- Associated Press - Saturday, April 9, 2016

MIAMI (AP) - In what seemed a routine and unremarkable case, a squad of Miami-Dade narcotics detectives busted a drug dealer holed up in a shabby Homestead motel, seizing more than $16,000 in cash and two pounds of marijuana stuffed in a red gym bag.

What the squad didn’t know: that dealer was no criminal.

He was actually an undercover officer posing as a doper in an elaborate sting designed to catch a suspected rogue narcotics detective named Edwin Diaz. But the carefully crafted operation last month took a surprise turn for investigators when $1,300 of the cash was taken - by a different officer.

Instead of Diaz, authorities say, a fellow Miami-Dade narcotics detective, 30-year-old Armando Socarras, pocketed the cash. Socarras is now charged with grand theft while both he and Diaz have been relieved of duty as Miami-Dade’s internal-affairs investigators keep digging into the activities of Narcotics Squad C.

Newly released evidence in the case paints a broader picture of an investigation little noticed by the public but causing significant ripples in Miami-Dade’s criminal justice community. Prosecutors are now examining dozens of arrests made by Diaz and Socarras, some of which could end up dropped in court because the police witnesses now have damaged credibility.

“Just the sheer gall and arrogance with which he was doing this - and the lying. It’s disheartening,” Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said of Socarras.

Socarras’ defense lawyer, Julia Kefalinos, wouldn’t talk about the case.

Diaz’s attorney, David Donet, said: “He’s a decorated officer and he hasn’t been in any trouble. These guys were gunning for Ed and he didn’t do anything wrong. Socarras is the dirty officer here, not him.”

In the Diaz probe, Miami-Dade’s internal-affairs bureau led the investigation, along with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the State Attorney’s public-corruption task force.

The original target, 44-year-old Diaz, has been with the department since 1998, with his career far from unblemished.

In 2003, Miami-Dade police arrested him for tampering with evidence, a felony, after he removed handgun casings from his home when officers arrived to investigate a 911 disturbance call there.

The case against Diaz fell apart, and the arrest was sealed and expunged from the court record.

In 2007, he joined the narcotics unit and by October 2008, he was back in the headlines again, this time when he was wounded in a shotgun blast after he and two other detectives approached a marijuana grow-house in Naranja.

Details of the latest probe into Diaz emerged in sworn statements and police reports released to the Miami Herald under a public-records request in Socarras’ criminal case. Misgivings about Diaz had been swirling for years, including at least six complaints of theft from suspects since April 2007, according to court records.

In one case, Diaz arrested a man named Nelson Castineira for marijuana possession in June 2009. Castineira later complained that three watches valued at $3,800 were missing. Records showed that the narcotics detectives had not impounded the watches.

With the mounting complaints, police and prosecutors secured authorization from a Miami-Dade judge to secretly track the detective’s department-issued unmarked rental truck.

To implicate him, internal affairs detectives used a confidential informant with real-world ties to the drug world.

The informant tipped off Diaz that a known drug dealer would be holed up at the Inn of Homestead on Feb. 25, with cash and dope on him. But what Diaz and the narcotics detectives did not know was that the dealer had a fake name - he was actually an undercover state agent.

The stage was set.

That afternoon, the narcotics squad watched the hotel - but they did not know that they, too, were being watched, by internal-affairs detectives and FDLE agents.

The undercover agent walked out to his Jeep in the hotel’s parking lot. Socarras confronted him, immediately searched his pockets and removed the cash, handing it to Diaz, according to a search warrant.

Diaz and another detective, Darrian Washington, could be seen counting the cash inside Diaz’s truck. The fake drug dealer gave them consent to search the hotel room and his Jeep.

But the narcotics detectives went a step further, court records show. They summoned an on-call prosecutor and prepared a search warrant for the hotel room.

The warrant affidavit written by Diaz spun a scenario of purported “facts” that didn’t actually happen, according to prosecutors. Diaz’s affidavit reported that the dealer was seen through a window picking up the “felony amount” of marijuana in a clear package, something that never took place, according to a search warrant.

“The only thing I had in my hands at all times was my new phone . and an e-cigar,” the undercover agent posing as the dealer told investigators afterward.

The undercover detective sat handcuffed in the back of a patrol car for seven hours as the scene was processed by the narcotics detectives. Internal affairs followed Diaz back to Miami-Dade police headquarters, where he impounded only $16,127 - $1,300 less than what had been planted as part of the sting.

In a carefully timed operation, internal affairs investigators pulled over every member of the narcotics squad as they left the station, handcuffing each man and hauling him in for questioning.

Agents found the wad of missing money stuffed in the sunglasses holder of Socarras’ car.

In an interview with police, a flustered Socarras claimed the wad of money must have been left behind in a red gym bag and he picked it up. He admitted that he did not take the cash to the property room.

In an interview, Socarras acknowledged that he had kept the money on purpose, waxing on about his internal struggle. He also insisted the episode was isolated.

“Do you know anyone in the bureau, narcotics bureau that steals money or steals narcotics?” Fryer asked.

“No, at all,” Socarras replied.

Prosecutors formally filed the grand-theft charge against him last week. No trial date has been set.


Information from: The Miami Herald, https://www.herald.com

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