Town of Golden Beach Has To Pay Whistle Blower Tammy Valdes $233,000
When Tammy Valdes tried to expose corruption inside the Golden Beach Police Department, town officials responded by firing the ten-year police veteran. One of the excuses the town used to kick her off the small police force on Nov. 30, 2009? That she violated "chain of command" by carbon-copying superiors on an email to a fellow officer detailing an embezzlement scheme involving Golden Beach cops. Yesterday, a federal jury rejected the town's defense by awarding $233,000 in damages plus attorney fees for Valdes, who sued Golden Beach in 2010 for wrongful termination. She can also get her job back.
"I feel vindicated," she says. "It's been three years of hell."
Valdes' court victory is the latest wart on one of the most dysfunctional police departments in Miami-Dade -- located in one of the wealthiest enclaves of the county.
Back in March, New Times wrote about the myriad problems in the department. Soon after being hired, Valdes was assigned to officer payroll where she discovered some of her colleagues where double dipping; collecting town pay while they were actually working off-duty gigs. She reported her findings to a police captain, the human resources director, and Town Manager Alexander Diaz -- who fired her.
Valdes subsequently gave the information to the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office. In January 2011, prosecutors charged Officer Lynn Dean Peters with organized fraud, grand theft, and insurance fraud. In addition to allegedly working off-duty at the same time he was on the taxpayer's clock, Peters is also accused of lying about a squad car accident in order to secure insurance money for his injured hand.
Three months later, officers Omar Paez and Yovany Diaz were arrested for working security jobs during hours they claim they were working security jobs during hours they claimed to be on duty at Golden Beach. Peters was suspended with pay while Paez and Diaz have been allowed to continue to report to work. Golden Beach taxpayers pay them more than a combined $145,000 annually.
Another Golden Beach cop, Roberto Barrio, was allowed to remain on duty while he awaited trial for felony battery and false imprisonment charges. He was finally fired only after being convicted in 2010.
Meanwhile, an honest cop who tried to expose the racket was shit-canned and now Golden Beach taxpayers will have to pay her for it.
"It's a big victory for Tammy," says her lawyer Michael Feiler. "It sends a message to the town leaders that this type of hostile work environment won't be tolerated."
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