Wednesday, March 31, 2010

So how does that "amended discovery" we discussed affect the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case?

Yesterday we discussed the amended discovery that we found listed on John Romney's docket, what could this amended discovery be?  In the words of one of our commenters, was there going to be a "bombshell" for the defendants hidden among those papers that the state filed that was going to sink the defense?  Perhaps some new groundbreaking testimony that was going to ensure a slam dunk case for the state?  Hardly.  After an afternoon of nothing but hassle, we finally got the 160 pages of "amended discovery" which consisted of 60 or so pages of John Romneys bank statements and about a 100 pages of additional documents regarding the mortgage for the Oak Avenue home.

At first glance what we found in the amended discovery was nothing more than what we already had seen, purchase contracts, loan applications, closing documents, etc, all for the purchase of the Oak Avenue home that is at the center of the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case.  Seemingly nothing new here, so we set aside the pile of documents and went about our business.  Later in the evening though while on the throne, we decided go through the documents one more time to see if there was anything different than the documents that we already had, that's when it hit me like a ton of bricks.  Let's start with the purchase contract...

3390 Oak Avenue Purchase Contract 3                                                            

Now, how many purchase contracts do we have for the Oak Avenue home?  We discussed two other contracts yesterday, one where both John Romney Maxine Andrews were sellers and Bernardo Barrera was the buyer and now today we have another contract where only John Romney is the seller and Bernardo Barrera is the buyer. Take a good look at the signatures we'll discuss them in depth later.  

So what else did we find?  How about this "Florida Mortgage Broker Contract" that we found which was executed by someone posing as Bernardo Barrera and the mortgage broker...

Florida Mortgage Broker Contract With Fake Bernardo Barrera Signature                                                            

I know, its a little hard to read isn't it?  Why don't we take a look at this larger, clearer version of the "Florida Mortgage Broker Contract" that the state initially provided...

Florida Mortgage Broker Contract With Real Bernardo Barrera Signature                                                            

That's better now isn't it?  What makes this document that much better is that IT'S GOT THE REAL BERNARDO BARRERA'S SIGNATURE ON IT! 

WTF is right!!!  You have to ask yourself, why was Bernardo Barrera's real signature on that document if he wasn't involved in the fraud?  Even worse, why was ASA Kostrzewski sitting on these documents since the summer of 2008, even before anyone was charged?  For the uninitiated among our readers, you have to understand that the cornerstone of Prosecutor Kostrzewski's case was Mr. Barrera's assertions of identity theft, the documents that are contained in the "Amended discovery" that was filed on 3/16/2010 completely disprove the theory that Mr. Barrera had no involvement in the fraud therefore negating the entire basis for Mr. Kostrzewski's headline case.

So why this new amended discovery 18 months after the case was filed?  There are two possible explanations:
  1. Mr. Kostrzewski knew his case was based on pure bullshit and was so desperate to put his name in the papers that he hid this exculpatory evidence.  The new prosecutor being a responsible and ethical attorney realizes that Mr. Kostrzewski had buried this evidence decides to hand it over to the court in an effort to write Mr. Kostrzewski's wrongs.
  2. The new prosecutor found these new documents, glanced at them and handed them over thinking they were just copies of other documents that the court already had.
I have too much faith in the new prosecutors to think that the production of these new documents was simply a mistake.  These guys aren't on the same playing field as Kostrzewski, these guys are the real deal.  That leaves us with the first scenario which considering what we've learned about Mr. Kostrzewski seems much more plausible.  

Game over Bill, your ass is cooked.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Where are we at? Has anything that we've written about made a difference?

After several months of writing about the misdeeds of a half ass Detective and a prosecutor of questionable morals and ethics, where are we at?  It looks to us that we've uncovered all kinds of misconduct by the cop and now we seem to be unearthing the misdeeds of the prosecutor.  What difference does it make?  Does anyone care?  Or worse, will anyone do anything about it?  Has it all been an exercise in futility?

To answer those questions, first we have to ask ourselves, who's reading our blog?  Aside from the loyal group of about a hundred or so followers that log on daily, who else is reading?  At the very least we know from the New Times article a few months back that the State Attorneys Office is reading...
Via spokesman Ed Griffith, Kostrzewski declined to comment. "We are aware of the blog," Griffith says.
 Through our sources in the criminal courthouse we know ASA Bill Kostrzewski has been ranting and raving about different things we've been writing about and we're certainly aware of the members of the mainstream media that have been reading our rants.  We're also aware of several different law enforcement agencies (other than the MDPD) that have been following our story, from the Department of Justice all the way down to the I.R.S., what difference does it make?  Are these people reading just for the hell of it or are they following along in order to build cases against the people that we're writing about?  Is anything that we're doing making a difference?  Hard to know for sure, but after all the ranting and raving we've done about prosecutorial misconduct and prosecutor Kostrzewski playing hide and go seek with evidence all of a sudden the other day while checking John Romney's court docket we come across this...

You see that?  Item #88, 3/16/2010, amended discovery.  What's that about?  What's this "amended discovery"?  Could this be some new evidence that the MDPD just unearthed?  Perhaps some new testimony that the state attorneys office coaxed out of a witness?  Or could it be some evidence that Mr. Kostrzewski had been hiding from the defense that he's had since the inception of the case?

What do you guys think?  Any guesses?  Our money is on Kostrzewski.  We'll do our best to get our hands on this "amended discovery" today and see exactly whats there.  Until then though, check out this cool audio recording (you'll have to turn up the volume)...

