By David Ovalle, McClatchy Newspapers
MIAMI — A high-ranking Miami-Dade County police officer is suspected of misappropriating nearly $23,000 by using it to bankroll his unofficial department flag football team, court records show.
The money, paid by the Miami Dolphins, was actually intended to cover the cost of security at Sun Life Stadium.
Tyrone White, a former major busted down to captain, is now under criminal investigation for grand theft but has not been charged as detectives pore over his finances.
White denies any wrongdoing, saying he believed the money was a legitimate charitable donation to his athletics organization.
In October, the department announced White’s demotion to captain and that he and another officer had been relieved of duty with pay. The police agency declined to discuss reasons for the demotion, but a search warrant recently filed in Miami-Dade circuit court details what prompted the move:
White, then a major over the warrants bureau, for years has run a flag football team and other sports teams comprised of members of the police department. They compete in charity competitions, such as the Police Olympics, staged throughout Florida.
In March, White hosted the second-annual “Miami-Dade Police and Fire Fallen Heroes Flag Football Tournament,” which benefited the families of slain officers.
The Miami-Dade Police Department “is not affiliated nor participates as an organization with said event or team,” according to the warrant, noting that employees take part on their own time and are not paid by the agency for their efforts.
Internal affairs detectives began looking at the organization’s finances when the department’s fiscal administration bureau was seeking payment from the Dolphins and SunLife Stadium for “services rendered” in early 2010. The team contracts with Miami-Dade police for off-duty security service at games and other events.
When the stadium staff reviewed their finances, they realized that in February and March 2010, two checks totaling $22,734.23 had been “mistakenly” made out to “Miami-Dade Police Department Football Coach: Tyrone White.”
A stadium staffer told Miami-Dade detectives that the checks “should have been endorsed to Miami-Dade Police Department Fiscal Administration Bureau.”
A spokesman for the team declined to comment Wednesday.
White, according to defense attorney Michael Band, had earlier solicited a charitable donation from the Dolphins to help defray the costs of uniforms, sports equipment and lodging for the team, which plays to benefit charitable groups.
When he received the checks, White believed the team had fulfilled his request, Band said.
“We believe that Maj. White acted in good faith, and received money he requested of the Dolphins for a legitimate purpose — promoting the police department in the Police Olympics. We believe that at the conclusion of the investigation, charges will not be filed and he should be restored to his lofty position of police major.”
White, records show, deposited the two checks into an account he controlled at the Dade County Financial Credit Union. The account was set up to manage the charity team’s finances.
With assistance from prosecutors, detectives subpoenaed the bank records and obtained surveillance footage of White and another officer, Kiriakos Beruty, conducting “several transactions.”
Beruty — then a narcotics detectives — was also relieved of duty, although his role remains unclear and his name is mentioned only briefly in the search warrant. His defense attorney, Carl Kafka, said his client is eager to cooperate with investigators.
“Beruty was surprised he was included in all this because he’s done nothing wrong,” Kafka said.
After the stadium money was deposited, White — using money from the account — leased a three-bedroom, two-bath townhouse for the team’s stay during the Police Olympics in Port St. Lucie, paying a $250 security deposit to the home’s owner, records show.
After the event, the owner returned the security deposit, minus a $120 cleaning fee, which White put into his personal banking account, the warrant said.
Later, in May of this year, White rented another townhouse in Port St. Lucie. When the $300 security deposit was returned to him, he put the money into the bank account of his mother, records show.
White, an officer since 1983, and Beruty remain on leave of their police duties with pay, according to the department.
“The case continues to be an open and active (internal affairs) investigation,” a Miami-Dade police spokesman said. “Therefore, no information can be released until the case is closed; there is no time-line at this point as to when the case will be completed.”