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The Miami River Cops Case

The most corrupt case in the history of the Miami Police Department.
May 20, 2009 By Carlos Miller in Miami: Local News  | 17 Comments

Above: The trailer for “Dirty Water” a film based on the true story of the Miami River Cops.

On a balmy summer night in July 1985, during the height of the Miami Vice popularity, eight men dressed in police uniforms stormed a boat on the Miami River, surprising six men who were unloading several millions dollars worth of cocaine.

At first, it appeared to be a police raid, but when one of the officers shouted, “kill ‘em”, the cocaine traffickers on the boat knew it was something more sinister and began jumping overboard.

The men raiding the boat did not go after the men jumping overboard. They were not interested in making arrests. They were solely interested in the cocaine – 350 kilos in all – with a street value of $9 million.

The following morning, the bloated bodies of three men were found floating in the river behind Jones Boat Yard. The other three had managed to swim to shore.

When police fished the bodies out of the water, they discovered that each of the men had been carrying between $800 to $1,000 in large bills in their pockets. They were all dressed in designer jeans and wore jewelry. They each had guns tucked in their waistbands.

It was an obvious drug rip-off gone bad

At first, investigators believed police impersonators were to blame for the rip-off, which was not a rare occurrence at a time when drug rip-offs were taking place almost daily, and police uniforms and equipment could be purchased over the counter at a number of police stores throughout Miami.

But it wasn’t long before investigators determined that these were real cops who had committed the rip-off. Real cops who had committed the murders.

Real cops who would go down in history as the Miami River Cops – or as they liked to call themselves, “The Enterprise” – the most notorious gang of corrupt cops ever to don the badge in Miami.

Within a month after the bodies were found floating in the river, ten Miami police officers were being investigated. By the end of the year, five cops had been arrested.

By the time it was all over, more than 100 cops has been arrested, fired, suspended or reprimanded for corruption, coercion and cocaine rip-offs unveiled during the Miami River Cops investigation, including 20 who were convicted and sent to prison.

Today, the Miami River Cops have all been released from prison, including two that became fugitives in 1987 and were not apprehended until 1994.

At least one was sent back to prison after committing a string of armed robberies in 2003.

And another became a chef since his release although it is not clear where he is working now. And the others have maintained a low profile since their release.

“I have not heard from these guys in years,” said Alex Alvarez, a Miami attorney who was a narcotics detective for the Miami-Dade Police Department at the time (back when it was Metro-Dade) .

As part of the task force called Centac 26, Alvarez became the lead investigator in the Miami River Cop case. He spent so many hours in court testifying against the cops, that he ended up enrolling in law school and becoming an attorney.

“I was offended when I learned that they were real cops,” he said. “It was a terrible time to be a cop. They made us all look bad.”

The Miami River Cops case marked the end of the most violent and vicious era in the history of Miami

It was an era that began with Colombian cocaine cowboys shooting it out on the streets of Miami in 1979. And then intensified the following year with an inner-city riot and the Mariel boatlift. And saw its peak in 1982 when Miami became the Murder Capital of the World for the second year in a row.

This was the era of Scarface. Miami Vice. An era when everybody was making money off the cocaine trade, whether you were directly involved or not.

“Even the people at the bottom rung of the business were making about $120,000 a year,” said Alfred Spellman, who along with Billy Corben, produced the documentary Cocaine Cowboys. “These were the people who would get paid $10,000 to unload a boat filled with cocaine. They would then spend that money in restaurants and on clothes and on cars. Everybody was making money off cocaine at the time.”

Because of this dramatic rise in crime and violence, the Miami Police Department went on a hiring spree, almost doubling the number of officers to meet the increasing demands of the city.

And in the process, they lowered their standards.

As a result, many of the new officers turned out to be criminals, including several who were convicted of ordering execution style murders.

And they became rich beyond their dreams, splurging for houses, sports cars, exotic vacations and mistresses.

But after an initial mistrial, many ended up so broke, they were forced to seek out court-appointed lawyers.

Rodolfo “Rudy” Arias – who was honored for “Officer of the Month” a month prior to the Miami River incident went into the witness protection plan after testifying against fellow cops, but then got bored after living in Louisiana.

He ended up serving three-and-a-half years, becoming a chef upon his release.

Armando “Scarface” Garcia, who ended up on the FBI’s Most Wanted List, was apprehended in Cali, Colombia in 1994 after seven years on the run. He was released in 2006, according to federal prison records.

Victor Zapata, who also became a fugitive, was nabbed in Puerto Rico a month after Garcia’s capture. He was also released from prison in 2006.

And Ricardo Aleman, who had been released from prison in 1992, was sent back to prison after robbing four banks in 2003.

