Real cops nab alleged fake cops in Fla.
BY DAVID OVALLE
Others had more sinister motives, such as looting the homes and cars of real police officers, authorities say.
A seven-month probe into police impersonators and police car burglaries across Miami-Dade County has yielded more than 50 arrests and documented troubling crimes, police say.
''These crimes go to the fabric of policing,'' said Miami-Dade robbery Maj. Tyrone White. ``Not only are citizens in danger, but so are police officers,''
Since July 21, 2006, some 77 police cars along with officers' personal cars and their homes have been burglarized, said the members of the police task force dubbed Operation Blue Streak. Police from agencies across the county have been victimized.
Among the task force's findings:
• Bold ''wannabe cops'' last year looted police officers' homes and cars and even a Miami-Dade Special Response Team van in a police parking lot.
• Fake officers may have assumed the identities of real ones by using their department ID numbers, pulled over motorists and even dispatched fake orders to real officers to divert them from actual crime scenes.
• Twenty-five assault rifles and other guns, eight bulletproof vests, 16 police-programmed radios, badges, ID cards, police lights and other gear were seized. Police worry much more equipment has ended up in the hands of criminals.
Last week, the task force made its latest arrest: former law enforcement supply store owner Julio Garcia, 41.
Driving a police-style Ford Crown Victoria equipped with sirens, computers and radios, officers say, Garcia showed them a bogus badge from the small upstate department of Center Hill.
He was charged with impersonating a police officer.
The task force's findings are being revealed as police departments push legislators this session to toughen penalties for people convicted of impersonating police officers, burglarizing police cars and programming radios to transmit on police frequencies.
The task force comprises detectives and agents from Miami-Dade, Hialeah, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The cases are being prosecuted by Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Frank Ledee.
Blue Streak members say they will continue to track stolen police property.
''They're criminals, and on top of that, they're trying to pass themselves off as police officers,'' said Amos Rojas Jr., Miami's FDLE special agent in charge.
Those arrested so far belong to various loose-knit groups who operated independently. Some sold police gear to others who have yet to be linked to crimes.
Others arrested by the task force were isolated ''wannabes,'' police said.
The task force was launched when some ''nuisance'' communications began broadcasting on the Hialeah police's radio system. Detectives began investigating a dozen characters from the area.
''It almost became like a game to them,'' said Hialeah Deputy Chief Mark Overton. ``We basically uncovered the crew, and it just fell into place.''
At the same time, Miami-Dade police began noticing an uptick of break-ins involving police cars, and the task force was directed to look at the bigger problem.
HIGH SCHOOL FRIENDS
Initial targets were friends from Barbara Goleman Senior High School who yearned to be police officers and even posted photos of themselves in faux uniforms on Myspace.com, police said.
Said Miami-Dade Lt. Daniel Villanueva, who heads the task force: ``They were all wannabe cops who couldn't make it in the process.''
Police say Elvis Pino, 19, and friends were burglarizing police cars and a Miami-Dade Schools Police trailer.
Hialeah police say they also learned the men had robbed a Miami-Dade Special Response Team van and a truck parked at a station in Doral.
Stolen were strobe lights, chemical agent canisters and ''stop sticks,'' spikes used to pierce tires of fleeing cars. No guns were taken -- they were locked up inside the headquarters.
Pino and his friends also targeted cellphone stores and sold police gear to other criminals, police say. Some of them were arrested as part of Blue Streak.
Pino told police they would cruise around, often dispatching real officers to fake calls to divert them from robberies under way.
Some of the young men would also make their own traffic stops, respond to police scenes and 'clone on-duty officers' unit numbers.''
Pino also faces a charge of lewd and lascivious battery. Police say he posed as a Hialeah internal affairs detective -- complete with business cards -- to mislead the family of a 13-year-old girl with whom he is accused of having sex.
The investigation soon branched out into different areas, Villanueva said:
• Seven young men face various federal charges after trying to exchange guns -- including several stolen from police -- for drugs with undercover detectives.
''It was best to get these guns back into law enforcement hands,'' said ATF special agent Carlos Baixauli, a spokesman. ``These guns will never harm citizens.''
• Police also nabbed three men they allege were illegally programming radios to broadcast on police frequences.
Favio Noyo, 38, was charged with dealing in stolen property. The other two, Sergio Plasencia, 21, and Ernesto Garcia, 20, allegedly self-taught on the Internet, were charged with illegally transmitting on a police transmission.
They were caught, police say, after programming for undercover detectives.
• Undercover officers bought six military bulletproof vests bound for Germany that somehow ended up in the hands of criminals. That investigation is still unfolding, police say.
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