MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Six Miami Beach employees charged in a scheme to extort money from a Miami Beach club owner entered not guilty pleas Wednesday morning in Federal Court in Miami, and fled the courthouse ahead of advancing TV cameras declining an opportunity to explain their involvement.
Chief Code Compliance officer Jose Alberto and officers Willie E. Grant, Orlando E. Gonzalez, Ramon D. Vasallo, and Vicente L. Santiesteban, entered pleas Wednesday, along with Miami Beach firefighter, Chai D. Footman.
The men were charged in a complicated scheme in which a club owner was approached for money to look the other way and ignore serious violations at his club.
The club owner went to the FBI, which set up an investigation and sting operation where an undercover agent posed as the club owner. Prosecutors said he made a series of cash payments to Alberto and to 6 others to allow the club to remain open and to protect against any possible future violations.
The meetings were recorded, and the FBI said Miami Beach fire inspector Henry Bryant, one of the alleged co-conspirators, claimed he and Alberto had worked together “for about twelve years on every little gig that [they] had.”
On tape, Bryant bragged about accepting “four grand” from another business to overlook violations, keeping them open for 4 years.
In the course of the FBI sting, the men charged in the alleged conspiracy accepted bribes in excess of $25 thousand from the undercover agents in the form of cash payments.
None of the men wanted to speak Wednesday after their brief court appearance, but some of their lawyers did.
“My client entered a not guilty plea today and we intend to litigate,” said attorney Ana Davine.
Accused ringleader Alberto offered only a simple, “No Comment,” when asked about the charges against him.
Set to appear in court Thursday are Bryant and Miami-Dade police officer Daniel Mack, who are charged separately with involvement in a drug protection scheme.
The city of Miami Beach has suspended the men, and is exploring the possibility of firing them for their alleged involvement in the scheme.