Politics: Who Were Driving Gold Sedan and Chevy Impala in Beach Coke Plot? Answers (or Arrests), Please

One Year After City Fireman’s Bust, Feds Still Won’t Say – But Suspicions Lurk About the MBPD’s Alleged Role.

Buried within one sentence of one paragraph on one page of a 19-page criminal complaint filed a year ago this month in U.S. District Court in Miami is an intriguing, yet unsettled, allegation.

It’s an allegation that stuck out as noticeably as did the wildly-protruding buttocks on that locally-notorious, gender-ambiguous, phony “Fix-A-Flat” doctor.

 It popped out as I scoured the government document in the wake of last year’s arrests (next Thursday marks the one-year anniversary) of crooked, bribe-extorting, pocket-padding Miami Beach code compliance officers and two city fire inspectors, one of whom also helped hatch a cocaine trafficking conspiracy to ferry kilos of coke from one end to the other of the city he was sworn to protect.

It’s a nagging allegation I’ve been unable to shake from my mind. And on page 8, in black and white, there it is:

“Surveillance agents followed VEH1, occupied by Bryant and AP, and another vehicle, described as a gold four-door sedan (VEH2), which appeared to be following Bryant and AP in VEH1. VEH2 followed VEH1, until it left Miami Beach, Florida.”

I’ll decipher the FBI jargon for you. The “surveillance agents” are the FBI’s. “VEH” refers to vehicle. “AP” refers anonymously to “another person,” eventually identified in court documents as Henry Bryant’s friend and crime partner, Octavius Mclendon.

Bryant is the ex-Beach fire inspector who wrecked his career forever and purchased a one-way ticket to a 22-year stint in Club Fed. In late 2011, he outright told, hinted, and bragged to an undercover FBI agent posing as a SoBe nightclub manager that he could corral Miami Beach and Miami-Dade cops to provide vehicular escort to shipments of coke making their way through the city, from the club to drop-off locations in Aventura parking lots.

The coke was fake; the drug runs were mere concoctions by the FBI to snare the bad guys. But the conspiracy talk – logistical planning, police escorts hired for the crime, cash payouts – was all very real.

As are the sentences and paragraphs in the federal prosecutors’ affidavit charging Bryant and Daniel Mack, the Miami-Dade cop who escorted Bryant’s car – kilo-packed duffel bag inside – part of the way.

Here’s one from page 3, describing Bryant’s Dec. 4, 2011, meeting with an undercover (UC1) at the SoBe club, Club Dolce (parentheses below are the affidavit’s own):

“Bryant told UC1 that he had ‘four County guys’ (meaning Miami-Dade police), ‘plus two Beach guys’ (meaning Miami Beach police). UC1 asked if they would be in uniform and whether they would have police cars. In response, Bryant said they have County cars, adding that ‘they are ready to move, they just need to know when and how.’ Arrangements were made for UC1, Bryant, and Bryant’s associates, which Bryant explained would be ‘two guys from Dade County and one guy from the Beach,’ to meet on Friday.”

Five days later in another meeting at the club, Bryant told the undercover that he “had a bunch of people waiting” for the when-where-and-how details of the upcoming drug run. These statements are from page 4:

“Bryant confirmed that a Miami Beach police officer contact would escort Bryant out of the area and that everyone would be in uniform and in a police car.”

“Bryant told UC1 that his ‘guys (the two police escorts) will know what’s going on, because Bryant will tell them straight up.’ UC1 asked Bryant if the police would take $3,500 a piece. In response, Bryant advised that he would talk to his guys in a few minutes. Bryant advised that he and his brother will be with the drugs, and that he (Bryant) would meet up with the police to settle with them.”

On Dec. 15, Bryant said he would use two separate cops and cars to assist him in the run. This is from page 6:

“Specifically, Bryant explained that an unmarked City of Miami Beach police car would escort Bryant, who would have the cocaine, while Bryant was in the City of Miami Beach. Bryant further explained that once he left the City of Miami Beach, a Miami-Dade police car would escort him (Bryant) to its intended destination.”

