Top Cop Accuses Commissioner Tobin of Bending the Rules

It's no secret that Miami Beach Commissioner Ed Tobin is tight with ex-Bal Harbour Police Chief Thomas Hunker. Tobin has known the cop since he was a kid, and in late 2011, the 50-year-old Tobin even enrolled in the Miami Beach Police Academy with Hunker's encouragement.

But did that relationship cross the line when Tobin advocated Hunker as a replacement for Miami Beach's police chief last year? That's what a top cop charges in a new ethics complaint that also accuses Tobin of pulling strings to get friends from the academy hired as Beach officers.

"What he did was wrong, morally and ethically wrong," says Maj. Angel Vazquez, who filed the complaint.

But the charges are complicated because Vazquez was at the center of his own politically charged case last summer, when he was reprimanded — but not criminally charged — for trying to influence a DUI case involving his ex-wife's brother. Tobin — who accused Ray Martinez, who was eventually hired as the chief over Hunker, of being part of Vazquez's case — says Vazquez's accusations are bunk. "It's all ridiculous," he says.

Vazquez's complaint details two separate allegations. First, he says Tobin pressured officials to bend the rules to hire two men he'd met at the academy, from which he graduated in June 2012. Tobin allegedly secured extensions for one candidate, George Malval, after he repeatedly missed deadlines to take a physical, and pushed for an expedited hiring of another, Vincent Stella.

Tobin denies that. "I never said to anyone that they should hire these two guys."

The major also accuses Tobin of getting Hunker "special privileges and exemptions" that helped him become one of five finalists to replace Chief Carlos Noriega last spring. Vazquez says Tobin manipulated the process in part because he was promised a position as assistant chief or a job on the command staff if Hunker got the gig.

Tobin admits he pulled for Hunker but says he never crossed any professional boundaries. "He's a great cop and a great leader," Tobin says. "I never made it a secret that I thought he was the right guy for the job."

Vazquez's own scandal ended last June, three months after Martinez was chosen over Hunker. Prosecutors declined to press charges, though Martinez reprimanded the major for approaching another cop who was a witness in his brother-in-law's DUI case.

Hunker, meanwhile, was fired from the Bal Harbour force this past March over claims that his department had misspent millions acquired through a federal drug forfeiture program.

Ethics chief Joe Centorino declined to comment on Vazquez's claims because the case is open.

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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