Lot's of fun on the way folks!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Another major oversight by our friends Detective Jorge Baluja and ASA Bill Kostrzewski...

Seemingly every time we start going through the paperwork for the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case, we always find something new that's been overlooked.  A few weeks back we stumbled upon the purchase contract for the Oak Avenue home that is at the center of the fraud and discovered that the man who claimed he had no knowledge of the fraud occurring until months afterwords, Bernardo Barrera, had actually executed the purchase contract!  This fact alone proves that Mr. Barrera was in on the fraud from day one, yet the state chose to ignore the purchase contract.

Now, let's recap the series of events that led up to the fraudulent transaction that we've been writing about...
  • John Romney and Maxine Andrews as sellers execute a contract selling the property located at 3390 Oak Avenue to Bernardo Barrera who also signs the contract on January 14, 2008.  Sale price for the home is $600,000.  Here's the contract...
3390 Oak Avenue Purchase Contract                                                            

  • Maxine Andrews executes a second purchase contract as the seller on January 19, 2008 for $185,000 for the SAME OAK AVENUE HOME with John Romney as the buyer.  Since this home is partially owned by an estate, the contract has to be submitted to the court for approval.  Here's a copy of that contract as it appears in the Miami Dade Clerk of Courts website...
Court Approved Contract for Sale of Home to Romney                                                            

Does that make sense to anyone?  Why was a sales contract prepared with John Romney as the seller when he didn't even own the home?  Why did the owner of the home, Maxine Andrews, sign a contract selling the home to Bernardo Barrera for $600,000 when just a few days later she signed another contract selling the same home to John Romney for $185,000?  Does that seem Kosher to you all?  Let's take a look at the sellers signature on both contracts and compare, maybe someone forged her signature?

From the purchase contract for $600,000 to Bernardo Barrera...

and her signature on the purchase contract for $185,000 to John Romney...

Close enough for us or at the very least it should have been close enough for the police to go find Maxine Andrews and find out why she executed two separate purchase contracts for the same home five days and $415,000 apart with two different buyers!  

There you have it folks, more people that were intimately involved in the "Organized Scheme to Defraud" that were left out of the investigation.  If Maxine Andrews did indeed sign both of those contracts, she was just as guilty as any of the other defendants that were arrested, yet as far as we can see, she was never even questioned.  Did we expect any less from Detective Jorge Baluja and ASA Bill Kostrzewski?  Could this case get more screwed up?  Could we possibly find more fail than we already have?

Of course we can!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Conversations overheard at the courthouse...

It's been a tough week and as some of you have noticed, we here at the Straw Buyer have gotten a little worked up over the weeks subject matter as evidenced by this comment from one of our readers posted yesterday...
"Take it easy buddy, don't blow a gasket. "
Ok, fair enough, after all its the end of the week, so let's deal with something a little less serious.  

There's been several instances where we've overheard assistant state attorney Bill Kostrzewski having conversations regarding the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case at the criminal courthouse, today we'll look at two comments that caught our attention.  The first quote comes from a conversation regarding the ASA's mishandling of the case...
"...I was under a lot of pressure."
Oh, no $hit Mr. Kostrzewski?  You were under a lot of pressure to bungle your way through a case, deprive the defendants of their constitutional rights, fabricate witness testimony, lie under oath, etc?  (no worries, I have the proof, be patient guys)  That must have been a tremendous amount of pressure, huh buddy?  We can only imagine what kind of pressure you must have been under to jeopardize your career and reputation.  We wonder, who was it that put you under so much pressure?  Was it your boss, Fred Kerstein?  Was it the head of the Mortgage Fraud Task Force, Glenn Theobald?  Was it Mayor, Carlos Alvarez?  Who could have put you under the gun to slam together such a sloppy case?  Or was there a deadline (HINT, HINT) for you to put together a case?  We'll know soon enough now won't we Mr. Kostrzewski?

Moving along, in the spirit of keeping things lighthearted, let's take a look at another memorable quote from "veteran economic crimes prosecutor" Bill Kostrzewski regarding his being removed from the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case...
"I'm glad this is off my plate..."
No kidding?  Glad this is off your plate huh?  You bungled together a half ass case, destroyed innocent peoples lives and you're glad this is off your plate?  I got news for you Mr. Kostrzewski, we're no where near done, not even close, as a matter of fact, go back and check your plate, the Straw Buyer has left a little something for you...

Have a great weekend folks!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Detective Baluja and ASA Kostrzewski deliver more fail....

What could be worse than what we discovered regarding the twenty one instances of Bernardo Barrera's signatures over the last two days?  The only thing worse than Mr. Barrera's attempt at changing his signature when he convinced the police that his identity was stolen was how we obtained the other signature samples.  See, we didn't simply go to the criminal case file and pull out the documents containing the signatures, we actually did a little investigating.  Interesting concept isn't it Detective Baluja?

If we were simply to go through the voluminous criminal case file, we would have only found two sets of documents containing Mr. Barrera's signatures, the loan documents for the fraudulent Oak Avenue home purchase and the samples Mr. Barrera submitted to the police, let's take a look:
A sample from the fraudulent loan docs that Mr. Barrera claimed he didn't sign.

And one from the signatures that Mr. Barrera submitted to the police as a sample.

