FORT LAUDERDALE — An investigation into an arrest made by four members of Fort Lauderdale Police’s elite Northwest Raiders crime fighting unit has widened to include other officers and possible charges of theft and racketeering.
Detectives Brian Dodge, Billy Koepke and Matthew Moceri and their sergeant, Michael Florenco, are under investigation by the Broward State Attorney’s Office over a suspicious drug operation. The FBI’s anti-corruption division, which operates out of the Fort Lauderdale police department, has joined the case.
According to several sources, the officers are accused of forcing a man at gunpoint to arrange a drug buy from two other men. They then allegedly took the man outside city limits into Oakland Park, where the drug deal was scheduled to take place at a hotel. In the police report, they referred to the man as a ‘confidential informant’ and allegedly fabricated the circumstances surrounding the arrests of the other two men.
The officers could face armed kidnapping, theft, perjury and other charges, according to sources.
Prosecutors are also trying to determine whether there are other questionable arrests involving Dodge, Koepke, Moceri, and Florenco that may rise to the level of racketeering.
The officers were placed on paid administrative leave on April 18 after the department was informed of he investigation. Police spokesman Det. Travis Mandell declined to discuss the matter but said the officers remain on “leave with pay.”
Tim Donnelly, head of the Special Prosecutions Unit of the Broward State Attorney’s Office, confirmed the investigation was ongoing but declined to provide details, saying only that there was “some more work to do” on the case.
Attorney Michael Dutko, who is representing Dodge and Koepke, said criminal charges would be filed, but speculation about plea deals are unfounded.
“There has been no discussion about any sort of negotiated plea,” Dutko said this week. “Prosecutors tell me that charges, very serious charges, are imminent and we should know something soon.”
Anthony M. Livoti is representing Moceri and Howard Grietzer is defending Florenco. Neither of those attorneys could be reached for comment.
In response to requests from South Florida Times to interview the officers, police spokesman Mandell said, “We are not authorizing the listed officers to speak on behalf of the department and we cannot act as a liaison between you and the officers.”
Nevertheless, South Florida Times confirmed the investigation initially centered on the Aug. 24 arrest of Junior Jerome, 25, of Oakland Park and Dieudson Nore, 22, of Lauderdale Lakes. They were charged with cocaine possession and delivery. The alleged informant, it turned out, is reported to have been an unwilling participant who was forced to take part in the operation.
Out of safety considerations, South Florida Times is not naming the informant.
The arranged drug deal was scheduled to take place at the Red Roof Inn, 4800 N. Powerline Road, Oakland Park. According to the police report, the Northwest Raiders received a tip from the person identified as the informant that Jerome and Nore would deliver crack cocaine at the hotel.
“As we approached, I responded to the driver’s side and Det. Dodge to the passenger side. I then observed Junior drop from his right hand an open M&M container to the floor on the driver’s side and several pieces of the suspected crack cocaine came out,” said the police report compiled by Koepke and Dodge.
That account has been described as a “total fabrication” by a source who asked not to be identified.
The report makes no mention of Sgt. Florenco and Det. Moceri, yet both participated in the arrest and were at the scene.
The Fort Lauderdale police department created the Northwest Raiders unit in 1983 in response to residents’ complaints over violence and drug activity during the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. The unit’s name is derived from the predominantly black northwest quadrant of the city where it originally operated.
The unit pioneered reverse stings, with members posing as drug dealers and arrested drug customers.
First in the nation to confiscate the vehicles of people who sought to purchase small amounts of drugs, its members gained national attention after reporters were allowed to embed with the unit and chronicle its operation.
Members also trained other local, as well as state and federal law enforcement officers on their tactics.
The Northwest Raiders are now on Twitter, listed in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia and have their own Facebook page. This week, Wikipedia was updated to include the suspensions and possible arrests.
Over the years, the unit has made thousands of arrests, while, at the same time, being the source of countless complaints alleging abuse, brutality, illegal searches, and planting evidence on innocent suspects. Few of those allegations have been substantiated.
Florenco earns $88,732 annually and Dodge makes $75,878 a year. Both have been on the job for 11 years. Moceri earns a $71,406 annual salary and Koepke $75,878. They are both four-year veterans of the department. Only Florenco has a spotless personnel file with no complaints. The others have had various internal affairs complaints, but only one of those has been established, against Dodge.
In 2006 an internal affairs investigation found Dodge fixed parking tickets for a friend numerous times between 2004 and 2006. He served a one-day suspension without pay and the case was never forwarded to the state attorney’s office for review.
Police spokesman Mandell said it had been determined “that the officer’s actions did not rise to the level of a criminal offense.”