A Hialeah police officer was arrested on corruption and identity fraud charges after authorities say he gave personal information from more than two dozen drivers to a woman in exchange for gifts.
Officer Raul Castellon, 38, was charged with affecting commerce by extortion under color of official right, conspiracy to commit access device fraud, aggravated identity fraud, and possession of fifteen or more unauthorized access devices, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
Castellon pleaded not guilty at his first appearance in federal court Monday afternoon. Attorney information wasn't immediately available.
The president of the Dade County Police Benevolent Association, John Rivera, says it hurts the law enforcement community when an officer gets arrested because he says it taints everybody.
"We take case by case, every case is different," said Rivera.
Officials say that as an officer, Castellon had access to Florida’s Driver and Vehicle Information Database, also known as DAVID, a confidential database that provides driver and motor vehicle information, including drivers' license numbers, social security numbers and dates of birth.
Between about June 1 and October 19, 2016, Castellon used the database to take screen shots of peoples' personal information, officials said.He then sent more than 25 of the screen shots to Neilin Gonzalez-Diaz in exchange for gifts, officials said. Gonzalez-Diaz has a lenghty criminal history including Credit Card Forgery charges, according to court records.
According to an indictment, Gonzalz-Diaz in September directed someone else to use the credit card account of one of the victims to buy more than $5,800 worth of merchandise from Floor and Decor.
Diaz is also facing charges in the case.
"It's very easy to detect. For example, if you stripped a car twice in a day, but you're running DAVID 30 times a day. That sends [red] flags," said Rivera.
Hialeah police officials said Castellon, who has been with the department since September 2006, was placed on leave without pay "pending his imminent termination."
"The City and the Department’s position is zero tolerance with 'Officers' like Raul Castellon," the department said in a statement. "Immediately, Upon notification from federal agents regarding the investigation, we fully cooperated and actively participated with the investigation. A Hialeah Internal Affairs Detective, who is currently on long term detachment to the FBI, was quickly made part of the investigative task force."
Officials said Castellon has a number of disciplinary issues on his record and had been fired in 2012 but was awarded his job back in 2014 through arbitration.
His history includes 13 written reprimands for violations of Hialeah Police rules, regulations and policies; four suspensions; five traffic crashes; and five internal affairs investigations.
The 2012 firing came after he disobeyed rules regarding the use of his police cruiser and other issues, but he was reinstated in April 2014.
"We and the public expect and demand a higher standard of conduct than is the case for employees in other organizations and work settings. In short, police officers are held to a higher standard than an ordinary citizen," Police Chief Sergio Velazquez said in a statement. "We fired him in October of 2012, but he unfortunately won his job back, one and half years later (April 2014), through labor arbitration. He was a problematic employee from the start and his course of conduct has finally resulted in his arrest which is very regrettable and has brought a day of disgrace to our Department."