Perfect right?  Now armed with these two samples, Detective Baluja and ASA Kostrzewski are off to the races.  Would this be enough for you to buy Mr. Barrera's cock and bull story of identity theft?  Would simply listening to his story and comparing these two sets of signatures be enough due diligence on the states part to go ahead and build a case?  Even if it was enough for the Detective to move forward, how could it have been enough for the prosecutor?  Wouldn't the prosecutor want to use an abundance of caution before moving forward especially since one of the targets of the investigation was a fellow attorney?

So if we didn't collect the other signature samples from the documents in the criminal case file, where the hell did we get them?  Did we spend hundreds of hours going through documents at the courthouse?  Did we hire a private investigator?  Nope.  Here's where we got the documents and how much time we spent collecting them:
  • Signatures collected from divorce file, picked up from the civil courthouse, less than 30 minutes total.
  • Signatures collected from letter sent to the court for the foreclosure case, picked up at the civil courthouse, less than 30 minutes total.
  • Signatures collected from documents on file with the state for the fraudulent corporation Mr. Barrera opened, less than 1 minute obtained from
  • Signatures collected from the mortgage for Mr. Barrera's primary residence, less than 5 minutes obtained from
So there you have it, a trip to the civil courthouse and a few minutes online gave us several signature samples that created serious doubt regarding Mr. Barrera's claims of identity theft.  Our hour or so at the civil courthouse could have been even shorter if we were say a MDPD Detective that could have parked wherever they wanted.  Now, if you were armed with the signature samples that we presented over the last two days, could you have possibly believed Mr. Barrera's assertions that he had nothing to do with the fraud?  Impossible right?  So how the hell could this have happened?  Why weren't more of Mr. Barrera's signature samples collected by the police?  We know Detective Baluja is mentally challenged, but how the hell could have Prosecutor Kostrzewski allowed this case to move forward with literally no investigating?

Is this all it takes for your life to be ruined?  A mentally deficient cop with a history of lying and a washed up prosecutor throw together a half ass case based on an extremely poorly run investigation and BAM, your life is ruined.  Can this be right?  Why didn't Detective Baluja spend a few minutes and at least look at Mr. Barrera's signature and compare them with other documents that he's signed in the past?  Why didn't ASA Kostrzewski vet the pile of garbage that Baluja called a case before moving forward?  WTF?!  This can't be right, someone has to be held accountable for this bullshit.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

So what about those signatures from yesterday?

Did everyone have a chance to check out the signatures we posted yesterday and determine which ones were signed by Bernardo Barrera and which ones were forgeries?  Once again, here are the signatures as they appeared in yesterdays post:

Let's take a look at some of your guesses and see what we got:
  • S, T & U are fake.
  • S,t,u would be the obvious choice but they all look like they came from the same hand.
  • S,T, & U stand apart...and yes they do look like they came from the same hand.
We would have to agree with these three commentors, the signatures S, T and U look completely different than the rest of the signatures.
  • Same signature 21 different times.
  • same signature, different times, different circumstances.
  • ditto 
This conclusion is understandable as well as there are similarities in all 21 signatures, same style of writing, some style of letters, etc.  One could conclude that perhaps the person signing these signatures was in a different psychological state when they were executing the signatures and therefore having different styles of signing the same signature.
  • abc, de, fghijkl, mnop, qr, stu all seem to be different people to me...whadda i win?
Ok, this conclusion is understandable as well.  According to this opinion, there are six different styles of signatures executed by six different people.

Let's take a look at where the signatures came from (click on the links to view the sources of the signatures in full size)...
  1. A and B were obtained from Bernardo Barrera's divorce file from back in 2005.
  2. C was obtained from a letter Mr. Barrera wrote to the court in regards to the civil foreclosure of the oak avenue home.
  3. D and E were signatures obtained from the documents on file with the state of Florida for the fraudulent corporation that Mr. Barrera opened back in late 2008.
  4. F through L were signatures that we obtained from the loan application that was submitted for the fraudulent mortgage for the Oak Avenue home.
  5. M through R were signatures obtained from the mortgage for Mr. Barrera's primary residence.
  6. And last but not least, S, T and U were signatures that Mr. Barrera submitted to the MDPD as samples of his real signature!
So there you have it folks, six different instances of Mr. Barrera's signature with only one instance where the signatures were supposedly forged.  Now, we know our readers are of higher than average intellect (that is with the exception of that one member of the MDPD and our favorite curmudgeon from the state attorneys office), why didn't anyone pick this up?  The most common sentiment was that all the signatures were executed by the same person except the last three which were the ones that Mr. Barrera submitted to the police as a sample of his real signature.  The other common opinion was that the signatures were all executed by the same person, yet no one was able to buy into the theory that all the signatures with the exception of samples F through L were executed by the same person, why wasn't anyone able to come to that conclusion?  


There in lies the rub folks, buying into the hypothesis that only signatures F through L are forgeries is an insult to our readers intelligence.  If we don't buy this nonsense, how could anyone in law enforcement have?  Even worse, how could ASA Kostrzewski have believed this nonsense?  We'll look into this mess in further detail tomorrow, there's a pretty embarrassing explanation for all of this.

Until then, let's enjoy this short video from a recent wedding reception that illustrates the dangers of mixing Russians, vodka and guns...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Let's play a game and look at some signatures...

