June 26, 2022
Did Miami mayor’s security detail help a PI tail him? Here’s what Internal Affairs found
 
 
By Charles Rabin
 

A Miami police officer assigned to protect the mayor while he visited a home in the Florida Keys with friends and family a year ago did not leak information about Francis Suarez’s whereabouts to a man running against him in last November’s election, an internal affairs report concluded.

But the officer — a Sergeant-At-Arms who played a prominent but unintended behind-the-scenes role in the ouster of Police Chief Art Acevedo — was disciplined for abandoning his post for 25 minutes while he used the bathroom and grabbed a snack at a gas station across the street, the report said. 

It was during that 25-minute window on May 30, 2021, that former Miami Police Officer Frank Pichel, who was running against Suarez for mayor at the time, is alleged to have driven his white BMW SUV up to the residence where the mayor was staying, and snapped photos of the property. The pictures were later sent to city leaders and media outlets. 

Police considered the leaking of the pictures to be a breach of security against the high-profile mayor and an investigation was begun almost immediately. Miami’s Sergeant-at-Arms are members of a police detail assigned to protect elected politicians. Suarez has four at his disposal. 

Sergeant-at-Arms Luis Camacho, who told investigators he knew Pichel as a former cop, but only now interacts with him because he is his insurance agent, admitted to speaking with Pichel for six minutes just a few hours before he showed up at the property. Camacho said he also spoke with Pichel on two other occasions in the days leading to the incident. 

The Sergeant-at-Arms admitted in the report that he sometimes spoke to Pichel “every day.” But he said he only did so because he is still awaiting claims for damage done from Hurricane Irma — which struck Miami on Sept. 10, 2017. 

Camacho told investigators he had no encounters on the day he parked in front of the Key Largo home the mayor was visiting. He also said he sent a text to Suarez saying he was leaving his post — but Camacho was unable to provide it to investigators, he said, because it apparently didn’t go through due to a lack of reliable service in the area. 

Still, in recommending he be cleared of any misconduct charge, Internal Affairs Cmdr. Brandon Lanier seemed to accept the Sergeant-at-Arms’ explanation that had he been conducting any type of nefarious surveillance, he would not have used a phone that could be traced back to him. 

“He stated it was coincidental that they were on the same block in Key Largo at the same time and if he had to guess, Frank Pichel was conducting his own surveillance,” Lanier wrote in the IA report. “Sergeant-At-Arms Camacho stated he has been a cop for 24 years and six years as a Sergeant-At-Arms, and if he was going to do anything remotely suspicious against an elected official, there is no way he would use his personal phone.” 

According to the 28-page report, which was finalized in October but only released Tuesday, Camacho didn’t learn he would be detailed in Key Largo until May 29, the day before the incident. He arrived at 8 a.m. and was supposed to work until 2 p.m., but left early to go to the gas station. He never returned, he told investigators, because his replacement showed up while he was gone. 

The investigation into Camacho was initiated, the report says, after a photograph of Suarez in Key Largo was taken by “an unknown individual” while Camacho was stationed in front of the home. The pictures were then emailed to several people, “exposing the mayor’s location and compromising his security.” 

Camacho’s attorney during the IA probe, Eugene Gibbons, said Pichel works as a private investigator and that his client had no clue the former cop was even in Key Largo the day Camacho was assigned to Suarez. 

“His job is to find people,” said Gibbons. “The MPD [Miami Police Department] knows that Frank Pichel works for whoever he works for and he doesn’t have to disclose that. The mayor is easy to follow and easy to find.” 

Camacho, who was suspended by Acevedo in June 2021, returned to work with only a written reprimand in January, along with six other Miami cops who had been let go or demoted under the former chief. 

Further complicating the sordid affair, Pichel — who lost his job as a Sergeant-at-Arms in Miami almost two decades ago after being accused of illegally selling steroids — was arrested in October and accused of impersonating a cop the day he is alleged to have stalked Suarez in Key Largo. 

A neighbor to the home Suarez was visiting told Monroe County Sheriff’s deputies that he was loading an ice chest on a boat behind his home when Pichel appeared in his backyard and flashed a badge, claiming to be a sheriff’s deputy. 

The man said Pichel asked if he knew anyone named “Freddy.” Other witnesses told investigators they approached Pichel while he was behind the wheel of the BMW SUV and that he identified himself as a Monroe County Sheriff’s deputy. 

Acevedo was unaware at the time that his decision to suspend Camacho would spark a firestorm and eventually contribute to the chief’s firing.

Acevedo, who by last fall was already in hot water with city commissioners for a series of controversial moves and statements, made his standing even more precarious by suspending Camacho, a favorite of the city’s three Cuban commissioners. 

Then, just prior to a pair of highly anticipated and bizarre hearings that ultimately sealed his fate, Acevedo penned an eight-page memo accusing Commissioners Joe Carollo, Manolo Reyes and Alex Diaz de la Portilla of breaching operational security by releasing Camacho’s name and openly discussing what the chief claimed was a confidential investigation. 

He wasn’t done. 

Acevedo claimed in the memo that the three commissioners had spoken with him privately and falsely accused him of carrying out a “vendetta against Camacho.” He said he had little choice but to notify the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice. The chief said if he gave in to the “improper actions” of the commissioners, “I and my family might as well have remained in Communist Cuba.” 

Less than three weeks later he was fired. He’s since filed a federal lawsuit in which he claimed commissioners tried to “weaponize” cops against their enemies. 

Last week, after five months as interim chief, Manny Morales was named to the post permanently. He signed off on the IA report in January and Camacho returned to work.