she asked Marti to inquire at the police department. Thus Marti was placed in the position of asking questions about what had happened to the money when he was the last one to have had it in his possession.

Fire department Lt. Marcos Osorio told police he collected the money January 15 during a Saturday campaign drive. The following Tuesday, he and Marti took the money to fire Chief John Gilbert. Then Osorio gave the money to Marti to walk it over to the police department.

Marti told police he had turned the money over to a dispatcher he didn't know. For some reason, he forgot to get a receipt. This despite the fact he'd turned over a smaller amount of money the day before, to dispatcher Eunice Rojas, and had obtained a receipt. Rojas was also on duty the day Marti claimed to have turned in the $9881; she said he never came by.

Throughout the investigation, Monteagudo noted in his report that fire Chief Gilbert seemed to take particular interest in the proceedings. During one interview, the chief referred to Marti as a "company man," and in another instance, the report claims Gilbert "demonstrated some bizarre behavior with the village attorney." His behavior consisted of questioning how the investigation was being conducted and by whom.

Then suddenly, on April 26, village attorney Jim Baker called police Chief Press to say he had received a call from Gilbert that the money had been found under Barron's desk. Barron said he'd accidentally kicked a book under his desk and then found the bag of cash. The money was secured, and on May 6, Marti was given a letter informing him he was relieved of duty with pay pending the outcome of the investigation. He responded, "Why are you investigating me for some money that was found?"

The police narrative indicates that Marti, who had previously said he'd dropped off the money, now said he couldn't recall whether he'd dropped it off. He just figured he must have. It also turned out Marti was the only ranking officer on duty at the station the day before the money reappeared under Barron's desk.

When all was said and done, the State Attorney's Office declined to prosecute Marti, or anyone else, on grand theft charges. Likely the reasoning was that it would have been a difficult charge to prove in court, given no witnesses and the fact that the money came back to where it belonged. "He's maintained since day one he didn't do it," says Brian Tannebaum, Marti's attorney. "My client cooperated with the police. Apparently this money was missing and then it turned up. "

 
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