On a cloudy afternoon in late February, 54-year-old Rufino Obando parked his white truck at the gravel intersection of SW 212th Avenue and 152nd Street, right on the edge of the Everglades. Then Obando, who owns a concrete company, methodically dumped more than 10,000 pounds of debris into three giant piles amid the groves of palm trees and pines.
Obando didn't know it, but a couple who lived nearby was snapping photos the whole time. They called Miami-Dade Police, who found Obando at his home and arrested him in May. His charge: felony littering.
Littering in the Sunshine State can become a felony if you're caught tossing more than 500 pounds of trash. And court records show that thanks to guys like Obando, it's a regularly used charge in Miami-Dade County. In the past three years, 53 people have been arrested under Florida's littering law; it's not clear exactly how many have been charged with felonies, but a dive into some of those cases shows many have been hit with the more serious charges. Construction workers such as Obando and landscapers looking to unload tons of debris are the most frequent offenders, although locals dumping old Jet Skis and boats also run afoul of the law.
So far this year, 11 people have been arrested under the law; nine of those were for felony littering. Of the 11, six were caught for dumping construction materials or landscaping debris, two were arrested for leaving a pair of busted Jet Skis on a farm in Homestead, and one man was taken into custody just last week for ditching an entire boat on the side of the road.
The cases read like a litany of ways to further destroy South Florida's already damaged ecosystems. While simple dumping might not seem like a major factor in a state with massive red tides and sugar farms wrecking the Everglades, littering can cause huge problems, such as the ongoing mess in Little River.
On March 27, just east of the Everglades on SW 296th Street, 32-year-old tow truck driver Obmar Martinez-Torres turned his headlights off. As he and his passenger, 30-year-old Carlos Aguiar, pulled onto SW 197th Avenue, the police officers who had been watching the pair's suspicious circling for a solid ten minutes noticed the 2003 GMC flatbed tow truck was carrying a much lighter load. Two Jet Skis were gone.
Police say the men tried to quietly dump the old watercraft a few blocks away, but instead they spent the night in jail and had to pay a $5,000 bond. Later, Aguiar was convicted and ordered to pay an additional $603 in fines. Martinez-Torres' charges were dropped.
Another man was arrested this past May on similar charges. Five days before Christmas, 32-year-old Josue Alvarado asked a man to dump several large piles of tree debris onto a private farm on SW 194th Street. An anonymous complaint was made to Miami-Dade Police December 20, 2017, followed by another complaint of tree debris seven days later. The dumper was detained and said that he worked for Alvarado's tree-trimming business and was simply doing what his boss had instructed. Cops caught up with Alvarado and his business, Coco Tree Service, five months later.
This past January, Miami Police say they saw another 35-year-old man "frantically unloading landscaping debris from the rear of his silver Chevy pickup truck and trailer onto private property."
"Sergeant Garcia watched the offender unloading debris for approximately three minutes until the offender looked up and noticed." According to the arrest affidavit, the man told police his brother owns a landscaping company and that he was just doing his brother a favor dumping trash from his business onto someone else's private property.
In April, a 40-year-old painter was arrested on felony littering charges in Opa-locka. In the early-morning hours of April 5, Jamie Ochoa-Angel was driving a white van near Fisherman Street and Douglas Road. Police on patrol watched as he and his passenger parked and began dumping trash from the back of the van onto the side of the road.
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"They told me that they had dumped the trash because they saw other trash that was dumped," Miami-Dade Police Officer Lindsey Serrano wrote. "I saw the trash was close to 500 pounds of building debris from a house."
On April 23, someone called the cops on a man carrying lumber out of a house on SW 25th Street and tossing it near a trash can on the corner of SW 24th Terrace. The 58-year-old, who the police report notes is homeless, told officers in Spanish that the owner of the house had picked him up at a Home Depot nearby and given him $40 to help her fix her house. In another case, police used the litter law to arrest a man who threw trash out of his Jeep while driving around Little Havana this past April.
Most recently, Leiber Gonzalez-Escalona was caught dumping a boat and trailer on the side of the road near SW 162nd Avenue and SW 268th Street. Officers on patrol observed the 29-year-old driving a 2006 white Ford truck with a trailer and boat attached to the back. Gonzalez-Escalona pulled over, detached the boat and trailer, and drove away. The next morning, officers confronted him at his home and took him to jail. Gonzalez-Escalona said he was simply trying to get rid of the boat.
It's rare, though, for prosecutors to convict dumpers of a felony for littering. Most of the litterbugs in cases reviewed by New Times were ordered to pay fines, clean up their mess, and participate in pretrial diversion programs requiring them to stay out of trouble — and to quit dumping trash around Miami-Dade.