The rest of the officers were released during the 1990s, most of them serving only a portion of the sentences that were handed to them.

A basic search through the Miami-Dade court system shows that none have had any run-ins with the law down here since their release, with the exception of Aleman.

Meanwhile, Alvarez, the man who spearheaded the investigation, has put the case long behind him.

“Miami has changed so much since then,” he said. “The drugs are still here but it’s not so obvious as it was back then.”

But now a film company from California called Walker Fitzgibbon will be releasing a documentary film on the cops titled The Miami River Cops: Dirty Water, which is expected to be released this year. See the trailer above.

Related Categories: True Crime Miami: Local News,

Carlos Miller is a featured writer at Miami Beach 411. He also operates Photography is Not a Crime, a blog about photographer rights, New Media and First Amendment issues.

See more articles by Carlos Miller.

See more articles by Carlos Miller

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17 Comments on

"The Miami River Cops Case"

bob says:

wow I remember this as the bad cops raided a boat that was a FBI sting…

Posted on 12/23/2010 at 3:26 AM

mo@walkerfitzgibbon.com says:

Carlos,

Thank you for writing a good piece on the Miami River cops and featuring the trailer for the documentary and the movie we produced at Walker Fitzgibbon TV Film.  To date we have begun writing the screenplay, attaching actors and raising funds for further development to make the movie. Its been a long journey…but we are getting very close…so thank you for your support. Currently we are also writing the documentary on the The Miami River Cops and hope to begin production in mid May back in Miami with interviews of the cops. We are getting in touch with everyone involved on the case…maybe you can assist me somehow. Since you wrote the article have you been in contact with any of the River Cops? Lets connect.

Mo Fitzgibbon

Posted on 04/19/2011 at 4:19 PM

EB says:

There are a few holes in this story but very well written.
There is some info missing, my uncle was there.

Posted on 06/25/2011 at 12:47 AM

Gus says:

Hi, EB. Holes about what? If Carlos is missing something, please fill us in.

I’ve always been under the impression, the officers involved in this case were bad cops.

Posted on 06/27/2011 at 3:52 AM

mo fitzgibbon says:

Good and bad…all is fare in love and war and surviving Miami when it was pure mayhem was a daily occurrence. Originally the River Cops intentions were honorable and good. But once the drug traffickers and Cuba’s convicted felons starting ruling Miami…the cops took matters in their own hands…and it went too far. We are working on the doc and just interviewed the three detectives and we certainly know the truth…but there are still mysteries in the case that are not fully answered.

Posted on 06/27/2011 at 10:44 AM

solamar says:

My brother back then was a Miami Blue. I can’t say too much because of what happened to him. But he disappeared. To this day we don’t know what happened. I’ve never seen this sight.
But it brings back memories of the corruption. Come to know my brother was a good cop. I know he was going to turn somebody in but never got the chance. The day before he left us. He told my mom that he hated the force. The Police Department was so corrupted and he hated everything about it. That he was going to leave but before he left he needed to do something. And that he was going to be famous. Many times on his midnight shift he encountered drug dealers and they tried to buy him, Many times. How he hated the Police force. And still we go to the Police Memorials and I look in their faces and I know they still are hiding something about him. To me somebody got rid of him before he turned some Blue in.

Posted on 08/13/2011 at 12:18 AM

mo fitzgibbon says:

I’m sorry for your loss…so many good men and women got caught in the middle of the wild wild west aka Miami in the 80’s.!  if you like we can talk. Contact me through my website.

Posted on 08/14/2011 at 4:54 PM

native floridian turned californian says:

GREAT TIMES!  one of them pulled me over when i was at UM.  i was in bumper to bumper traffic in coconut grove on a weekend.  he asked me to turn down my music and gave me SIX tickets in one night.  one for speeding!  surprise surprise he did not show up for court!!  If not for all of that, I would have never left….  What a horrible place it became in that time frame…

Posted on 09/22/2011 at 1:09 AM

George lopez says:

There were lots of good cops during the River Cops era. I was one of them. Like to contact you personally.

Posted on 04/20/2012 at 8:58 AM

JB Martinez says:

George, you are absolutely right, in fact back then the percentage of bad cops was 1% or even less, this was mainly a hand full of individuals in the grave yard shift. Anyone who claims otherwise is full of crap. My hat is off for those of us that worked there during such difficult days and yet managed to do the job, and had the luck of going home safe every day.

Posted on 08/21/2012 at 10:41 PM

mo Fitzgibbon says:

George contact me anytime at Walker Fitzgibbon TV Film Los Angeles - http://walkerfitzgibbon.com/contact.html

Posted on 08/22/2012 at 9:07 AM

TC says:

Armando Garcia, Coello and the others worked in Coconut Grove on the weekends. One night about midnight they and 3 others, all wearing dark sunglasses were walking musclebound, shoulder to shoulder, literally bumping people out of their way all the while chanting “Enterprise! Enterprise!”. It was bizarre!