The scheme kicked off with the first of two drug runs, on the afternoon of Dec. 21, 2011. That is when the gold sedan was observed by FBI agents who were furtively tailing the convoy.

The sedan followed Bryant’s car until Bryant left Miami Beach city limits. Then Mack, in his county patrol car, fell in behind Bryant and escorted him the rest of the way to Aventura.

Two days later, Bryant called the undercover to say that the money was short. This is from page 11:

“Bryant explained that it ‘should have been 35 (meaning $3,500) for me and my brother’ each and ’5′ (meaning $5,000) each for the two police officers.”

We know Mack’s identity. But who was the other officer involved?

A second drug run was arranged, this one taking place weeks later, in January 2012. This is from page 12 and recounts a Jan. 7, 2012, phone conversation between Bryant and the undercover:

“UC1 advised Bryant that the drug protection run was set up for Saturday at 10:00 a.m. Bryant explained to UC1 that an undercover police car would be used on the Beach because GPS have been placed in the marked units and each car has a zone.”

In a Jan. 11 call – three days before the second run – Bryant announced a slight deviation from the plan. This is from page 13:

“Bryant said he can only have one of his guys there, the main one. Bryant explained that the other person will be on duty. Bryant told UC1 that the problem is ‘nobody wants to meet nobody so that everybody has the possibility of denial.’”

On Jan. 14, the morning of the second run, Bryant and Mclendon met up with two undercovers at Club Dolce.

Where’s your other associate?, asked UC1. He’s outside, replied Bryant, whereupon –

“Bryant stepped outside and returned accompanied by an Identified Police Officer (IPO). Bryant and AP discussed the route they intended to take to complete the drug drop-off run. UC1 asked the IPO whether he intended to drive a marked unit, to which the IPO responded ‘unmarked,’ but confirmed that the unmarked car had (police) lights. Bryant added that the IPO would only take him across the bridge and the marked unit would pick him up at the other side of the bridge. UC2 told the IPO, ‘If you ain’t down, just walk away and…none of this happened.’ The IPO said he was good.”

The run commenced. The convoy left Dolce and headed to the pre-arranged drop-off vehicle in the parking lot of an Aventura Publix.

Continuing on page 16 comes this statement of what FBI agents saw along the way:

“Law enforcement observed a black Chevy Impala (VEH4), registered to and driven by the IPO, follow Bryant and AP from the nightclub, in Miami Beach to approximately NE 62nd Street on I-95 northbound.”

Mack’s cruiser joined the convoy thereafter.

In a Jan. 23 followup call to plot out their next run –

“Bryant added that he ‘had four and four; four in, four out’ (meaning four police escorts on the Beach and four Miami-Dade Police to conduct the drug protection run). UC1 asked if they were all Dade (Miami-Dade Police). Bryant stated that ‘they were all mixed.’”

In another conversation two days later in which Bryant worried about maintaining his associates’ anonymities with one another and among the other players in the conspiracy. On page 18, he explains his modus operandi (brackets below are the affidavit’s own):

“Bryant stated, ‘I keep everybody separated for a reason. Because I don’t want anyone to know me or what I’m doing.’ Further, Bryant explained that the ‘first two’ (participating police) used ‘were very uncomfortable with it even though they agree because of who I am…and I know the next four [would be]…more skittish.’”

The case against Bryant and Mack may be over and the guilty may have been packed off to prison. But many questions remain unanswered, notably –

Who was the gold sedan’s driver? Is he or she associated with a law enforcement agency? If so, what agency?

Who was the unidentified cop driving the Impala? With what police department is he an officer?

And so I set about trying to pry the answers from those who waged this case – the ones who most surely would know those answers – the feds themselves.

“This information is not part of the public record,” a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Miami told me.

That reply was disappointingly unforthcoming. When further pressed for elaboration, she sent back an equally sphinx-like reply:

“The information you seek is not in the court record – that means that it is not public (no pleadings or statements were made in court that contain this information). Sorry we cannot help.”

