Miami Police Officers Schonton Harris, Kelvin Harris, and James Archibald
Miami Police Officers Schonton Harris, Kelvin Harris, and James Archibald
Miami Police Department

Miami Cops Getting Busted on Federal Drug Charges Isn't New

On Tuesday, three City of Miami Police officers were arrested on federal drug charges. The trio is accused of working as armed escorts for drug traffickers. At a press conference yesterday, U.S. Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan said the three had received tens of thousands of dollars in compensation.

Kelvin Harris, a 26-year veteran; Schonton Harris, with the department for nearly 20 years; and James Archibald, a newer cop, now face charges of conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute and using a firearm in drug trafficking crimes. Authorities say the investigation even revealed that Harris was using and dealing narcotics while she worked as a cop, and that she sold a Miami Police uniform and badge for $1,500 for use by a hitman. (The buyer was an undercover agent.)

You might not be surprised by this New York Times headline: "Three Miami Police Officers Arrested in Drug Case." Except it ran in 1993.

Miami cops have a storied history of getting caught committing the very crimes they are supposed to police.  Who could forget the Miami River Cops scandal in the 1980s, which led to the arrest, firing, or suspension of roughly 100 city officers? At least 20 were sent to prison for the scheme in which city cops stole cocaine and cash from drug traffickers and even hired a hitman to murder one of the dealers who turned against them and became a prosecution witness.

In July 1985, six men smuggling drugs on the river panicked and jumped into the water when police raided their boat. But the cops weren't interested in the men — just their cocaine. Three smugglers drowned, prompting an investigation that eventually brought down a group of Miami Police officers who had stolen drugs and cash from traffickers, then sold the product to dealers further up the chain.

Rudy Arias was the first cop to confess. In a 1987 pretrial statement, he admitted that he and two other Miami Police officers, a Dade County schools cop, and a civilian loitered outside the house of a man named Dick Fiallo one evening in early 1987. They were waiting to kill Fiallo, a witness in the state's case against the corrupt cops. Today, all of the Miami River Cops have been released from prison, including two who became fugitives once the investigation got underway and were not arrested until 1994.

In 1993, the Miami Police Department had another drug-smuggling scandal on its hands, the one mentioned in the Times. On December 14 of that year, three officers (along with 21 others) were arrested for involvement in a drug ring that distributed up to 90 kilograms of cocaine per week. Jorge Lopez, Luis Sarmiento, and Reinaldo Rodriguez (who had previously been named "Officer of the Month" in 1987) were brought down by federal investigators who caught wind of their trafficking operation.

In 2000, Miami cop Danny Felton's police certification was stripped by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after he was accused of stealing money from an undercover FBI agent posing as a drug dealer. Months later, in May 2001, officer Damon Woodard was charged with narcotics trafficking after South Carolina police caught him with five kilos of cocaine in his car. By November that year, yet another Miami Police officer, Webert Celestin, was charged with stealing money from an undercover agent posing as a drug dealer. Celestin was sentenced to ten years behind bars.

More recently, in 2010 and 2012, four Miami-area police officers were arrested for conspiring with drug dealers to pocket extra cash. Hialeah Gardens cop Larry Perez was charged by federal prosecutors with assisting drug dealers. He was sentenced to 12 years behind bars. Miami Police officer Roberto Asanza was caught by the FBI with ten bags of cocaine and two of marijuana in his truck. The drugs came from a bust. In November 2011, Opa-locka Police Capt. Arthur Balom was charged with eight counts of trafficking Ecstasy, cocaine, and oxycodone. Prosecutors said Balom also protected violent drug gangs by tipping them off to police raids. Both Asanza and Balom pled guilty. Finally, Miami-Dade cop Daniel Mack was indicted on April 11, 2012, for helping a Miami Beach code inspector transport more than a dozen kilos of cocaine for $25,000. He was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

In 2014, a Miami-Dade Police lieutenant was arrested by feds for allegedly running drugs and plotting a murder for a Dominican gang. Prosecutors alleged that Lt. Ralph Mata was leading a double life and was known to a violent Dominican gang as "the Milk Man." In their indictment, federal prosecutors wrote that Mata spent years giving police intel to drug dealers, buying them guns, protecting their shipments, and even hatching a murder plot. He was sentenced to ten years in federal prison in 2015.

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