Enough with the legal mumbo jumbo, surely you all remember the man that claims to be the "victim" in one of the mortgage fraud cases that we've discussed here on our blog, Mr. Bernardo Barrera.  According to the state, Mr. Barrera claimed that his identity was stolen without his knowledge by John Romney, Michael Martinez and Delaila Estefano in order to defraud Citi Mortgage of nearly $400,000.  In order for us to buy that story we have to accept the basic premise that Mr. Barrera had no idea that the fraud was actually occurring.  Several months ago, we produced a purchase contract signed by non other than Mr. Barrera for the purchase of the home that's at the center of the fraud, executed by Mr. Barrera well before he claimed his identity was stolen.  Today, we're going to introduce several instances of Mr. Barrera's signature from documents that we have collected over the last several months, look for yourselves...

Take your time and compare the signatures that we've compiled for you above, as always click on the image to maginify it.  Study the signatures, if you buy the into the claim that Mr. Barrera's identity was stolen then some of the signatures in this group of 21 signatures are forgeries while others are Mr. Barrera's actual signature.  Here's a hint, the overwhelming majority of the signatures pictured above are Mr. Barrera's real signature, can you figure out which are the forgeries?  Remember if you're the lead detective looking into Mr. Barrera's claims of identity theft, the conclusions that you draw from these signatures are going to cause you to permenently alter the lives of the people you decide to charge.  Take your time, if you feel so inclined, record which ones you think are the fakes in comments section below and we'll discuss tomorrow...

Monday, March 22, 2010

An most interesting comment from one of our readers.

As most of you have figured out by now, the Straw Buyer is no lawyer, didn't play one on TV and didn't stay in a Holiday Inn last night, therefore when we start delving into legalese, there is no doubt we're way out of our league.  Despite the fact that we have no legal training here at the Straw Buyer, the laws (at least in the instances we've discussed) seem fairly easy to comprehend.  When we discussed the concept of "Due Process" last Friday, we got a rather interesting comment from one of our readers, take a look:

OK!  Let's take a closer look at that comment starting with the first paragraph...
Defendant's do not have a constitutional right to discovery, unless the items are Brady material, which are generally exculpatory or relevant to impeachment of a witness. In fact federal defendant's frequently go to trial without any discovery being turned over. The United States Supreme Court has long affirmed that aside from Brady material there is no "right" to discovery.
Alright then, according to this there is not constitutional right to discovery unless the items are Brady material or materials "which are generally exculpatory or relevant to impeachment of a witness".  Ok, we get it.  But how can anyone know if the statements contain "Brady material" if the prosecutor won't produce them?  If the statements do exist, are we to leave it to the prosecutors discretion as to whether or not they contain Brady material?  That's an interesting proposition when you have a somewhat less than honest prosecutor now isn't it?  Certainly a great argument for open file discovery.

Moving on...
However, Defendant's do have rights to discovery under the Florida statutes, evidence code and Florida Criminal Rule of Evidence 3.220.
So at the state level the defendant does have the right to discovery, good.  Before we go any further, lets take a look at that rule that the commenter referenced, specifically parts B, C and D:
(B) the statement of any person whose name is furnished in compliance with the preceding subdivision. The term “statement” as used herein includes a written statement made by the person and signed or otherwise adopted or approved by the person and also includes any statement of any kind or manner made by the person and written or recorded or summarized in any writing or recording. The term “statement” is specifically intended to include all police and investigative reports of any kind prepared for or in connection with the case, but shall not include the notes from which those reports are compiled;
Well, doesn't this speak directly to the statements that the defendants in the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case have been asking the state to produce for over a year and a half?  Sounds like it to us!  Moving on:
(C) any written or recorded statements and the substance of any oral statements made by the defendant, including a copy of any statements contained in police reports or report summaries, together with the name and address of each witness to the statements;
Ok, that seems easy enough, last but not least...
(D) any written or recorded statements and the substance of any oral statements made by a codefendant if the trial is to be a joint one;
Getting back to the rest of the comment...
The prosecutor must turn over items that fall under the rule. 
There you go, it seems to us that according to the rule of criminal procedure that our commenter quoted, statements from codefendants have to be turned over as part of the states discovery obligations.  In last fridays post, we referred to the statements made by Michael Martinez, who was initially a codefendant, but then after cutting a plea became a states witness, all the more reason that prosecutor had to hand over his statements.  More from the readers comment...  
Often times defense attorneys, acting as good advocates, will argue that they are entitled to things which are either not covered by the rule or are privileged. Accordingly, it is common for the parties to file motions to compel and ask the Court to make a ruling.
Of course, isn't that what the ABA Model Code of professional responsibility canon 7 is all about?  Let's have our friend Max clarify canon 7 for us...

Alrighty then!  What sums up this whole issue of the state not producing statements that seem essential to the defendants putting together a meaningful defense is the following quote from the "fourth motion to compel":
14.Despite repeated requests and multiple court orders, the State has failed to provide Mr. Martinez’s statement. Upon information and belief, the Defense believes the State has had possession of Mr. Martinez’s statement for at least the last three months. 
16.On September 16, 2009, the Court entered an order requiring the State to provide the statements of Co-Defendant Romney and Martinez by October 1, 2009.
That was back in October 2009 over six months ago and still no statements!  Last but not least from our esteemed commenter...
Once the Court rules, the prosecutor must either comply or seek an appellate remedy. It is also common in a case involving voluminous amounts of paper evidence to attempt to comply and ask for more time to finish the State's response.
Ok, we'll give you that.  Now take into consideration that this particular case is over 18 months old and still no statements.  Considering how much time has passed, you can't possibly expect us to believe the state needs more time to produce these statements?!  Sorry, this is just another clear cut example of ASA Bill Kostrzewski playing "hide and go seek" with evidence.  There's no excuse this far into the game for not turning over evidence that's key to the defendants preparing their defense.