Michael Leverock, special agent with the Miami FBI, was even more terse, telling me, “Sorry, there is no further information regarding your request.”

But just because answers to these questions may never have come out in court or been entered into any public record doesn’t mean that people in the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI don’t know what those answers are.

It could be they know more, even perhaps all there is to know about this, but don’t want to reveal exactly what they know. Why?

Could the alleged involvement of one or more MBPD officers in the Bryant conspiracy be the subject of an ongoing investigation?

Or, more troubling, is there no investigation at all? One neither being conducted nor planned, either now or in the future? Do the feds now regard the entire matter closed with Bryant’s and Mack’s convictions?

The Miami attorney who defended Bryant at trial, Anthony Stonick, has so far not responded to inquiries. I have an open invitation out to his client, should he desire to talk. With his datebook booked solid for the next two decades and nowhere else to go, what else has Bryant to do with his time?

The feds are playing coy, not telling us all they know about the MBPD’s ties to this case. As long as that remains so, suspicions will linger about how Miami Beach’s finest figure into this.

We need to know if there remain bad apples in the MBPD. Ones who have yet to be charged and punished for their possible culpability in this crime. Ones who would soil and stain their reputations and that of their department with dishonor and deceit by having provided safe escort to a coke-carrying convoy through the streets of the city.

We need to know if there are Beach cops who, by having participated in this crime, deserve to join Bryant and Mack at Club Fed.

We need to know if the feds are protecting the Miami Beach Police Department from the resulting volcano of public furor that would undoubtedly erupt were any number of its cops to be marched in handcuffs to FBI headquarters and smacked with indictments charging them with having feloniously looked the other way while an illegal drug transport was being conducted through city streets, right under their noses and under their protection.

What do the top brass of the MBPD – Martinez, Overton, and others – know about the identity of the drivers of the gold sedan and Impala? What do those in the city manager’s office – past and present – and those on the Commission know about their identities? We know the FBI consulted with city and police leaders alike in the aftermath of last year’s arrests. How much do city leaders know about this case which they have yet to share with the public?

Forget about bad Beach cops who in recent months were disciplined for drunkenly running over tourists on the beach with their ATVs, or for recklessly speeding their cruisers down sandy stretches of Lummus Park past beachgoers. If there’s truth in the allegations contained within the Bryant-Mack criminal affidavit, we have something worse with which to contend: Beach cops so corrupt, so bad they helped in the trafficking of coke.

To the citizens of Miami Beach who give a damn about whether their police department is a crooked one – and, too, whether the MBPD’s civilian overseers at City Hall are keeping their eyeballs on this one – I say don’t bury those pitchforks too deeply within your closets just yet.

 WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

And what of the Miami Beach Seven – and lone Miami-Dade cop – who were snared by the FBI on April 11, 2012?

– A year ago, Jose Alberto was the $117,000-a-year lead administrator in the code compliance division, the Number 2 official in a nearly 40-some-employee city agency, subordinate only to director Robert Santos-Alborná.

Today, Alberto, 42, is federal inmate 99568-004. He earned his Club Fed vacation by extorting a total, over time, of more than $25,000 from a SoBe club owner. Nowadays, he takes orders from prison officials rather than issuing them to code subordinates. Instead of writing up business owners over violations, he has to withstand prison officials writing him up for violations. He won’t walk out of the federal detention center in downtown Miami until August 2016.

SENTENCE: 4 years, 3 months; $16,600 restitution.

– A year ago, Willie Grant and Ramon Vasallo were code officers for the South Beach sector. Today, Grant, 57, is locked up in downtown Miami until February 2014. Vasallo, 32, is not yet in federal custody.

 – Orlando Gonzalez, 33, was a temporary code officer on the afternoon shift. Today, he spends his afternoons – and every other minute of his days – in a cell at the Miami detention center. He’s slated to be released next New Year’s Eve.

