Five Worst Miami Cops Of the Year: Pot-Growers, Russian Kidnappers and Tow Truck Scammers

Let's start this list with a caveat: In the 305, the vast majority of police officers are decent men and women risking their lives to protect America's craziest county. It's not a job most of us could do, and we salute them for it. Really.

But it's also true that when cops go bad in the Magic City, they really go rogue: Cultivating basement grow houses, kidnapping and torturing Russians, crafting tow truck scams. Click through for Miami's five worst cops of the year.

5. Surfside Officer Maximo Moreno: Moreno, a 25 year-old-cop with three years working the not-exactly-mean streets of Surfside -- a blocks-wide village known mostly for its inescapable speed traps -- allegedly cooked up the year's most obnoxious scam.

According to prosecutors, Moreno routinely pulled over anyone driving through town in a nice car on fake charges. Then he'd offer the drivers a choice: Either spend the night in jail and lose your car ... or, pay me a few hundred bucks under the table and I'll let my brother -- Tremont Towing driver Allan Moreno -- haul you out of Surfside. The scam fell apart in October with the brothers' arrest and felony charges, but not before scores of drivers paid up. Moreno has pleaded not guilty.

4. Miami Officer Ricardo Martinez -- Martinez, a 12-year veteran on the City of Miami force, had a busy summer with his sidearm. First, on Aug. 11, he shot and killed a 16-year-old in Overtown named Joeell Lee Johnson. Police say Johnson pointed a gun at an undercover cop during a robbery sting. Then, on Aug. 20, Martinez and a federal officer shot and killed another suspect -- 19-year-old Tarnorris Tyrell Gaye. Cops say he was armed with a shotgun.

With two shootings in a month, Martinez was already the subject of intense scrutiny. Which is why it was such a bad idea to cook up a scheme to import 100,000 stolen Bluetooth headsets to Miami with plans to sell them on the black market. Yet that's exactly what federal prosecutors say Martinez did. He faces charges of receipt and possession of stolen goods. The shootings are still under investigation.

3. Former Miami Beach Officer Richard Anastasi: Last December, Anastasi quietly retired after 13 years on the MBPD. His post-police life wasn't quiet so quiet. According to a federal indictment, Anastasi and a cohort went on a kidnapping, torturing, ransoming spree in March.

The men allegedly targeted a Russian man they believed had stolen Anastasi's credit card info. Posing as a cop, Anastasi kidnapped him outside his South Beach condo building. The men beat him, pressed a knife to his balls, held pliers to his teeth, pointed guns at his face and forced him to wire them money. Anastasi later pleaded guilty to one count of impersonating a police officer. He was sentenced in August to two years in prison and three years probation.

2. Miami Police Chief Miguel Exposito: Exposito's reign atop Miami PD started with a media circus bang: Weeks after taking over for the nationally acclaimed, Maureen Dowd-chum John Timoney, Exposito called a gala press conference to announce a "major corruption bust" of nearly a dozen city employees. Alas, the State Attorney's Office quickly blasted the new chief for playing to the press with flimsy arrests, and almost all the charges were later dropped.

That was just the start of a nightmarish year at the MPD for its new chief. Miami police have shot and killed five suspects in Liberty City, Overtown and Little Haiti this year, sparking widespread protests. (Timoney's police went 22 months without firing at anyone after he took over). Then city cops were caught on video violently beating Halloween partiers in Coconut Grove, and letting teenage ravers run wild over downtown. Exposito's term has gone so badly that even Mayor Tomas Regalado has turned his back, telling the Herald this month: "It's all on Exposito." Got that right.

1. Former Miami Beach Officer Adam Tavss -- How do you top a list this rich in malfeasance? Easy! You involve yourself in two highly questionable fatal shootings in just four days, then get yourself kicked off the force for failing a drug test, then top it all off by getting caught running a sizable marijuana growhouse in your basement. That's the Adam Tavss plan, at least.

Tavss, a former history teacher with three years on the force, first made the news on June 14, 2009, when he shot and killed Husien Shehada, a tourist from Virginia. Four days later, he was involved in another shooting that killed 28-year-old Lawrence McCoy Jr. on the MacArthur Causeway. In September -- after revelations that he'd been accused a few years earlier of cocaine use -- he failed a drug test for marijuana and left the force.

Then in May, police raided Tavss home in West Kendall and found a "fully operational" growhouse in his basement stocked with 47 plants. Tavss was eventually sentenced to two years house arrest and -- thank you, baby Jesus -- forbidden from ever serving as a cop again.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink