Confessions of a Former School District Cop
José F. Gonzalez spent twenty years as a cop for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where he rose through the ranks to become assistant chief of the 180-officer department. Until recently he was poised to be a contender for the top spot. But Gonzalez's career as a police officer -- here or anywhere else -- ended forever in a plea deal with the State Attorney's Office. The March agreement marked an unsatisfactory end to a protracted criminal investigation that began, Gonzalez believes, when he refused to commit illegal or unethical acts at the behest of his boss and the number-two man at the school district, deputy superintendent Henry Fraind.
The plea, in which Gonzalez traded his job and any future prospects as a police officer for an end to the investigation, was unsatisfactory for a couple of reasons. It failed to clear up lingering questions about just how deeply he was involved in an alleged 1987 plot to kill a witness associated with the notorious Miami River Cops case. It also preempted any possibility that courtroom questioning might have cast light on the shadowy activities of the school district's top administrators.
But the wily "Pepe" Gonzalez did not go down without landing a couple of well-placed punches at his bosses. On September 10, 1999, Gonzalez provided a lengthy sworn statement to assistant school board attorney Patricia Bass and district financial auditor Julio Miranda, in which he detailed various abuses of power allegedly committed by Fraind and Vivian Monroe, who was school district police chief at the time. A transcript of the sworn statement became part of the State Attorney's case file on Gonzalez. When the case ended with the plea agreement, that document became a public record.
While self-preservation and a desire to retaliate were obvious motives in his decision to reveal this information, Gonzalez's claims were backed by extensive records he kept, including notes, invoices, memos, letters, phone logs, and the names of people who could corroborate portions of his testimony.
With those caveats in mind, the 107-page document excerpted below offers an intriguing look inside the school district. Gonzalez's testimony, though nearly two years old, could take on new relevance as a reconfigured school board considers the fate of superintendent Roger Cuevas. (The recent election of Frank Cobo to the board, plus the governor's imminent appointment of another new member, could shift the balance of power.) New Times does not vouch for the veracity of Gonzalez's statements.
It started with a storm. In late September 1998, the school district prepared for the worst as Hurricane Georges flirted with a landing in South Florida. Gonzalez was instructed to chauffeur Henry Fraind around the county to monitor preparations at various schools. The timing was significant because oversight of the police department was about to be transferred to Fraind from another deputy superintendent.
That's when Fraind took note of the equipment in Gonzalez's police car -- the radio, the emergency lights, the siren. He asked Gonzalez if he could have similar equipment installed in his district-owned car, now that he would be supervising the department. According to Gonzalez's sworn statement, Fraind also mentioned that he wanted to carry a police badge and his personal 9mm handgun. Gonzalez said he advised Fraind that he would have to be a certified law-enforcement officer to use these items. That, apparently, was not the answer Fraind wanted to hear.
Gonzalez: "At this time he replied, If I'm going to run this' -- excuse my French here -- fucking police department, I want everything you fucking guys have. How do you expect for me to get any respect from the troops? Fuck it. If the chief has a problem with it, she's going to have a problem with me. Why do you think I am being given the department? Because the whole place is a fucking mess. By the way, I hope you will be part of my team, because I can't stand that fucking, incompetent bitch of your chief and assistant chief. All we hear is that the whole place is a fucking mess and that the unit is always complaining. Well, I will tell you that -- I can't promise you nothing, and I know you're a good guy, but heads are going to roll. Eddie Pearson says that all personnel investigations are screwed up, and there is always delays and [assistant chief Charles] Martin can't get the job done.'"
Gonzalez then detailed his fruitless efforts to convince Fraind he could not lawfully use the police equipment. Nonetheless a few days later, on October 9, Fraind had sirens and other equipment installed in his district-issued vehicle by Metro U.S.A., the same vendor used by the school district's police department. The money came from Fraind's office account.
Over the next several days Fraind bought a police uniform, including tactical boots, a belt, a badge clip, a gun holster, and a police radio. Gonzalez said Fraind also procured a gun and revolving police lights, but sent those items to department inventory without using them. Gonzalez provided the receipts and invoices from these transactions. (The Miami Herald later documented Fraind's purchase of police gear.)
Fraind then called Gonzalez and asked him to order a police badge. Gonzalez claimed he told his boss, Chief Vivian Monroe, about this particular request. "I told her that he had no authority to have it, and basically she told me to order it, to make sure that he got a badge," he related. The badge arrived a few months later but Fraind never received it, according to Gonzalez. Fraind did have the cops issue him an official photo-identification card.
