One day after his arrest for driving without a valid license, Moises Rojas showed up at the Miami Police Department's headquarters to file a complaint. While the 32-year-old tiler was in custody, his mother said she got a call from an "Officer Rosa" who demanded $2,400 for his release. Emma Rojas met with the officer and handed over the money, but her son still wasn't released. In the end, Moises Rojas' girlfriend ended up having to bail him out.
It turns out "Officer Rosa" wasn't a cop. She was Maria Cabrera Gonzalez, the domestic partner of Miami Police Officer Sheila Belfort. Despite having no credentials whatsoever, Gonzalez rode around with Belfort while wearing a police badge and a gun, according to investigators who would later charge her with extorting Emma Rojas and impersonating an officer.
Many details of Moises Rojas' baffling encounter with Belfort and Gonzalez were made public after Gonzalez's arrest in 2016. But a new lawsuit filed last month in Miami-Dade Circuit Court lays out the rest of the unbelievable story of the Honduran immigrant's arrest. Perhaps most stunning is his attorney's allegation that Belfort herself called immigration agents to try to get him deported to Honduras so he wouldn't be able to testify against her.
"Belfort attempted to get rid of the key witness against her," the lawsuit says. "Because of his removal from the U.S. by ICE, Moises was hampered in any efforts to take legal action against Officer Belfort and Gonzalez."
The long and complicated case began June 9, 2014, when Belfort stopped Moises Rojas for allegedly unsafely changing lanes (which he denies). According to Rojas, Gonzalez — who, again, was not a cop — exited the front passenger side of the police cruiser and asked him for his license. When he presented a Honduran license and explained he was undocumented, Gonzalez told him she would call immigration agents to have him deported, he says. She then ordered him out of the car and handcuffed him.
Rojas says Belfort and Gonzalez asked for his mother's name and contact information. On the way to jail, Belfort stopped in a parking lot and dropped off Gonzalez, according to the lawsuit. Rojas' complaint says Gonzalez then called his mother and extorted her for $2,400.
Worried her son would be deported to Honduras — a place where his brother had been murdered 13 years earlier — Emma Rojas agreed to pay. According to the lawsuit, she scrounged up the money from friends and family and handed it to Gonzalez at a restaurant in West Miami.
When Moises still wasn't released the next day, the family complained to MPD. But the internal investigation was still pending when he attended a hearing in traffic court that August. As he left the courthouse in Miami, immigration agents surrounded him and took him into custody; he was deported soon after.
The new lawsuit, which was filed June 7, accuses Belfort, Gonzalez, and the City of Miami of false imprisonment, illegal arrest, excessive force, fraud, and intentional infliction of severe emotional distress. None of the three parties has responded to the lawsuit yet; MPD, citing the pending litigation, declined to comment.
According to the police, Belfort continues to work for the department despite her involvement in the sordid situation. It's unclear whether she was disciplined for the incident.
Meanwhile, Rojas' attorney, Joshua Tarjan, says it's "outrageous" that Belfort continues to hold a job at the police department.
"It's a huge violation of the public trust, in my opinion, to do what she did," he says. "We need to trust in our police officers, and if they violate that trust, they shouldn't be acting as police officers."