Sweetwater's New Police Chief Was Caught on Tape Plotting an '80s Cocaine Heist

Sweetwater Mayor José M. Díaz sure knows how to pick 'em. On Thursday, hours after he announced Jesús "Jesse" Menocal would be his city's police chief, CNN Latino Miami reported Díaz's nominee was implicated in an old Miami Police internal affairs investigation involving a drug trafficker and a plot to steal a kilo of cocaine. Twenty-eight years ago, Menocal was an applicant waiting to be accepted at the Miami Police Academy when the internal affairs detectives opened a case against his twin brother, Ignacio, who at the time was a Miami cop.

A confidential informant going by the alias "Julio Gambino" told investigators that he witnessed Ignacio return a brick of cocaine to another drug dealer. According to Gambino, the drug dealer had just sold the kilo to a buyer from New York and used Menocal to steal it back. Gambino agreed to wear a wire to ensnare Ignacio. During the course of the investigation, detectives learned that Jesús was acting as a middleman between Gambino and his brother.

The internal affairs investigation was conducted by then-Lt. Miguel Exposito, who served as Miami Police chief from 2009 to 2011. During an appearance on the CNN Latino Miami show Prohibido Callarse (Silence Is Forbidden), Exposito explained the probe focused on Ignacio. "Our interest was really Ignacio Menocal, not Jesús," Exposito said. "But Jesús came up in the conversation with the informant."

According to the internal affairs report, there was not enough evidence to implicate Ignacio, but there was enough proof to reject Jesús as an applicant. It said there was "sufficient evidence indicating that the candidate would present a risk as an officer due to his involvement with a drug trafficker."

When the informant offered a deal, Ignacio declined but suggested the informant contact his brother. Jesús initially agreed to be a bodyguard for Gambino during the transaction and to organize an effort to steal drugs from a buyer. Later, according to a report summarizing the recorded conversations, Jesús canceled the plan, alleging he was applying to be a police officer and did not want to get into trouble.

On the TV program, Exposito said he monitored the taped conversations. "That, of course, gave us enough information to discard him as a candidate," he said. "We couldn't hire someone willing to do something like that."

Sweetwater hired Jesús Menocal in 1986, after he had worked two years as an officer for the Florida Department of Corrections. His brother Ignacio was later hired by Sweetwater.

"I figured they weren't going to hire him," Exposito said. "But a couple of years later, I learned he was a Sweetwater Police officer. I couldn't believe it."

Díaz and Jesús Menocal also went on Prohibido Callarse to downplay the internal affairs report, which was completed in 1984. Jesús Menocal insisted he has never been the target of a criminal investigation and that Thursday was the first time he heard that the Miami Police internal affairs unit had investigated him and his brother. "No one has ever asked me about drugs," Menocal said. "No one has ever arrested me, not for alcohol, not for anything."

Díaz dismissed the revelations as a smear tactic by his political enemies. He still supports Menocal, the mayor added. "He is an excellent instructor," Díaz said. "He's trained at the federal, state, and county level. He is one of the best."

Sweetwater, a city founded by Russian circus midgets, has always been a magnet for controversy and scandal. Most recently, in August, the FBI arrested Díaz's predecessor, Manuel Maroño, on bribery charges. The feds are also investigating allegations of rampant police abuse by the city's finest.

Here's the full IA file on the new chief:

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New Times staff