So here we are again, still mulling over the plea deal that embattled City of South Miami police chief, Orlando Martinez de Castro, took in his ethics case before the Miami Dade County Commission on Ethics. As we discussed last time, Mr de Castro pled no contest to the ethics violations that he was charged with in the ethics commission's probable cause affidavit.
So what's the big deal? Why are we continuing to beat a dead horse? Think about it for a minute, why would someone charged with a crime or in this case an ethics violation, take a plea of no contest? After all, no contest basically is the same as a guilty plea in the eyes of the court, so why the hell would someone take a deal like that, let alone a chief of police accused of several ethics violations as well as possibly having broken the law by sending city business to his wife's tag agency? Traditionally, people who take a plea do so for a couple of reasons, either they're guilty as hell and have been given a sweet heart deal by the prosecutors or they're innocent and they simply don't have the resources to keep paying their lawyer to fight for them and the deal they're given as a result of the plea is good enough that they can basically resume their normal life relatively unscathed. In the instance of embattled police chief Orlando Martinez de Castro, judging by the attorneys he's brought to the ethics hearings and the ones that keep firing off the nonsensical threatening letters to anyone that looks at the chief the wrong way, it's obvious that resources aren't an issue, so it only stands to reason that the chief was guilty as charged in the probable cause affidavit and that they gave him a good enough deal where he was walking away with a slap on the wrist. Fair enough.
Now let's turn for a moment to the girls who were formerly employed by the chief's wife and were accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the chief's wife's tag agency. A couple of weeks ago, the three tellers had a hearing before the honorable Judge Pooler where they were asked whether or not they were going to go to trial in their criminal case. Before the hearing, the prosecutor had offered the three girls a sweetheart of a deal, plead no contest (sound familiar?) agree to a pre trial diversion program and the charges are dropped. According to Court Options, a pretrial diversion program is:
...an alternative to prosecution offered exclusively by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office. It provides offenders with a viable alternative to a criminal conviction, and allows them to make significant changes in their lives so that they can avoid further involvement with the criminal justice system. Offenders enter the program voluntarily and in some cases before they make an appearance in court.
Not bad?! Here you are accused of stealing tens of thousands of dollars, get arrested and have spent the last two plus years of your life bouncing through the archaic criminal justice system all the while trying to maintain some level of employment while waiting to go to trial. One of the three girls after being laid off and unable to work as a result of her ongoing criminal prosecution opted to take the deal. It's understandable after all, by taking the plea, the case get's closed, she takes some classes and viola, it's all over. But what about the other two tellers? Despite being reminded by the judge and of all people Mr. de Castro's attorney, Simon Steckel (more on that later) that if they went to trial and lost they could face up to 190 years in jail, what do you think they chose to do? Put this mess to an end and take a plea which after taking the required pre trial diversion courses would leave them scott free? NOPE! In one of the most courageous moves that I've ever seen, these girls decided to go ahead and go to trial. Frankly, I have to admit when I learned that they chose to go to trial and risk getting 190 years in prison versus simply taking a plea and walking away, I was shocked. I was shocked until I talked to one of the girls who told me...
I've lost everything because of this case, all my money, my car etc. The only thing I have left is my dignity and if I would have taken this deal, they would have taken that away from me. I won't plead out to something I know I didn't do, if I go to trial and lose, so be it, at least I can hold my head up and know I did the right thing.
What can you say to that? Amazing that a police chief who swore to uphold the constitution of our country chose to take a plea deal rather than go to trial and face his accusers while a poor teller who certainly can't afford to prolong a criminal case that's already been going on for two plus years chose to go to trial and clear her name rather than compromise her integrity by taking a plea offer from the state. I don't know what your opinion of the tellers decision is, but the chief's decision to take the plea deal certainly speaks volumes about who he is...