Shortly before 9 a.m. this past February 15, Maciel Gonzalez waited for Juana Olga Durand on the steps of the Miami-Dade family court building at 175 NW First Ave. Gonzalez held a yellow manila envelope containing $3,122 in cash to pay off a string of parking tickets, his lawyer, as well as a $300 "gift" for Durand for helping the Homestead resident find legal representation. Durand, dressed in her crisp bailiff uniform, asked for the money and informed Gonzalez that she had a friend who could get him a fake certificate saying he had completed traffic school to help straighten out his license.
What Durand didn't know was that Gonzalez was cooperating with undercover detectives from the Miami-Dade Police public corruption unit who filmed the entire deal go down. It was part of a year-long surveillance to nab Durand using her position to get cash and fix tickets in DUI cases. Yesterday, Durand was arrested on three felony charges of uttering forged instruments, official misconduct, and unlawful compensation using her official position.
Her bust exposed what one legal blogger claims is a common side racket that goes on in the court system between lawyers and bailiffs, bondsmen, and correction officers.
According to Justice Building Blog's Rumpole:
Bailiffs (and bondsmen and corrections officers) steering cases to defense attorneys is the second oldest profession in Dade County (Ok, third behind selling tickets to the cockfights) There are two attorneys named in the arrest warrant as being the recipient of the cases that the bailiff was hustling. We refrain from mentioning their names at this time, because they have not been charged to our knowledge. However, until the Dade SAO gets of their ass and takes down the attorneys kicking back fees to bailiffs, bondsmen and corrections officers, this kind of crap - which takes money away from all the honest lawyers in Dade County (insert your punchline here) - will never go away.
In Durand's case, the bailiff is caught on video calling Miami attorney John Aramantos on Gonzalez's behalf. She leaves him a message detailing the circumstances of Gonzalez's case. She also informed Gonzalez that Aramantos was going to charge him $4,500. Durand subsequently hit Gonzalez up for more money as his case languished in traffic court. Aramantos only met with Gonzalez on the days he had a court date. The lawyer never met his client at an office to discuss a defense strategy. Aramantos did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.
During the investigation, an undercover detective also posed as someone who needed legal assistance and contacted Durand. She met with the cop, who made up a story about getting arrested for a DUI in Sweetwater. Durand told him she had friends in the Sweetwater police department and that she could also use her connections with the Dade County Police Benevolent Association to get the case dismissed.
Her arrest warrant says Durand has a daughter who works for the Miami-Dade Police Department and her husband is on the board of the PBA. Police union President John Rivera emphatically denied the PBA had any involvement in Durand's alleged crimes. "There is no denying she is married to one of our board members," he says. "But I can't control what she or anyone says about the PBA. This case certainly has nothing to do with us."
Rivera, whose union is supporting Katherine Fernandez Rundle's rival Rod Vereen in the Aug. 14 primary, also complained that the warrant unnecessarily included the fact Durand's daughter works for the PBA and her husband sits on the board. "It has no relevancy to the case," he says.
According to state attorney spokesman Ed Griffith, the investigation is ongoing. Durand's arrest warrant shows that she had accomplices at a local department of motor vehicles and a local traffic school that helped her obtain fraudulent documents to get Gonzalez's license reinstated.