One quiet, cool night in November 1995, a team of cops in unmarked cars carefully tailed four young black men around midtown. Near the North Miami Avenue ramp to I-395, they watched one man — a 19-year-old named Antonio Young — walk up to a car of tourists, smash a window with a brick, grab a purse, and run.
The cops sprang into action, plowing their unmarked vehicle into Young's and trapping the getaway driver on the ramp. As one robber disappeared into the bushes, Young and an accomplice, Derrick Wiltshire, leaped from the highway to the ground 20 feet below.
The four officers drew their guns and unleashed a flurry of at least 37 shots. One cop, a handsome Cuban-American named Jesus Aguero, fired 21 bullets. Eight rounds struck Young in the back and the head. Several more felled Wiltshire.
Then, with the help of other cops, Aguero planted guns on the teenagers' bodies and staged the scene. One officer later testified that Aguero knelt next to Young as he lay dying and said, "How does it feel to rob white people, nigger?"
The outburst of violence wasn't isolated — in fact, it was part of a vigilante campaign carried out for years by Aguero and his accomplices, a group of rogue cops nicknamed the Jump-Out Boys. By the time a federal jury convicted him of covering up the Young and Wiltshire killings, Aguero was well-known as one of the dirtiest cops in Miami history. He had been accused of raping a prostitute, stealing from suspects, and planting a gun on a homeless man mistakenly shot by police.
Despite his terrifying rap sheet, however, Aguero was barely punished. And after serving a scant 19 months in prison, he is now accused of again breaking the laws he was once supposed to enforce. A state charity for low-income students believes Aguero defrauded it of up to $25,000, and even his fellow officers have begun turning on him, alleging that his construction business — which he runs with another cop convicted in the same federal case — performs shoddy and shady work.
"These officers used to come onto the scene like sharks in a feeding frenzy," says Jeffrey A. Jacobs, an attorney who sued the City of Miami over Young's wrongful death. "I would hope that going to jail would help to change someone like Aguero. At least that's what supposed to happen in our system."
Aguero refused to speak to New Times about most of the new accusations. "It's none of your business," he said.
Jesus "Jesse" Aguero joined the Miami Police Department in 1984 at the age of 21. It was the height of the Cocaine Cowboys era, and the city was brimming with drugs and Marielitos released from Castro's jails. It didn't take Aguero long to lose his way in the fray. In January 1987, just two and a half years after he was hired, Aguero was accused of stealing $4,000 from a suspect in a drug case. Serious inconsistencies in Aguero's statements led prosecutors to dismiss charges against the suspect. The cop was never charged, but he was officially reprimanded.
The complaints kept coming, though. Over the next decade, Aguero's supervisors would recommend five times that he be fired, only for him to successfully fight each case. Among the allegations:
• On June 24, 1988, a prostitute accused Aguero of forcing her to perform oral sex in his squad car. Investigators found his semen on Dairy Queen napkins she had used to clean up. Despite the DNA evidence, prosecutors dropped the charges.
• Less than six months later, Aguero was one of six cops implicated in the death of Leonardo Mercado. Officers claimed the drug dealer pulled a knife on them, but his badly beaten body was covered in 44 bruises and cuts, including sneaker prints. Aguero was later indicted for lying to the FBI, but a jury acquitted him. He was suspended, however, for cutting another officer's shirt to make it look like he had been attacked by Mercado.
• In January 1989, a witness accused Aguero of planting a gun on a man shot by cops in Liberty City. He was never charged.
After Young's and Wiltshire's deaths in 1995, two surviving robbers swore that none of them was armed beyond the brick Young had used to bash in a window, and that the cops had opened fire for no reason. But it would take another, even more brazen shooting and coverup to spur a full investigation.
On June 26, 1997, two Miami cops spotted a homeless man named Daniel Hoban in Coconut Grove looming over a friend with what looked like a gun. The officers opened fire, but panicked when they realized Hoban was brandishing only a Sony Walkman. The cops called Aguero, who arrived with a .45-caliber pistol that he planted at the scene, according to prosecutors. His fingerprint was found on the gun, which was linked to an earlier drug arrest. Amazingly, a jury again acquitted Aguero.
"When six police officers are willing to get on the stand and lie to cover up a crime, it's difficult to overcome," prosecutor Trudy Novicki said after the trial.
But the suspicious shooting finally provoked an internal affairs investigation. Armed with IA files, the families of Wiltshire and Young sued the City of Miami. They settled for roughly $1 million each.