As far as the author of the comment that is the subject of todays post, we're honored (hint) that they took the time to read our blog and comment on our story.  Thank you.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Due process and the danger of morally and ethically deficient prosecutors.

What's this "due process" business that we keep talking about and whats it got to do with our tales of mortgage fraud? What drew our attention to "due process" was this quote from one of Judge Beatrice Butchko's rulings during the Pastor Gaston Smith criminal case a few months back...
"...due process is general principle of law that prohibits the government from obtaining convictions brought about by methods that offend the sense of justice, and I think that law enforcement and prosecutors really need to have this in mind, because of the power that you have at your disposal."
Very interesting, "convictions brought about by methods that offend the sense of justice...", that's powerful. To better understand, let's look at "due process" as it appears in the constitution of the state of Florida, Article I, Section 9:
Due process.--No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law, or be twice put in jeopardy for the same offense, or be compelled in any criminal matter to be a witness against oneself.
Easy enough, one aspect of due process as we interpret it, is basically that the police and prosecutors have to play fair, once you're charged, as part of your defense, you're entitled to evidence, statements, etc that the state has. Common sense right? After all, how is a defendant supposed to put together a meaningful defense if they aren't given all the evidence that the state has? There are clear rules that the state has to abide by when it comes to evidence and the defenses discovery in order to prepare their defense. In other words, the state can't hide evidence, exculpatory or not, in a perfect world this wouldn't be an issue. Yet in the real world the states handling of evidence is a fertile breeding ground for misconduct. There are certain states that have "open file discovery", where whatever the state has in the case file has to be made available to the defense, that's great yet in states that don't have such laws, the citizens may be at the mercy of unscrupulous prosecutors or as we like to say at risk of getting "NIFONGED"!

So what would cause an unethical prosecutor to hide evidence from the defense or as we like to say "play hide and go seek" with the evidence? There could be several motivations for a dirty prosecutor to play these games, the desire to achieve a conviction at any cost, realizing perhaps that the case is weak and not wanting to hand over the defense the tools they need to win or maybe scrambling to save a case that should have never been filed. What do defense attorneys do when they're dealing with a prosecutor that's playing hide and go seek with evidence? They file motions to compel discovery such as this one that was filed against ASA Bill Kostrzewski in the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case...

Fourth Motion to Compel Case f08-36522                                                            

What's that say? Does it say:


Nope. Does it say:


Nope. Does it say:


Nope. As you can all see, it says...


Tisk, tisk, tisk...

So what's the big deal you say? None, if you've been charged and don't mind a prosecutor hiding evidence from you!  Going back to the Michael Martinez deposition again and reading it over and over again, one thing struck us as strange from the deposition transcript, take a look...

So Mr. Martinez was interviewed by the police and the state attorneys at least five times?  So was anyone taking notes during these depositions?

Ok, so everyone one was taking notes, what for?  Obvoiusly for the purpose of reducing their notes into the form of a statement, the same statements that the defense keeps asking the state for!  From the FOURTH motion to compel...
12.On June 25, 2009, the State listed Co-defendant Martinez as a state witness.  The State also provided a copy of his plea agreement whereby he agreed to fully cooperate with the State and testify for the State in exchange for a below guideline sentence.  
13. Upon information and belief, the Defense believes that there are two statements (and possibly more) of Co-Defendant Martinez in the State’s possession. 
So where the statements at Mr. Kostrzewski?!  Let's go to that motion one more time...
14.Despite repeated requests and multiple court orders, the State has failed to provide Mr. Martinez’s statement. Upon information and belief, the Defense believes the State has had possession of Mr. Martinez’s statement for at least the last three months.   
Damn YO!  Why the hell would "veteran economic crimes prosecutor" Bill Kostrzewski be keeping these (and other) statements from the defendants?  How can a meaningful defense be put together when the prosecutors are playing "hide and go seek" with the evidence?  Isn't an integral component of "due process" handing over these statements to the defense?  "Due process", a constitutional guarantee that is
"so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental." (Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 105, 54S. ct 330, 78L Ed. 674 (1933)).
What kind of nonsense is this?  How can a proper defense be prepared when the prosecutor isn't complying with his discovery obligaitons?  Earlier this week we witnessed the prosecutor telling a defendant to not answer questions during a deposition and now we see the same prosecutor keeping key evidence from the defense attorneys.  How can this be fair?  As we said before, this is nothing, as far as prosecutorial misconduct goes, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Stay tuned.

More mortgage fraud arrests, big fcuking deal...

From the Miami Herald today...
4 South Floridians face mortgage fraud charges

Four South Florida residents have been charged in a $6 million mortgage fraud scheme.

Arrested were Carlos Cano, 53, of Delray Beach; Robyn Colon, 34, of Boynton Beach; Jose L. Colon, 52, of Boynton Beach, and Maria L. Lozada, 40, of Miami.

