Jim Schoettler, Times-Union staff writer December 30, 2000 Saturday, City Edition Copyright 2000 The Florida Times-Union The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL) December 30, 2000 Saturday, City Edition
(JACKSONVILLE, Fla. ) -- Aric Sinclair threatened to kill his Jacksonville police partner and federal drug agents, gave away an undercover officer's identity to drug dealers and made threats to shoot people who would testify against him before a federal grand jury, federal prosecutor Jim Klindt said yesterday.
Police grew so worried about Sinclair last year that in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement's Jacksonville office his picture and other identifying features were hung up with a warning to be on the lookout, Klindt said.
And all that's just for starters.
For nearly three hours yesterday, Klindt laid out chunks of the government's case against Sinclair to convince U.S. Magistrate Judge Timothy J. Corrigan that the former officer is dangerous and should be held without bond as he faces 16 counts of a 26-count indictment. The detention hearing will continue Wednesday.
'We believe the evidence will show this defendant used his position, authority and power as a police officer to recruit others to commit crimes . . . to rob and steal money from others, and drugs . . . and to influence a witness to keep the witness from cooperating with the government,' Klindt said.
'He was actively on the payroll of a drug organization which included some of Jacksonville's most notorious drug dealers. He even identified an officer who worked undercover to drug dealers. If he did these things as a police officer that's now facing what he's facing, there's no conditions or combination of conditions that will assure the safety of any other person or the community.'
No motive was given, but Klindt said Sinclair indicated he orchestrated one drug rip-off because he needed money. As Klindt listed the allegations, Sinclair, flanked by his attorneys, slumped in his chair and bowed with his face in his hands.
The indictment, unsealed two weeks ago after Sinclair's arrest, followed a grand jury investigation into allegations that police officers were involved in a murder, robberies and other crimes from 1996 to 1999. Another officer, Karl Waldon, and his brother-in-law, James Swift Jr., are also charged. They and Sinclair, 32, are accused in the robbery and slaying of convenience store owner Sami Safar.
Two other officers and a friend of Waldon's have also been charged in related crimes.
Yesterday's court session began with Corrigan accepting Sinclair's agreement that one of his attorneys, Mark Rosenblum, would not be in conflict if he remained on the case. The issue arose Thursday when Klindt pointed out that Rosenblum had done nothing wrong but could have become a defense witness since he was mentioned in a secret tape recording of Sinclair and in another matter.
After that, Sinclair, through Rosenblum, pleaded not guilty to all charges. Then, Klindt took center stage and carefully outlined a chronology of events that led to the grand jury investigation and subsequently crimes and other matters linked to Sinclair.
The information weighs heavily on testimony given to investigators by a former officer, Jason Pough, who is charged in the case; Daryl Crowden, a drug dealer recruited by Sinclair to participate in crimes; and secretly recorded tapes between Sinclair and Crowden that have yet to be played in court, Klindt said. Numerous drug dealers and confidential informants familiar with Sinclair are also cooperating.
Stephen Weinbaum, Sinclair's other attorney, said much of the information was new to him and he welcomed anything to help prepare the defense.
'There's a presumption of innocence that still applies,' Weinbaum said. 'We expect that the government is going to have to be put to the test to proving its case.'
Courtroom observer Bill Kent, a Jacksonville defense attorney, said Klindt's presentation may have been impressive but it doesn't guarantee a conviction and Kent wouldn't rule out bail being set.
'Obviously they have a mountain of evidence, but is it a mountain that will stand up?' Kent said. 'That they have a lot of witnesses is apparent, but most of the witnesses will come with a lot of baggage. I think police officers do carry a presumption of innocence when they're on trial. It seems to me what's really important are the tapes/wiretaps, where they can corroborate the allegations.'
The first big break in the case occurred after the arrests of three drug dealers -- Abdul Robinson, Derrick Smith and Dondreka Bates -- in August 1999 on charges of distributing cocaine. They had been under investigation for about five months, Klindt said.
Prior to their arrests, police had suspected through information obtained in wiretaps and other means that drug dealers were getting tipped off to investigations by at least one officer. Robinson, Smith and Bates began cooperating to get lighter sentences and said they were paying Sinclair $ 500 to $ 2,000 nearly every week for information that kept them one step ahead of drug raids.
Some of the money was paid using Crowden as a middle man, Klindt said. Crowden crossed paths with Sinclair in April 1997 when Sinclair arrested him on a drug warrant, found marijuana and cocaine on him and threw away the cocaine before he was taken into the police station, Klindt said.
Crowden said he thought Sinclair was testing him to see if he would rat him out, which he didn't. Klindt said Sinclair recruited Crowden for crimes and Crowden introduced the cop to Robinson.
Investigators developed plenty of other information after arresting the drug dealers, questioning Crowden and catching up with Pough, who began cooperating after being tied to numerous crimes involving Sinclair and others. Klindt gave these accounts of information against Sinclair not in the indictment:
-- Fred Wilson, a convicted drug dealer, said Sinclair stole $ 860 from him during a traffic stop in 1996.
-- Carl Kohn, a police officer convicted this year of selling cocaine from his police car, told investigators that Sinclair warned him in 1998 that 'he better watch out because some people in narcotics were looking at him,' Klindt said.
-- As part of his information-for-payoffs scheme, Sinclair provided a drug dealer with a description of Richard Garrett, a narcotics detective who made three undercover purchases of cocaine from Smith.
-- A confidential source overheard Sinclair on two occasions, including one two months ago, threaten to kill anyone assisting in the investigation. In one case, Klindt said, Sinclair referred to using a 'chopper' (identified by Klindt as a gun) because he had nothing to lose.
Klindt also said yesterday that while Sinclair was under suspicion in the narcotics division in the summer of 1999, he threatened to kill Dave Bisplinghoff -- then his former partner -- and federal agents.
'Some members of the task force took that as a joke, but others took it seriously,' Klindt said. That's when the FDLE posted a photo and description of Sinclair in its office, he said.
About the same time, Sinclair was sent by his superiors to the Sheriff's Office human resources office to determine if he needed a psychological exam. Industrial psychologist Richard Greenwood said he knew nothing about the threats and was only told Sinclair was acting anti-social. Greenwood did not order any further examination.
'Somewhere through the [Sheriff's Office] chain of command, someone forgot to tell the industrial psychologist that there had been threats,' Klindt said.
Sheriff Nat Glover said he was unaware of death threats made by Sinclair.
'I'm sure the U.S. attorney is referring to what came out in the grand jury investigation, which I am not aware of,' Glover said yesterday. 'It's my understanding that the utterance of Sinclair was not a clear cut threat toward officers at the time he was referred to human resources.'
Glover took Sinclair off the street in February. Sinclair resigned Dec. 18.