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A pair of veteran Miami narcotics detectives testified in federal court Friday against their former supervisor, accusing Sgt. Raul Iglesias of scheming to plant cocaine on a suspect and once carrying what appeared to be a bag of crack in his personal bag.Detectives Suberto Hernandez and Luis Valdes told jurors that Iglesias asked the pair if they had any “throw-down dope” to plant on a drug suspect after a search of the man during a Jan. 27, 2010, surveillance operation turned up no drugs.
“He looked at myself and Hernandez and he asked for throw-down dope,” said Valdes, an officer for nearly nine years. “I said, ‘We don’t do that here. Nobody on this team does it.’ “
Iglesias, 40, is on trial facing nine counts of conspiracy to possess cocaine, violating suspects’ civil rights, obstruction of justice and making false statements. The charges stem from what federal prosecutors have described as four separate incidents of misconduct over a four-month period in 2010, when Iglesias led a team in the police department’s Crime Suppression Unit, which targets street-level drug sales.
Iglesias — an ex-Marine and Iraq war veteran who was shot in the leg during a 2004 drug bust — is also accused of stealing drugs and money from a suspected dope dealer in May 2010, and lying to investigators about a box of money left in an abandoned car as part of an FBI sting. One member of Iglesias’ CSU team, former detective Roberto Asanza, has already pleaded guilty to misdemeanour drug charges from the alleged drug rip-off, and is expected to testify against Iglesias later in the trial.
Iglesias, who was relieved of duty with pay in 2010, faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.
Much of Friday’s testimony focused on Iglesias’ actions during the surveillance operation on Jan. 27, 2010 — Iglesias’ first day as supervisor of the CSU team.
The detectives were watching a suspected drug dealer in a downtown parking lot when Valdes saw what he thought was a hand-to-hand drug sale to a man on a bicycle. Valdes said it appeared the dealer had a handful of “loose rocks” of crack cocaine, and his fellow detectives then tracked down the man on the bike to arrest him.
Hernandez was the first to stop the suspected buyer, 40-year-old Rafael Hernandez (no relation). Detective Hernandez told jurors that he searched the suspect thoroughly but found no drugs on him or his bike.
“I searched all his pockets,” the detective said.
A few minutes later, Iglesias asked if they had any “throw-down dope” — drugs “to plant on the individual,” said Detective Hernandez, a 24-year police veteran.
When the detectives did not comply, Iglesias then called another detective from the police gang unit, Ricardo Martinez, who came to the scene and shook hands with Iglesias, Valdes said. After meeting with Martinez, Iglesias then produced a small baggie of cocaine. Prosecutors say Martinez — who was convicted of stolen-goods charges in an unrelated case in 2011 — gave the bag of cocaine to Iglesias.
But under cross-examination from Iglesias’ lawyer, Rick Diaz, Valdes conceded that he did not see Martinez hand the drugs to Iglesias. Nor did he see Iglesias plant the baggie on Rafael Hernandez.
Iglesias told the detectives he found the drugs in the back pocket of Rafael Hernandez’s jeans — though neither detective saw Iglesias search the suspect.
Diaz challenged the detectives’ stories and suggested that Iglesias simply found evidence that Detective Hernandez had overlooked. The lawyer questioned how thorough Hernandez was in his search, noting that, in a case in 2004, the detective had failed to find drugs on a suspect who was later found to be carrying them.
And in an interview with Internal Affairs detectives and an FBI agent in May 2010, Diaz told the jury, Detective Hernandez described his search of the suspect as merely a “pat down” — a less intrusive type of search that does not include searching the contents of a suspect’s pockets.
Valdes and Hernandez also said they once saw a bag of what appeared to be crack cocaine in a military-style bag that Iglesias owned. They said the bag was not marked as evidence or part of a police-issued “sting kit” used when officers pretend to be drug dealers in reverse stings. But Diaz argued that the bag may have contained “sham” drugs or household items that merely looked like drugs.
If the detectives thought Iglesias was carrying illegal drugs or planting evidence, Diaz asked, then why didn’t the officers complain to their superiors, or even arrest Iglesias?
By the time they saw the suspected drugs in Iglesias’ bag, Hernandez said, he believed the sergeant was already the target of an Internal Affairs probe. Hernandez said he was among a half-dozen detectives on Iglesias’ team who had collaborated on an anonymous letter complaining about Iglesias to Internal Affairs.
“I was under the impression he was already under investigation,” Hernandez said. ___
(c)2013 The Miami Herald
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