Free at Last
In the five years since he left the City of Miami Police Department, Danny Felton has prospered. He has married, studied for his mortgage broker's license, started a company, and become an upstanding member of the business community. He attends Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce meetings and takes out full-page advertisements touting his mortgage company in real estate magazines.
But Felton's life wasn't always so exemplary. Until recently there was the looming possibility that federal prosecutors might try to send the 29-year-old, who once was named Miami's officer of the month, to prison. Although he disavows it now, Felton confessed in 1995 to stealing $10,000 from an undercover FBI agent posing as a drug dealer. Federal authorities confirm his involvement. Even the former cop's attorney, Richard Sharpstein, told New Times nearly two years ago ("Behind the Badge," August 6, 1998) he expected the feds would charge Felton. Now, Sharpstein notes triumphantly: "It's over, baby."
Indeed it is. The U.S. Attorney's Office let the case languish so long that the five-year statute of limitations for grand theft ran out. Tom Mulvihill, the assistant U.S. attorney handling the Felton affair, did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment. But a former Miami internal-affairs officer who requested anonymity laments, "This is someone who clearly should have gone to jail." Edward Carberry, former commanding officer of the internal-affairs section, adds, "There is no question in my mind that this ex-officer was involved in the offense that he was accused of."
From the offices of Faith Financial Group in Miami Lakes, where he is a vice president, Felton says he is displeased by the continued publicity. "If there was a crime, why didn't they charge me?" he asks rhetorically. "It's been over five years. They didn't have anything. My case is done; there is no case. Can't I just live a normal life now?"
Central to the case is Felton's signed confession, which was witnessed by two FBI agents. In the four-page document, Felton relates how he partnered with a childhood acquaintance in Liberty City named Marvin Griffin and came up with a scheme to rip off drug dealers. Felton now hotly contests the document. "I never wrote that. Someone else wrote that and told me to initial it," he maintains.
Griffin, however, wrote New Times a long letter in 1998, detailing his alleged misdeeds with Felton. At least three times, Griffin says, the duo worked like this: Posing as a big-time Miami drug dealer, Griffin would travel to a city such as Atlanta, meet with street-level dealers, and lure them to Miami for a buy. He would pick up the small-time dealers at the airport or hotel and head for the spot where the transaction was to take place. But at a prearranged location, Felton would pull over Griffin and the dealer, confiscate the cash, pretend to arrest Griffin, and free the passenger. Then the two would divide the spoils.
An informant tipped off the FBI to the operation. The feds set up a sting for May 19, 1994, by feeding Griffin information about an alleged drug dealer who was carrying $10,000 in a car. Griffin contacted Felton, who stopped the drug dealer, actually an undercover agent. Then Felton and Griffin stole the money as a team of FBI agents watched. The agents waited nearly a year before picking up Felton on April 12, 1995. After being confronted with the evidence, he immediately agreed to work undercover to trap other corrupt officers, according to court documents. In exchange, an FBI agent told him, he would not be charged. On May 2, 1995, Felton quietly resigned from the police department, presumably while he continued working to finger other corrupt cops.
Felton failed to implicate any other Miami officers, though he did help bust Griffin, who is now serving a 30-year prison sentence. Although the U.S. Attorney's Office claimed the FBI was not authorized to strike a deal with Felton and signaled its intention to punish a dirty cop, it never followed through. Why? One former internal-affairs officer speculates the FBI deal compromised Felton's confession, so prosecution would have been difficult.
There's one minor consolation for a frustrated public. This past February 24, five years after Felton was caught by the FBI, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement yanked his police certification. The reasons listed for the revocation are "grand theft" and "misuse of a public position." Odd circumstances for a guy who never was charged with either of those crimes. "At least he can't be a police officer anymore," Carberry sighs. "Something good came out of this."
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