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The charges are piling up against embattled South Miami Police Chief Orlando Martinez De Castro.
Last week, De Castro pleaded no contest to Miami-Dade ethics charges that he steered police department business to his wife's auto tag and car insurance companies, violating a city law that prohibits city employees from doing business with immediate family members. Now South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard, the chief's top political nemesis, alleges De Castro broke state and federal laws restricting the use of a national criminal database to dig up dirt on his detractors.
De Castro, who must pay $2,000 in investigative costs related to the ethics charges, denies any wrongdoing in the latest scandal. "This has been a witch hunt against me for the last 18 months," he says. "Running checks on people as part of an investigation is standard policy regardless if they are a victim, witness, or offender."
Except Stoddard and prominent Miami attorney Joe Klock, whose record the chief also researched, claim De Castro wasn't conducting criminal probes when he looked them up. "This is an invasion of privacy and a violation of a person's Fourth Amendment rights," Stoddard says. "When the chief of police is doing this, we have a serious problem."
Adds Klock: "I think the police chief believes he is above the law and he can do anything he wants. The people who continue to employ him can solve the problem by firing him."
Stoddard says he recently learned about the background checks after requesting two years' worth of logs documenting the times South Miami Police researched people through the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database. The logs show De Castro requested background checks on Klock on March 3, 2011, and on Stoddard five days later, which was first reported by the blog the Straw Buyer.
The day Klock's name was run through NCIC, the lawyer had just met with Stoddard and the city attorney to complain about the police department allegedly harassing one of his law firm's paralegals, an African-American man who has been arrested numerous times by South Miami cops. All the cases were either dismissed or prosecutors didn't file charges, according to Miami-Dade criminal court records. (Klock asked Riptide to refrain from naming the man because he could face retaliation from the city's finest.)
De Castro claims he used NCIC to look up Klock and his employee as part of an ongoing investigation into the paralegal. On March 8, 2011, the chief ran Stoddard's name through a criminal background check. De Castro says he did so because the mayor had recently been a victim of a burglary in which Stoddard alleged the thief took $6,000 worth of computer equipment.
Two of Stoddard's colleagues, Commissioner Valerie Newman and Vice Mayor Josh Liebman, back up the chief and say the mayor has a personal vendetta against De Castro. "He's been consumed with getting rid of the chief," Newman says. "He is jeopardizing the city's ability to use this system."