Vicente Santiesteban, 30, was another code officer on the afternoon shift. He has served his brief term and was released from detention Jan. 28.

Chai Footman, 37, was a $119,000-a-year fire inspector with Miami Beach Fire Rescue. These days, the only inspections Inmate No. 99566-004 gets to conduct are those of his sandwiches to make sure that the prison cafeteria cooks haven’t shortchanged him on baloney slices. It’s a far cry from the storied party life he enjoyed when on one occasion he was comped $3,600 for food and drinks for himself and three lady friends at Club Dolce in exchange for looking the other way on code violations at the nightspot. He’ll be let out of Miami Federal Nov. 1.

– Footman’s colleague, Henry Bryant, 46, another fire inspector, burned himself twice: he was at the heart of both the nightclub extortion case and the drug trafficking conspiracy. For his crimes, he traded in his annual $125,000 salary for the paltry 23 cents to $1.15 an hour he’ll earn working in a prison industry for his next two decades. Inmate No. 99570-004 is incarcerated at a Club Fed outside of Orlando and won’t be sprung until 2031.

SENTENCE: 22 years.

Bryant’s friend, Octavius Mclendon, was sentenced to 20 years, 8 months.

– Ex-cop Daniel Mack, 48, who was at the wheel of his county cruiser, tailing Bryant’s vehicle as a protective escort to Bryant during their drug runs, flushed his law enforcement career down the toilet, trading in his police uniform for inmate garb, which he’ll be sporting for the next dozen years, until he’s let out of a Yazoo City, Mississippi, federal pen in 2025.

SENTENCE: 15 years.

AND WHAT OF CODE COMPLIANCE?

 Then-Manager Jorge Gonzalez ordered a top-down review of the scandal-wracked division, its policies and procedures, and its cases, current and past. He installed Hernan Cardeno as its commander, superseding Santos-Alborná, who remains its director.

Cardeno was brought over from the MBPD, where he is its technical services division commander overseeing, among other matters, the police department’s professional standards.

George Castell, the South Beach sector’s administrator, was installed in the main office as an “interim at large” administrator, filling Alberto’s void.

NUGGETS

“ROAD WORK FATIGUE” is the term I’ll deploy to best sum up what we South Floridians are chronically saddled with, particularly Miami Beach residents in recent years, given our region’s seemingly-ceaseless spate of construction projects. This week it’s this street. Next week, it’s that one. Next month, next year, and the year after that, it’s another bunch altogether. “Carmageddon” is what miamipopmedia.com’s Jacquelynn Powers called the dreaded impact that this week’s massive, two-year-long Alton Road dig may have on Beach motorists. Yes, we know, all this work is necessary, but it sure would be idyllic if we could enjoy a spell when all our roads were fine, detours were non-existent, and traffic flow was not stymied by yet another road fix. Will we ever know a day, a week, or a year when our streets aren’t being torn up and our day-to-day lives diverted? When everything is – at least for a while anyway – done?

CONGRATULATIONS to the Actors’ Playhouse on their 25th anniversary as a Miracle Mile mainstay. They celebrate the milestone with a Sunday night gala at the Intercontinental Miami.

LAST DECEMBER, I opined that Tri-Rail’s weekend service was inconvenient to passengers, given that the trains ran only once every two hours in either direction. What a pleasure it was to discover, on my excursion to West Palm Beach last weekend, that the folks at the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority wisened up and revised weekend runs to occur every hour. Thank you, Tri-Rail.

