Ex-Miami Cop Tied to Alleged Death Coverup, Illegal Steroid Sales Runs for Miami Commission

Ex-Miami Cop Tied to Alleged Death Coverup, Illegal Steroid Sales Runs for Miami Commission
City of Miami
Despite years of alleged misconduct, Frank Pichel somehow still works in Miami politics. In 2000, he was suspended from his job as a City of Miami Police sergeant after being caught allegedly writing a fake incident report to cover for a buddy who beat a handcuffed detainee to death. In 2006, while serving as the sergeant-at-arms in city hall, Pichel was arrested for illegally selling steroids and the erectile-dysfunction drug Cialis.

Astoundingly, Pichel, one of the most well-connected cops in city history, now sits on the City of Miami's code-enforcement board. He's been photographed with Miami Commissioner Joe Carollo skulking around the bar Ball & Chain after dark.

And now Pichel is running for the City of Miami Commission in what is now becoming a crowded District 1 race.

Reached by email, Pichel claims all the accusations levied against him in the past were made because he leaked evidence of other police wrongdoing to the media. (Pichel later lost a whistleblower suit against the city, according to the Miami Herald.)

"Just so you know all the misconduct were product of a corrupt police department and I helped your paper and the Miami Herald expose it," Pichel tells New Times in an email full of typos. "I also went to the FBI 3 times and with the documents I gave them helped to put a corrupt city manager Donald Warshaw on jail. All the miscunductvwere brought by the police department themselves and not by anyone person. This is what happens to wistelblowers." [sic]

Pichel filed campaign paperwork with the city February 1, according to city records available online. Blogger Al Crespo first published a flyer Pichel is spreading for a recent fundraiser at the Melreese Country Club:

Francisco Pichel Campaign
The current District 1 commissioner, 78-year-old former mayor Willy Gort, is term-limited and must leave office by 2020. But the 2019 race is already packed with candidates, including ex-Florida state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, who is tied to an ongoing criminal probe related to whether Commissioner Carollo illegally spent city money to support de la Portilla's 2018 county commission bid. De la Portilla lost.

Other candidates include Eleazar Melendez, the former spokesperson for Miami Commissioner Ken Russell; Horacio Aguirre, the former head of Miami's Civilian Investigative Panel and other city groups; and auto parts dealer and former zoning board member Miguel Gabela. Gabela previously ran against Gort for District 1 and lost.

Infamously, Pichel was relieved of duty in April 2000 after the death of Elew Albert Vazquez-Collazo, a 44-year-old prisoner who died under mysterious circumstances in Miami Police custody. After arresting Vazquez-Collazo that year, officers transported him to Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he was examined for all of 25 minutes, according to reports from the Miami Herald. The cops then took him to the county jail, where he died four days later. After an autopsy, medical examiners determined Vazquez-Collazo died of a "ruptured spleen as a result of trauma."

Initially, the police claimed Vazquez-Collazo had fallen and busted his internal organs by accident. But it turns out Miami cops beat him to death. In April 2001, Officer Carlos Rivera pleaded no contest to a charge of felony battery and quit the police force.

Pichel was implicated in the beating but never charged. Police officials at the time claimed Pichel had ordered employees to write up false paperwork that made it seem as if Vazquez-Collazo's death were an accident.

In October 2001, Pichel filed a lawsuit against the department claiming he was actually fired because he had taken on a "corrupt and violent" gang of Miami cops and was attempting to leak information about the alleged gang to the media and FBI. (Pichel claims he had a hand in taking down Miami Police Chief Donald Warshaw, who was arrested in 2000 for allegedly stealing police pension and charity funds.)

Pichel lost that suit, but he was ultimately reinstated by MPD anyway after the city's Civil Service Board cleared him. He ultimately became the sergeant-at-arms at Miami City Hall — one of the officers tasked with providing security for city commissioners. In 2003, he was fired after allegedly leaking sensitive information about a rape case to the Herald. Pichel allegedly warned the Herald that the department had not been processing sexual assault evidence in a timely manner. But Pichel quickly got his job back after city commissioners complained that then-police chief John Timoney had seemingly fired a whistleblower.

Pichel did not hold onto his job for long. In 2006, he was arrested for allegedly selling steroids and Cialis on the side. According to Herald clips at the time, an informant had tipped off MPD that Pichel was selling testosterone under-the-table to patrons at a Gold's Gym in Coral Gables. The informant said he'd bought steroids and erectile-dysfunciton pills from Pichel in the past. Police then set up a sting in which Pichel allegedly took the police informant to a pharmacy at SW Eighth Street and Seventh Avenue to get the Cialis. The source allegedly gave Pichel $340 for two bottles of testosterone and three Cialis pills. Pichel had allegedly been working with 29-year-old weightlifter Elvis Anthony Sicard, who was also arrested in the sting.

At the time, then-Miami Commissioner Tomás Regalado (who later became mayor) claimed the whole affair was retaliation for being an outspoken cop who criticized police chiefs and "rubbed elbows" with city officials. But Pichel ultimately pleaded no contest to a single charge of illegal Cialis possession. (He claimed he took the deal because he was days away from retirement anyway.) As part of that deal, he was forced to give up his law enforcement certification.

According to former Herald columnist Daniel Shoer Roth, Pichel was also a close ally of Miguel Exposito, who faced numerous corruption allegations when he took over as chief of MPD in 2009. The city commission ultimately fired the embattled Exposito in 2011 amid a federal civil rights investigation into the massive number of black and brown civilians shot to death by Miami cops. (Exposito was fired for another issue.)

Pichel magically made it back to yet another city dais, however, and sat on the code-enforcement board until resigning this year to run for commission. In his time running the city code bureau, he once again got himself mixed up in some classic Miami tomfoolery: Last year, he was photographed outside the Little Havana bar Ball & Chain alongside city Commissioner Joe Carollo. Another holdover from Miami's 1990s glory days as a nonfunctioning banana republic, Carollo has been accused of illegally attacking Ball & Chain with illegal code complaints, all because the bar's owners supported Carollo's 2017 election opponent Alfie Leon. (Carollo denies the charges and nonsensically claims he's actually hunting Little Havana crime lords.)

Via (his fairly confusing) email, Pichel says he'd like to sit on the city commission in order to help the poor. "I'm running and I'm giving up a my salary to the poor and nonprofit in district 1," Pichel writes. "So if I win good the the citizens of I loose my life wont change I'll stil ve active in my community as I have all my life." [sic]
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.