Former Miami Police Lieutenant Ralph Mata's involvement in drug and arms trafficking, as well as money laundering, shows just how important a high-ranking policeman can be to a drug trafficking organization.
Mata -- who once referred to himself in a text message to his criminal bosses as the "The Milk Man" -- pleaded guilty to three federal charges on March 31 in New Jersey, according to the Miami Herald, including money laundering and narcotics conspiracy, and faces between 10 years and life prison. (See indictment in pdf)
Mata led a startling double life. With the police he held numerous important, sensitive posts, including in the internal affairs division. But he was also part of an international drug trafficking organization (DTO), according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) formal complaint (pdf), which moved cocaine from Ecuador and the Dominican Republic to the US in shipping containers carrying items like bananas.
Mata appeared to be intimately involved in the DTO's operations. The FBI's formal complaint states that he assisted in the planning and partial payment for the assassination of rivals from another criminal organization. The plot involved dressing as police to conduct the hit, but the leaders decided not to go forward, the complaint said.
Mata also used his police connections and credentials to traffic weapons, the complaint stated. In 2012, he used his badge to purchase a Sig Sauer rifle and a Sig Sauer pistol. Both were later found in the Dominican Republic during arrests of DTO members.
He later used his access to investigate the seizure of $419,000 in cash in narcotics proceeds in Bergen County, New Jersey, at a DTO safe house. At least part of the cash, he found out using his sources, had been stolen by a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent, the complaint said. The complaint did not say if the DEA agent was investigated.
The complaint also detailed how Mata could use information obtained via his job to determine the best times to move drugs into Miami's port (while the Coast Guard trained) and offered to move drugs from Florida to New Jersey with a police K-9 because, as he told the DTO leaders, should he be stopped, he could explain that he was going to a K-9 training.
In addition, Mata traveled alone or with other members of the organization to pick up and move drug proceeds, including traveling to the Dominican Republic from New York City on at least one occasion, the complaint said.
And when the police seized 160 kilograms of cocaine and arrested several members of the group, Mata used his police contacts to find out the state and seriousness of the case.
InSight Crime Analysis
The case, while seemingly small in terms of money and cocaine, illustrates just how many ways a criminal group can use a high-level police contact.
In the complaint alone, there were six different jobs Mata did for the group, which included everything from custodial services to muscle jobs, intelligence gathering to internal investigations.
The wide range of chores Mata performed is not uncommon and show why, when DTOs set up shop from Buenos Aires to New Jersey, the first job they have is to co-opt the police.