According to Gonzalez, on October 8, 1998, Fraind asked him to install a wiretap on the office phones of superintendent Roger Cuevas and school board chairman Solomon Stinson.
Gonzalez: "He seemed to be very concerned about land deals. He felt very uncomfortable and, as I perceived, of him being out there alone tomorrow, if there was to be a sort of a situation where he is caught in some sort of corruption, misappropriation of funds of purchasing land deals.... When I told him that he had called the wrong person, that I was not about to do any of that, he threatened me with dismissal again.... I will tell you that he was very clear about issues of land acquisition, because I got into it. Why would you want to do this?' Because I know there's things going on, and don't you realize that I'm responsible with the purchasing of land acquisitions and lands and there is a lot of things that are going on here with money and there's a lot of people involved and I'm not going to go down if something happens.'"
Gonzalez claimed that his refusal to acquiesce to Fraind's demands prompted school police to launch an investigation of his role in the twelve-year-old murder plot. (Last year the State Attorney's Office told New Times that, essentially, an oversight allowed Gonzalez to escape scrutiny for more than a decade. See "River of Sleaze," April 6, 2000.)
Internal politics, Gonzalez believed, was another reason his own police department began investigating his role in the murder plot. He told Bass and Miranda that Chief Monroe (who was demoted several months later following scandals documented by New Times) was afraid her bosses would eventually replace her with Gonzalez. In addition several police officers had met with school board members Manty Sabates Morse and Demetrio Perez in 1997 to protest Gonzalez's promotion to assistant chief. Their complaints centered on Gonzalez's close relations with one of the convicted River Cops, Osvaldo Coello, currently serving a 35-year sentence in federal prison. (During the school-police investigation, Monroe and Fraind approved expenses for two officers who traveled to Arizona for an interview with Coello about his old friend Pepe.)
Gonzalez said Fraind, over the next several months, began to harass him and threaten his job. At a January 1999 meeting with Fraind and Monroe, Fraind accused Gonzalez of leaking information to New Times about his purchase of a police radio.
Gonzalez: "He reminded me that the superintendent had the authority to restructure the department and remove me from the position and that I could not do a damn thing about it nor would Ms. Morse be able to help me. Again there is a correlation where he strongly feels that there is some sort of a relationship between me and Manty Morse and there is none.... And I immediately advised him that I had not spoken to anyone from New Times, nor did I leak any information to anyone.... I reminded him that he directed me in the past to do things for him ... and that I had not made any comments to anyone concerning his requests, including the issue of the [police] radio in question. Obviously he changed the tune of the conversation and he went on and started patting me on the back and saying, Okay, Pepe, everything is okay. I just want you to be up-front,' because he did not want me to talk about the [rest of the] police equipment in the presence of Chief Monroe."
Fraind's speculations about Gonzalez's allies in the administration and on the school board continued in the early months of 1999. Gonzalez related one specific conversation he had with Fraind in mid-February.
Gonzalez: "[Fraind] made the following statements: The chair, Solomon Stinson, chairman of the school board, and the superintendent, are very upset with you regarding your association with [board member Manty Sabates] Morse. A restructure is imminent, because I guarantee that you will lose your job as an assistant chief as a result of a restructure. That's the way we get rid of people in the school system.'
"He stated that I needed to watch out who I am with. And then said, I mean the Rancha Luna, Hispanic clique. Don't you know that everybody downtown knows about you, Delio Diaz, Nelson Diaz, and the Hispanic clique? And I assure you that if I make superintendent of schools, the first thing in my agenda will be to immediately break the Hispanic clique by firing all of you. Oh, by the way, you can tell that bitch, Manty, she can write all the memos she wants, because at the end of the day, she's a no-good, fucking-bitch politician. I am going to wipe my ass with her memos, that fucking bitch. I am going to make her life so fucking miserable that she will be kissing my ass by the time everything is over. Everybody hates her around here. Can't you, Morse, and your Hispanic fucking buddies see that I am second in command and, when Roger leaves, I am taking over this fucking place, and then I am going to deal with you and your fucking friends. That bitch, Manty, is lucky that Bush gave her husband a fucking job. He's also a no good piece of shit."
School district auditor Julio Miranda remarked that he was having difficulty identifying in Gonzalez's testimony indisputable evidence of criminal conduct, but both attorney Patricia Bass and Miranda promised to investigate the allegations and refer their findings to the State Attorney's Office. Gonzalez said he just wanted everything on the record.
Gonzalez: "They have a motive, and I know what their motives are and they're going to bring in as many people as they can to make sure that they do whatever they can to see me, you know, either walk out in handcuffs or ruin my livelihood or to get me fired."
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