Former MDPD Police Officer, Former Public Service Aide, and Two Tow Truck Drivers Arrested in Illegal Bribery and Kickback Scheme
Four individuals arrested, including former Miami Dade Police Officer, for their participation in illegal bribery and kickback scheme.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI, Miami Field Office, and J.D. Patterson Jr., Director, Miami Dade Police Department (MDPD), made the announcement.
Former MDPD Police Officer Yuri Millan, 39, Oriel Ugardes, 42, and Jose Guim, 34, are charged by criminal complaint with conspiring and participating in a bribery and kickback scheme, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 371. Another alleged participant in the conspiracy, former MDPD Public Service Aide (PSA) Elina Rodriguez was charged by information on October 27, 2015. If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum statutory sentence of five years’ imprisonment, up to three years’ supervised release, and a maximum fine of $250,000.
According to the facts alleged in the complaint, Miami-Dade County has a rotational wrecker system, which is a process where certain tow truck companies enter into a contract with the county in return for being placed on a rotational wrecker list. When there is an accident within MDPD jurisdiction, if the driver of the disabled vehicle is not able to secure their own tow truck, the responding MDPD employee is required to contact, via dispatch, the rotational tow truck company with responsibility for that geographical area. In return for that business, the rotational tow truck company pays Miami-Dade County a fee for each referred tow.
In 2013, the FBI Task Force became aware of allegations that Oriel Ugardes, the owner of O&U towing, was paying police department employees bribes in return for their assistance in enabling the defendant and his company trucks to circumvent the MDPD rotational wrecker system. During the resulting investigation, investigators documented that Ugardes and one of his drivers, Jose Guim, would pay bribes to MDPD Officer Yuri Millan and MDPD PSA Elina Rodriguez. In return for cash payments, rather than contact the rotational tow truck company, Millan and Rodriguez would permit O&U tow trucks to tow disabled vehicles directly from accident scenes. Millan and Rodriguez would also use their MDPD computers to access police databases and locate accidents that were “holding,” that is, which were not yet assigned a responding officer. Ugardes and Guim would then use this information to respond to the accident scenes before an officer or PSA arrived and solicit business directly from the stranded driver. Once business was obtained, the disabled vehicles would be towed to body shops which themselves participated in the scheme by paying cash kickbacks based upon the anticipated repair cost of the disabled vehicle.
In addition, by May 2014, the FBI had also become aware that Millan was renting his MDPD police encrypted radio to Ugardes and Guim in return for $300 a week. With that radio, Ugardes and Guim could intercept confidential police communications and identify accident locations. On May 14, 2014, investigators recovered Millan’s assigned MDPD radio from Ugardes’s possession after Ugardes was seen picking the radio up at Millan’s residence. Millan subsequently filed a false police report claiming that he had lost his encrypted radio at an unknown location.
On May 2, 2014, investigators interviewed Rodriguez and she allegedly admitted being paid bribes by Ugardes since 2009. Rodriguez admitted being paid between $100 to $300, per accident. Rodriguez has estimated that she personally received at least $35,000 during the course of the conspiracy.
On June 20, 2014, Millan was interviewed and provided a statement in which he allegedly admitted to taking bribes from Guim. Millan admitted that for the five month period preceding his interview, he accepted $500 to $600 and “borrowed” and additional $2,000 to $3,000 in cash from Jose Guim. Millan also admitted providing Guim and Ugardes his encrypted MDPD radio.
“All public officials, including police officials, cannot take money kickbacks in exchange for performing, or in this case for not performing, their official duties,” stated U.S. Attorney Ferrer. “This case, and our ongoing investigation, makes clear that corrupt activity that affects the people of this community will not be tolerated and will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
“Every day, thousands of dedicated, able and honorable law enforcement officers take to the streets to protect communities throughout South Florida,” said George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI Miami. “It is on behalf of these professionals that the FBI’s Miami Area Corruption Task Force seeks to root out wrongdoing to ensure that the high standards we expect of our police are met and maintained.”
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI Miami Area Corruption Task Force and the MDPD Internal Affairs Division. To date, the FBI investigation into alleged corruption in the towing industry has resulted in sixteen police department employees and tow truck operators being charged in federal court. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Lacosta.
A criminal complaint, information or indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.