I later learned that they called themselves Enterprise as they’d steal and resell the cocaine.

I pulled a rickshaw in the Grove. About 3 weeks before they were busted an escaped felon was running from 2 detectives starting in front of the Coconut Grove Playhouse. I knew where they’d have to end up and I took the route that would get me there with my rickshaw and passengers in the back.

Next to 7-11 was a cleaners and I ran to the parking lot behind the cleaners and there was the felon, in the dark, under a tree. He was unconscious and a man was jumping up and down on his back. I saw the silhouette and a flash from the shirt pocket of the badge. I am amazed to this day that I yelled “that’s police brutality”. Insane of me. I heard yelled back “you’re dead”.

Then I recognized the silhouette which looked like the Hulk, short and muscle bound, I said “Garcia! You’re killing him!”. Garcia yelled back “you’re dead. We’re going to get you”. Then he got off the man.

I didn’t know who “we” were at the time. I watched as they threw the unconscious man into the police car. He was supposed to be taken to the hospital per procedure for an unconscious arrestee but that never happened.

I walked back to the Coconut Grove Playhouse. The road was still closed with multiple police cars and their lights still on. Garcia was in the middle of the road and I approached him. I said “listen, I don’t want to interfere with cops and robbers but I couldn’t let you kill that man”. He said “I told you, you are dead!”. Another cop grabbed me from behind by pulling my elbows behind me and together.

I would never resist a police officer. This situation was different, Garcia and I were not done and as I trained kung fu 10 hours a day for those five years there I was in beyond amazing shape. Without thought I stomped my foot and sent a spiral wave through my body. With very little movement, just a whipping spiral, the shock wave sent the officer flying and he fell after hitting a police car.

He was very angry and came back to get me again. Garcia said “no, he’s mine and he’s dead”. I said again, “Garcia I don’t want a fight” but he was livid.

Three weeks later the Miami River Cops became known after the murder of the 3 watchmen on the boat drowned in the Miami River.

Coello had been captured after a shootout in the Bahamas. Garcia was not known to be in Columbia. I knew most of the cops from seeing them all the time in the Grove at night. Garcias ex-partner was in Internal Affairs. He told me he was frightened of Garcia when they were partners, that he had seen him break a mans arm because he didn’t like his attitude but he was afraid to say anything.

A week before my incident with Garcia I talked with him in Coral Gables and he told me that he was transferring to Liberty City because he said “they don’t complain as much”. Liberty City is very poor area of Miami.

I was not happy to learn of the Miami River Cops however when I heard what happened I knew Garcia had bigger fish to fry than being pissed at me.

I never watched Americas Most Wanted and then in the 90’s I saw it once. It said Garcia had been apprehended with his father in Columbia.

Posted on 12/16/2012 at 1:27 PM

mo fitzgibbon says:

Great story on Garcia..these guys were caught up…drugs, money and of course cocaine, like so many others that I know.

Posted on 12/16/2012 at 4:47 PM

johnnyrocco says:

I came on the MPD just as all this was hitting and like so many others on the force we were like WoW.  Even today MPD has problems look at the North End.  One of the main problems I ( just me ) think in MPD is you have a lot of officers think there worth as a police office is the amount of arrest they make each month or tickets they write. There are many good officers on MPD but when the promote always from within, always shit happens. Miami needs to look outside there own department to make a chief the one before this one we got now wasn’t really well liked BUT he did a good jobs for Miami and the dept. Miami MUST stop giving people command based on there race or friendship one has with another and start placing the best person in those commands.

Once something happens as it always does here, they throw a bone out to the people and think, ok we addressed the problem be happy. I know this is really not what this story is about but sad to say Metro ( not saying there better ) should that over the Dept.

Posted on 05/03/2013 at 1:49 PM

Si Eddy says:

This story, along with much of the Miami drugs trade of the 1980’s was well documented in the book ‘The Cocaine Wars’ by Paul Eddy.

Much of what happened around this time surrounding the drugs trade and those connected to it in the Magic City was shocking, jaw-dropping and incredibly brutal, which shocked the hell out of many sent to combat it.

Somewhere there is a manuscript around the life of Rudy Arias which was rejected due to its sensitivity of the Miami PD having had to very publicly purge itself of corrupt cops.

A good read, thank you

Posted on 06/03/2013 at 7:17 AM

Paul Hernandez says:

I was a metro dade police officer during this time and I knew Coello and Garcia from their Gym at 42 st sw 69 ave where they would make deals from

Posted on 06/16/2013 at 8:08 PM

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