When former Miami Beach Police Chief Carlos Noriega was hired to run the cop shop in North Bay Village in 2015, he set out to hire a trusted veteran without local ties to head the internal affairs department. That person would also tackle sensitive political cases if they arose. Noriega chose Sam Bejar, a retired MBPD vet with decades of experience.
Working as a part-time officer, Bejar soon found his plate full. He was tapped to head the local probe into an explosive blackmail plot involving old cocaine charges, a sitting commissioner, and the mayor. And when Noriega complained of possible wrongdoing by city officials, Bejar took the lead in that investigation as well.
Last month, Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps and her new city manager, Marlen Martell, abruptly fired Noriega over his objections that he has state protection as a whistleblower. And now Martell has also canned Bejar even though his politically charged cases are still open.
"This is just the last piece of a very disturbing puzzle that exists in this village right now," Noriega says. "It speaks to all kinds of improprieties, and it speaks to all kinds of illegal activities in this village. For them to interfere with a criminal investigation [at] this level by terminating people such myself and Sam Bejar, it's a travesty."
Neither Leon-Kreps nor Martell returned messages to comment for this story.
North Bay Village, a tiny town composed of two islands on the 79th Street Causeway, has been rocked by scandal since early last year, when Commissioner Douglas Hornsby stunningly announced that he had a previous conviction for cocaine in the early '90s — and that someone was trying to blackmail him with that information.
Rumors swirled that Leon-Kreps and her allies were tied to the blackmail plot, which the mayor denied. Leon-Kreps even threatened to sue local blogger Kevin Vericker for reporting it. (The village attorney later publicly said the mayor was a "subject of interest" in the case after she abruptly moved to fire him.)
Meanwhile, North Bay Village's police opened a case into the extortion plot, and so did the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
An FDLE spokesperson says that its agents have wrapped up their work on the case but that prosecutors haven't made a decision on whether to charge anyone. Noriega says his attorney was told the public corruption unit of the Miami-Dade State Attorney Office is still probing the case. (An SAO spokesperson declined to comment on the case.)
Noriega says Bejar led the local probe into the extortion plot, working with the FDLE and others to gather evidence. Then, in January, Noriega filed a new complaint against top city officials after they allegedly allowed a third-party vendor to access sensitive information on police computers.
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Bejar was also working on other "sensitive cases" that haven't been publicly disclosed, Noriega says.
But after meeting with the new police chief — Lewis Velken, a former Miami-Dade Police lieutenant — Martell fired Bejar earlier this week, Noriega says.
Noriega, who is planning to file a whistleblower lawsuit over his own termination, says he has no doubt about the motivation for Bejar's firing.
"I believe he was terminated in an effort to put a stop to the investigations," Noriega says, "and so these city leaders can continue to do whatever they want, whether it is legal or ethical."