By Brenda MedinaThe Miami Herald
Authorities arrested a former South Miami detective on extortion and fraud charges in a case that reaches into Sweetwater.
Richard Muñoz, a 15-year South Miami veteran until his retirement last year, pleaded guilty March 14 on charges of taking advantage of his position and using false information with intent to commit fraud.
Muñoz’s crimes may be linked to charges against Sweetwater officer William García, arrested in August on charges of identity theft and credit card fraud, but public documents in the federal case did not provide details. However, sources familiar to the case said Muñoz, 45, will be an important witness against García.
Muñoz, who was arrested on March 10, reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors last week after he agreed to be on a list of more than 50 potential witnesses against García when his trial begins in April.
Muñoz had pleaded not guilty when he was first arrested. He is now free on bail and his sentencing has been scheduled for May 9, at which time he could face up to five years in prison.
Muñoz’s lawyer, Gustavo Lage, could not be reached for comment.
South Miami Police Chief Rene Landa said on Wednesday that the crimes committed by Muñoz do not reflect the culture of his department.
“We were not aware of these activities until now, when they were made public,” Landa said. Muñoz was detached to the Drug Enforcement Administration on a task force for more than a year, Landa said.
According to the agreement with federal prosecutors, Muñoz was not charged with giving false information in an official DEA statement.
Sweetwater suspended García after his August arrest. He has maintained his innocence. His defense attorneys say their client acted within his authority as an officer and, in several cases, under orders from his supervisors.
In early March, García asked the city to pay his legal fees. Sweetwater commissioners denied the request.
FBI agents arrested García in August, accusing him of using counterfeit credit cards and stealing credit card numbers, including the card of a suspect he had arrested. García worked with an informant, who later agreed to cooperate with the FBI.
García’s arrest was another scandal that shook Sweetwater in 2013. The FBI also arrested then-Mayor Manuel “Manny” Maroño on charges of accepting bribes in exchange for official favors using his position as an elected official. Maroño plead guilty and is now in federal prison, serving a 40-month sentence.
The scandal also affected other officers. Octavio Oliu and Reny García have been suspended with pay since September, while federal and county authorities conduct an investigation of the Sweetwater force. Auxiliary police officer Richard Brenner also was suspended, but was reinstated, then fired late last year.
Also, as part of the investigation, authorities are reviewing the activities of a towing company linked to Maroño in connection with the police department.
Interesting, we'll dig up the criminal file and discuss tomorrow.