Aguero, meanwhile, was suspended while the feds launched an investigation. In 2001, federal prosecutors charged Aguero and 13 other Miami cops with stealing suspects' guns, lying about them, and then planting them at crime scenes, including the I-395 and Coconut Grove shootings. The charges finally cost Aguero his job.
"He should have been fired a long time ago," Novicki said at the time. "There are some problems at [the Miami Police] department, and Jesse Aguero is a big part of them."
Aguero faced ten years, was sentenced to 37 months, but served only 19. Another crooked cop, Arturo Beguiristain, served 17 in the same Texas federal prison. Two other officers served even less. Black community leaders were outraged at the lenient sentences.
"Killing a dog in Miami-Dade would get a person more time in jail," scoffed Rev. Nathaniel Wilcox.
Aguero has stayed off the public radar since his 2008 release, starting his own firm, called JNC Flooring Contractors, and partnering with Beguiristain on several others.
That doesn't mean his time behind bars reformed him, though. Instead, he's accused of defrauding a state charity. He also faces a lawsuit over his flooring company and claims of shady business practices from former police colleagues.
"It's just like when he was a cop," says Jackie Rojas, an ex-cop and former close friend. "He's soft-spoken and charismatic. He acts like he's going to take care of you, and then something happens and he disappears... He just feels like he can get away with anything."
Rojas should know. She stood by him when he went to prison. When he got out, she recommended his company to more than a dozen friends, including many retired cops. Soon the 49-year-old Aguero was back on his feet, making more than $100,000 a year, she claims.
But fraud accusations threaten to expose that success as just another scheme. His alleged offense this time around: stealing as much as $25,000 of state funds by feigning poverty on private school scholarship applications for his three kids.
The taxpayer-supported Step Up for Students program awards $4,335 annual scholarships to low-income students. Families must make less than $42,648 a year to qualify. Yet Aguero and his wife easily make $150,000 a year, Rojas claims. Indeed, records show they own a 29-foot boat worth $100,000, three cars, a motorcycle, a $340,000 home in Kendall, a small house near downtown, and until it was foreclosed on last month, a two-unit apartment in Little Havana. Total real estate value: $600,000.
"Jesse just bought himself a brand-new $60,000 truck," Rojas says. "His family doesn't need those scholarships. He's effectively stealing from poor people."
Step Up for Students officials have asked police and Miami-Dade prosecutors to investigate the Agueros' aid applications, according to emails obtained by New Times. "We have suspicion to believe the program has in fact been victimized" by Aguero, Step Up vice president Jon East wrote in an email sent September 19 to a Miami-Dade detective.
Miami-Dade police declined to comment on the status of the complaints against Aguero.
Reached by New Times, Aguero refused to discuss the accusations. "I'm not going to speak to you about anything that is criminal in nature, because you're a reporter," he said.
Aguero's new career as a contractor has also been the subject of conflict. Rojas says her falling-out with Aguero began in May after he refused to repay $3,000 she loaned him. When she told friends about the bad deal and the botched job he'd done on her bathroom — where tiles fell off the wall after only a few weeks — she says she was flooded with other complaints.
"The floor was left with all these black scuff marks and stains," says one of Rojas's friends, who asked that her name not be used for fear of retaliation. "The drywall was cracking and crumbling. A 3-year-old could have done better. I complained about it, but he never came back to fix it."
Those complaints echo a lawsuit filed in 2010. When Thomas Gearing purchased a condo at 23rd Street and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach, he bought $3,307 of what he thought was Spanish tile. Then he paid a company $3,367 to install it. Instead, the company contracted Aguero's JNC Flooring to do the work. The tile was "discolored, warped, [and] porous in nature," according to Gearing's lawsuit. In court records, Aguero said his company wasn't responsible for the tile, just the installation. The case is in arbitration.
Aguero defends his company's work and says the bogus complaints stem from a "business falling-out" that caused Rojas to launch a witch hunt. "She is a habitual liar," he says.
Asked if he regrets any of his past crimes as a police officer, Aguero clams up. "I'm a licensed contractor trying to put food on the plate for my family. I'm not about to divulge anything on my past," he says. "It's been written about a thousand times."
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Seventeen years after the murder of Derrick Wiltshire, his family is equally speechless.
"We never really knew what actually happened," Denise Wiltshire, Derrick's sister, says from the doorway of the family's Miramar home.
Asked if she or her mother would comment about the latest accusations against Aguero, Denise politely declines. "It's still too painful to talk about."