IF IT COMES TO A MILITARY RESPONSE, then the North Korean regime must be decimated, once and for all. The belligerence shown by the Hermit Kingdom’s crackpot autocratic leaders – first, by the grandfather, then by the father, and now by the son, Kim Jong Un; three generations of crackpottery stretching eight decades – needs to be smacked down for good, for the sake of not only regional security but global as well. If these truculent troglodytes persist in their escalation of tensions on the Korean peninsula to the point of an antagonistic military act, then our and the South Korean retaliation should be swift, resolute, and decisive. No more of these occasional saber rattlings, missile test launchings, and nuclear test detonations with which they taunt the rest of the world. Enough is enough. If they’re stupid enough to provoke us and our allies, then face the consequences they must. And those consequences must include the absolute destruction of their lunatic regime. It must not be permitted to live to see another day – or to provoke yet another escalation in tensions.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR

The South of Fifth Neighborhood Association (SOFNA) meets tonight (April 4) at 6:30 p.m. at the Murano at Portofino (1000 South Pointe Dr.). Agenda topics will include South Pointe Park, streetscape and neighborhood construction, pedestrian safety, alcohol consumption on the beach, and noise issues.

City Manager Jimmy Morales joins Mayor Bower and commissioners for a “Mayor and Commission on the Move” meet-and-greet with the public tomorrow morning (Fri., April 5, 9 a.m.) at Smith and Wollensky (1 Washington Ave.).

The fourth – and latest – Beach mayoral candidate to toss his hat in the ring, Royal Media Partners CEO and Sunset Harbour co-developer Philip Levine, will address the Miami Beach Tuesday Morning Breakfast Club at 8:30 a.m., Tues., April 9, at David’s Cafe (1058 Collins Ave.).

 The Sunny Isles Beach City Commission holds a special meeting regarding Gateway Park on Tues., April 9, at 6:30 p.m. (Government Center, 18070 Collins Ave.).

Surfside’s Town Commission meets Tues., April 9, at 7 p.m. (9293 Harding Ave.).

The North Bay Village Commission’s regular meeting convenes Tues., April 9, at 7:30 p.m., at Treasure Island Elementary, 7540 East Treasure Dr.

COCA-COLA CLAUSE REQUIRES CITY SURRENDER NAMING RIGHTS

Newly-installed City Manager Jimmy Morales this week found a potentially nasty ticking time bomb awaiting him in his in-box, one with which other city leaders are already familiar.

And the public, they privately dread, will not like it either once it gets wind of the incendiary booby trap.

Well, I got wind of it and now I share what I discovered with you.

I have learned that a “white paper” has been circulating among city commissioners and the city attorney’s office since the year’s start, one concerning the clause in the city’s 2012 sponsorship agreement with Coca-Cola requiring the city fork over naming rights to any future buildings and developments, as well as some existing ones, to the soft drink behemoth.

Tucked into Miami Beach’s ten-year contract with the beverage maker is a little-known codicil stipulating that beginning in 2014, Coca-Cola will have “complete and unchallenged” prerogative to attach its name to various new and existing city “structures, facilities, and public places” – which I translate to include parks and parking garages, among others.

All of which means that buildings – from City Hall to the eventual newly-redone city convention center – will likely be outfitted with the Coke brand, whether you like it or not.

The white paper reveals that Coca-Cola has designs on rebranding the following –

– the Miami Beach Convention Center will become “Miami Beach-Coca Cola Convention Center” and informally be known by its shortened version, “The Coke Center.”

– South Pointe Park will become “Powerade Park at South Pointe.”

– North Shore Park will become “Nestea Park at North Shore.”

– the North Shore Park Band Shell will become “Fresca Band Shell.”

– Flamingo Park will become “Minute Maid Park.”

– Flamingo Tennis Center will become “Evian Tennis Center.”

– Normandy Shores Golf Club will become “Dasani Golf Club.”

– Miami Beach Golf Club will become “The Miami Beach-Sprite Golf Club.”

– Lummus Park will become “Barq’s Park.”

– the Scott Rakow Youth Center will become “The Scott Rakow-Mello Yello Youth Center.”

City leaders’ dilemma: how to make palatable and acceptable to the public a volatile contractual commitment that none of them can legally do anything about.

A group of city residents that also became aware of the fine print in the contract has hastily united to protest the clause and head off any move by City Hall to follow through on the naming rights surrender. They are calling their group the April First Movement, for, as one of them told me the other day, “if any of your readers takes this story seriously, they’ve been truly April Fooled.”

About Charles Branham-Bailey

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