They were charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and eight counts of substantive bank fraud, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

The indictment says Lozada would identify Miami-Dade County properties that could be used to defraud the lenders and then recruited the others to pose as purchasers of the properties. The buyers would prepare fraudulent loan applications and Lozada would use her company, Southeast Florida Marketing, to receive mortgage proceeds and cash rent payments.
That's it huh?  Four people arrested in $6 million dollars worth of fraud?  Once again, they miss the mark and a bus load of people got away.  For those with any knowledge of real estate transactions, you know that there were several more people involved in dirty transactions like the ones that these people were involved in, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, appraisers, title agents, attorneys, etc.  Unless the four people arrested fulfilled all those roles, then where the hell is everyone else?  Why haven't any of the other players been arrested?  What a crock of $hit.  What's worse, the unproportionate amount fraud that goes on in Florida or the horrific way law enforcement handles these cases?  No wonder Florida is fertile breeding ground for fraudsters!  

Big day in court tomorrow folks, the man at the center of the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case, John Arthur Romney, changes his plea tomorrow.  We'll see how the man who made off with several hundred thousand dollars as a result of this fraud, get's slapped on the wrist and sent on his way...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

So stealing over $100,000 is a civil matter huh Mr. Prosecutor?

Today's post is going to be a bit short, but nonetheless, we have an important update.  Does everyone remember several months back where we discussed how a shyster ripped off a group of people in excess of $100,000 on a phony discounted cruise deal?  From the post back in September, 2009...
"I booked a cruise for my family which would have cost nearly $12,000 all for the paltry sum of $5,000, what a deal! It seemed like the more people I asked in my group of friends, the more people had given this travel agent money! In some instances we were even going to be on the same cruises! With the dates booked, we anxiously awaited our confirmation and reservation information, first she explained there was some delays, then as we drew within a week from the sailing date still no confirmation, she assured us that everything would be alright though. Now we were two days before the date the ship was supposed to sail and STILL NOTHING! One day before the trip was to start, STILL NOTHING and now we couldn't get the travel agent (at least the woman that was posing as the travel agent) on the phone. At this point we had given up and figured we got screwed. "
So we went down to the State Attorneys Office...
After hearing our story, what do you think the ASA's conclusion was? An investigation? A call to the MDPD to go pick the woman up? An immediate arrest affidavit? NOPE! After all this, the best the ASA could do was to tell the attorney that there was nothing that he could do and in fact this was a CIVIL MATTER! WTF?!
That's right, the ASA from the Economic Crimes department of the SAO basically told us to pound sand.  We left our readers to figure out who that ASA was, did anyone figure it out?  Who was this ASA that told us that the theft of over $100,000 was a civil matter and that there was nothing he could do about it?  The ASA that told us that was none other than...

You got it, the ASA that refused to prosecute this charlatan was the same attorney that bungled up the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud investigation and prosecution.  Incredible huh?  Who knew back then that our paths would be so inexorably intertwined just a short time later.  

So whats the big deal?  We didn't let Mr. Kostrzewski's lack of initiative dissuade us from going after this bitch who made away with our hard earned money, we kept at it by going to the FBI.  Things moved slowly, but we were told yesterday that the AUSA involved in the case is about to indict the woman.  Incredible!  How could Mr. Kostrzewski have concluded that there was no criminal case yet the feds were able to make one?

The lesson here is a simple one and one that we'll be following, when law enforcement and prosecutors at the state level refuse to act on an injustice as egregious as this (or a handful of others that come to mind during the course of our blog), forget dealing with them and go directly to the feds.  
Happy St. Patrick's day folks!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why is a prosecutor telling a defendant not to answer questions during a deposition?

Let's lay off the incompetent cop theme and focus our attention on an incompetent prosecutor for today.  As the title of today's post states, why would a prosecutor tell a defendant not to answer questions during a deposition?  After all, the defendant has their own attorney, so in what legal capacity can a prosecutor tell the defendant not to answer a question?  Strange, huh?  In preparing yesterdays post about photo lineups, we had to go through the deposition of one of the defendants in the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case, Michael Martinez, the man who was accused of lending the straw buyer in the fraud $125,000 for the down payment of the Oak Avenue home.  In doing so, we came across several instances where Assistant State Attorney Bill Kostrzewski repeatedly undermined the defense attorneys questioning of Mr. Martinez by telling Mr. Martinez not to answer the questions.  WTF you say?  Let's get started.

We start off by one of the defense attorneys reminding Mr. Martinez that he is represented by an attorney and that if he feels at any time during the deposition he needs to talk to his attorney he can do so and furthermore that Mr. Kostrzewski does not represent him in any shape or form...

Simple enough right?  If you have any issues, we'll get your attorney on the phone, in the mean time, ignore that easily excitable little man since he doesn't represent you.  Makes sense after all, that guy is the one that created this mess he calls a case!

Moving along, we get to a rather sensitive question regarding previous conversation between the police, the prosecutor and Mr. Martinez that must have made prosecutor Kostrzewski a little uneasy, check the prosecutors reaction...

Oh really?  Am I confused or did the prosecutor just tell the defendant not to answer a question?  That's a major no no isn't it?  Why doesn't Mr. Kostrzewski want Mr. Martinez to answer the question?  Is there something he'd like to keep hidden?  Let's see what happens next...

From the looks of it, Mr. Kostrzewski has done a nice job screwing up the deposition at this point and the defense attorney has to remind the defendant that the prosecutor can't tell him not to answer.  They start the depo again only to have the witness look over to the prosecutor for instruction again...

