Two Hialeah police motorcycle officers surrendered on Wednesday to face allegations they issued dozens of bogus traffic tickets to motorists.
Prosecutors charged Ernesto Arias-Martinez, 23, and Armando Perez, 40, with multiple felony counts of official misconduct and falsifying public records. They were being jailed early Wednesday and are expected to post bond later in the day.
Perez had been with Hialeah for five years; Arias-Martinez, for less than four.
The scheme began to unravel thanks in part to a defense law firm chasing business.
It’s not unusual for South Florida ticket lawyers to send mailers and advertise to people who have been issued traffic tickets. In March 2020, a motorist got a call from the office of Alex Hanna, a prominent traffic-ticket attorney whose catchphrase “¡No pagues ese ticket!” or “Don’t Pay that Ticket!” has been seen on Spanish-language TV and billboards in Miami for years.
The office asked the motorist, Reicel Sosa Polo, if he needed legal help with the 10 traffic tickets that could wreck his driving record. Sosa was stunned because he’d never gotten pulled over, although he recalled driving past two Hialeah police motormen earlier that month, according to court records.
Sosa called Hialeah and spoke to Perez, who said he didn’t recall the citations but that if he went to court, they would be dismissed, according to an arrest warrant. Sosa eventually filed a complaint to Hialeah Police’s internal affairs bureau.
Another woman complained that she’d received a letter in the mail from the state of Florida telling her that her license was about to be suspended over six unpaid traffic tickets issued on the same date in January 2020, and she’d never been pulled over, records show.
The two complaints led to a broader audit of the two motorcycle cops, according to an arrest warrant by Hialeah Police Detective Paulina Whitney, of the internal affairs bureau.
That led to a slew of victims who had no idea they’d been issued multiple traffic tickets. In all, investigators found that Arias-Martinez and Perez issued dozens of bogus tickets to at least nine victims in early 2020.
One man, the owner of a 2000 Toyota truck, said neither he nor anyone who drove the car had been pulled over. Another victim, who’d never been pulled over, got several tickets attributed to his truck, but in a made-up name: “Martcello Strovanov.”
The Hialeah Fraternal Order of Police, in a statement on Wednesday, distanced itself from the officers.
“As law enforcement officers, we are entrusted in protecting and serving our residents, and these alleged actions have violated the trust of the people and rightfully so,” FOP President Marlon Espinoza said in a statement. “We ask that our community not judge all our dedicated officers by the alleged actions of two. The Hialeah Police Department is comprised of brave men and women, who day in and day out, abide by their oath to protect and serve our residents and the great City of Hialeah.”
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said the tickets were “not errors or mistakes, but crimes.”
“When police officers create false traffic tickets, as we are alleging happened here, they damage the reputation of their own department and the reputations of every police officer working to serve our Miami-Dade community,” Fernandez Rundle said in a statement.
“I look forward to seeing what evidence the State Attorney has,” Grieco said of Perez.
Philip Reizenstein and Mark Lefcourt, who represent Arias-Martinez, declined to comment Tuesday.