MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A Miami-Dade criminal court jury began hearing the fraud case Tuesday against suspended police sergeant Emil Van Lugo.
Lugo is accused of organized fraud for allegedly repeatedly stealing gasoline from a county owned pump and using it to gas up his wife’s BMW from January through March of last year.
Assistant State Attorney Trent Reichling told jurors that police received a tip in January, 2015, that the 16-year veteran was filling gas cans with fuel at a county station miles from his home and far from the Hammocks district station where he gassed up his patrol car during the week.
Assistant State Attorney Trent Reichling said detectives video taped the sergeant on five occasions, filling gas cans at the county station normally used to gas up waste management vehicles. They then watched him drive home, take the cans out of his car, place them in his garage and later emerge and fill up his wife’s BMW.
The state says records show Lugo got gas at the remote station on 50 consecutive weekends, while fueling up his cruiser during the week at the county location convenient to his home and work.
“This case comes down to common sense,” Reichling said. “What it shows is this defendant was definitely stealing fuel from Miami Dade County.”
The cop’s defense? He would never put lower quality, 87 octane county gasoline in his wife’s expensive BMW.
Defense attorney Erick Cruz said to put the low octane gas in the car would void its warranty.
Cruz noted that detectives never saw the cop go directly from the gas depot and fill his wife’s car. There was always a period of as long as a day before Lugo would emerge with gas cans and put fuel in the BMW.
“There is no evidence that will tell you that Lugo poured the county gasoline into his personal cars,” Cruz said.
The state said there is additional, damning circumstantial evidence: neither Lugo nor his wife used their credit cards to purchase gasoline until after he was arrested and suspended last year.
Defense attorney Cruz told jurors, however, that several commercial gas station attendants will testify that Lugo frequently filled gas cans and his personal vehicles at their stations, paying cash.
The defense did not say it outright, but the suggestion was Lugo was using the gas in the cans from the county depot as back up for his police cruiser.
The trial before Judge Diane Ward is expected to continue into next week.
If convicted of organized fraud, the police sergeant faces up to five years in prison and the loss of his law enforcement certificate.
Lugo’s wife, Irene Gomez-Lugo, is a long-time Miami-Dade Schools employee, currently an assistant principal, on maternity leave with their newborn child. Both mother and baby have been in the courtroom.