Doesn't the prosecutors behavior during the course of the deposition thus far give you the feeling of impropriety?  Let's not forget, this is the same prosecutor that to date hadn't been exactly forthcoming with documentation that the defense attorneys had been requesting, yet this rises to a different level of misconduct.  Here is a roomful of people gathered with the intention of obtaining meaningful information from Mr. Martinez only to have their efforts stifled by ASA Kostrzewski.  What is prosecutor Kostrzewski trying to keep the defense attorneys from finding out?  Why is his behavior so erratic during these depositions?  Would you characterize his behavior as becoming of an attorney, let alone an assistant state attorney representing the people of Florida?  What the hell is going on here?

Rest assured, this is just the tip of the iceberg, we have to admit, we've been holding back from our readers, we have much, much more on ASA Kostrzewski and his shocking level of misconduct throughout the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case, from sloppy mistakes, to willful misconduct, we got it covered, just be patient.  Best of all, the unintended consequence of writing this blog has been the honing of our writing skills that are going to come in mighty handy when we start bombarding Mr. Kostrzewski with a myriad of Bar complaints.  By the time we're done with Mr. Kostrzewski, he'll be working right along side one of his former colleagues, Mr. Mike Nifong...

Monday, March 15, 2010

How a MDPD Detective manages to screw up a simple photo line up...

Everyones familiar with the method police use to identify suspects known as the "Photo Lineup".  It can't get any easier or more basic than a cop asking a witness to take a look at some photos and see if they can pick out the subject, easy enough.  Yet if a photo lineup is conducted improperly it can actually end up doing more harm than good, fact of the matter is that there are specific procedures that need to be followed when introducing a photo lineup to a witness.  There was a great piece on 60 Minutes a while back that addressed photo lineups and the consequences of conducting them improperly, if you have a few minutes, take a look...

At the very least what we come away with after watching that story is that not only is there a science to putting a photo lineup together, but there are a specific set of instructions that are to be read to the witness before showing them the photo line up.  What's this got to do with us?  The lead detective, Jorge Baluja, in the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case used photo lineups several times during the course of his investigation (if that's what you wanna call it), at this point considering his track record, you have to ask yourself, did he conduct the photo lineups correctly?  Let's take a look, starting with the instructions that he's supposed to read before showing the lineups to the witness, from his deposition, here's one of the defense attorneys asking Detective Baluja about these very instructions...

Ok, that's easy enough, the detective acknowledges that on the back of each group of photos there are instructions that the Detective has to read before conducting the photo lineup, fine.  So does Detective Baluja go ahead and read these instructions to the witness before conducting the photo lineup?  Let's hear it in his own words...

Oh really Jorgito?  You can't recall whether you read the witness the instructions or not?  That's no good now is it?  Let me refresh your recollection Jorge, you didn't.  How do we know that Detective Baluja conducted the photo lineup without reading the witness the instructions?  Because he says so!

DUH!  Those pesky instructions, what a pain in the ass, huh Jorge?  It's not like they're given to you with the GOD DAMN INSTRUCTIONS WRITTEN ON THE BACK OF THE PHOTOS NOW IS IT?!  Never one to disappoint now are you Detective Baluja?

Now that we've seen how Detective Baluja conducts his photo lineups, let's see what its like from the perspective of the witness that's suffering through a Baluja photo lineup.  Here's a excerpt from the deposition of co defendant Michael Martinez, with ASA Bill Kostrzewski asking a few questions regarding a Baluja photo lineup...

So what was the purpose of the lineup?

Ok, so the purpose of Detective Baluja showing Mr. Martinez the lineup was to identify Attorney Delaila Estefano, did he know anyone else that was in the lineup?  Lets see...

So Mr. Martinez knew some of the people in the line up, but not all of them?  We wonder though, who else was included in the photos that Mr. Martinez was shown other than Attorney Delaila Estefano?  Let's see...

Oh, OK!  Detective Baluja is trying to get the witness to identify a female out of a group of six photos where at least 2 maybe three of the photos are of MEN!  WTF?!  Out of the remaining photos, one is of the witnesses coworker, another is of some unknown woman and the other is OF THE WITNESSES FIANCE?!  Did we read that right?!  Let's continue...

Hey, you know, sometimes it's tough having a fiance, it doesn't hurt for someone to show you a picture of your significant other now and again just to see if you recognize her.  WTF IS THIS $HIT?!?!?!??!?!  Come on!  How was anyone able to sit through this deposition without laughing their a$$es off?  

Let's recap, knowing how important it is for the witness to be read the instructions for the photo lineup, the pride and joy of the MDPD's Mortgage Fraud Task Force forgets to read the instructions to the witness.  Ok, moving on, Detective Baluja conducts another photo lineup where he's trying to get co defendant Michael Martinez to identify attorney Delaila Estefano's photo out of a lineup of six photos, they consist of the following photos:
  1. photo of an unknown woman
  2. photo of a coworker named Danny
  3. photo of female coworker
  4. photo of witnesses fiance
  5. photo of at least one other male
  6. photo of attorney Delaila Estefano
Now, how hard would it be to pick out the female attorney from this line up?  Let's see, you're asked to identify a female from six photos, at least two of the photos are of males, so now that leaves you with four photos to choose from.  From those four, one of them is a female coworker and the other is your FCUKING FIANCE!  Now you're left with two, an unknown dark skinned woman and lastly the female attorney that the Detective wants you to identify.  Could this be the most flawed photo lineup in the history of the MDPD?!  WTF IS THIS $HIT!?  ANYONE?  There could only be one photo line up that could be worse than this, let's take a stab at it and see if we can find which one is Mr. Bernardo Barrera from this group of six photos...

Hmmm...  That's a tough one isn't it?  Funny isn't it?  Not really when you consider that the photo lineups that Detective Baluja ran were almost as bad as this one or maybe worse?  At least our lineup consists of all males!  The level of incompetence exhibited by Detective Jorge Baluja throughout his career would be hilarious if not for the fact that his piss poor police work destroys the lives of the poor innocent people that he victimizes.  Unfortunately for the people that we've been writing about, Detective Baluja has met his match in the state attorneys office, a person far more incompetent than himself, a person whose actions are far more egregious than his.  We'll discuss him a little later on, trust me on that.

Friday, March 12, 2010

More fun with the MDPD Green fund, aka the Frank Vecin fund and the conclusion of the steaming pile of $hit Detective Jorge Baluja called a case...

It's been a bad few weeks for the command staff over at the MDPD, partly because of the ruckus surrounding the misspending of the federally funded "green fund" set up to investigate environmental crimes.  We discussed how some of that money was spent earlier this month, today the Miami Herald adds more fuel to the fire, take a look at some of the new expenditures that have come to light...
440 shirts purchased in two batches in February and May 2009. The ``Bureau Cubaveras,'' which came in colors from black to khaki, cost $13,150.
Oh really?  I guess the environmental crimes investigators had to blend in to the surroundings right?  No camouflage but Cubaveras instead?  I guess the khaki ones were for investigatory work in "rural remote" locations?
Six flat screen TVs -- three Sharp 52-inch HDTV costing $1,986 apiece and three 32-inch units at $734 each. The TVs were requested to ``provide command personnel with up to date news . . . during any environmentally related emergency operations.'' The larger TVs came with motorized swing-arm mounts costing $1,117 each, allowing viewers to move the units' location by remote control.

Uh huh.  That speaks for itself, I couldn't make that $hit up.
More than 125 computers costing $173,296, including 107 Dell desktops and pricey laptops like Panasonic Toughbooks costing nearly $3,000 each. The purchases made in the past two years come after more than $95,000 was spent in 2007 on personal computers.

Miami-Dade police could not say where the computers are or who they were issued to. An internal county police investigation is under way to locate the items.
So the MDPD needs a team of investigators to figure out where the computers the environmental crimes unit had are?
More than $30,000 for 30 banquet tables and 152 chairs, two high pressure 24-inch misting fans ($2,169.93 each), two portable air conditioning units ($2,606 each) and tents. 
Never know when they'll need to pitch a tent...
A Gmax II 5900 Airless Paint Sprayer for $3,802 and a RTX900 Texture Sprayer for $790.50. Both were requested to help with ``cleaning and restoring preserves, monuments and historical sites in Miami-Dade County.''
Sure, you know, ``cleaning and restoring preserves, monuments and historical sites in Miami-Dade County'' while conducting an environmental crimes investigation.  Come on!  You don't think this paint equipment ended up getting used by Mr. Vecin's construction business now do you?

At the end of the day, from what we've learned the millions of dollars spent from this fund had nothing to do with investigating "Environmental Crimes", this fund was used as nothing more than a personal slush fund for certain members of the command staff of the MDPD.  As you know though, Mr. Vecin couldn't have pulled this off on his own, there had to be more than one person in the PD involved in this mess, we find this comment most telling...
Sadly, even Glenn Theobald, the department’s Legal Bureau chief, engaged in fine legal “wordsmithing” to accommodate Vecin’s request. A deed Theobald now surely regrets...
Let's not forget, if not for a memo authorizing the misspending of these funds, this mess may not have happened.  For those of you thinking that the investigation of this mess is going to be left to the MDPD IA and then get swept under the rug, don't fret.  Our sources tell us that the Feds are all over this mess and that if there was criminal misconduct, charges will be brought against those responsible.

So what about the new mortgage fraud case we discussed this week?  What was the conclusion?  The case was put together by the pride and joy of the MDPD Mortgage Fraud Task Force, Jorge Baluja and the subject was arrested on 6/12/2008 then the case was no actioned on 7/9/2008.  Why?  Because once the Detectives case was reviewed by a fair, unbiased, impartial prosecutor, the
prosecutor concluded that the case was either too weak to get a conviction or that the case (at least in our opinion) was nothing more than an unintelligible STEAMING PILE OF $HIT that could not be taken to trial.  After all, we all read Detective Baluja's handy work, was anyone able to understand what the hell the case was about? 

This is how things are supposed to work, unfortunately for the subject, he had to endure getting arrested but once the prosecutor reviewed the case, the charges were dropped.  That's why the prosecutor is supposed to ONLY act as an advocate and is not supposed to have role as an investigator or administrator during the course of building the case.  Makes sense, let the cops do the police work and let the lawyers do the damn lawyering!  That's not what happened in the Bernardo Barrera mortgage fraud case though, ASA Bill Kostrzewski was intimately involved in every aspect of the investigation, writing witness statements, typing up arrests affidavits etc, basically stepping outside his role as an advocate and therefore losing the absolute immunity afforded to prosecutors in case there was any wrong doing.  Why do you ask would a veteran prosecutor do such a thing?  We'll answer that question next week.

Have a great weekend!