Miami police officer James Archibald had only been on the force for a couple of years when a veteran cop told him “there was an opportunity to do something on the side.”
Archibald, saddled with credit card debt, car loans and household expenses, didn’t hesitate.
Archibald, who is standing trial with a fellow Miami cop on federal charges of protecting drug traffickers, admitted that he helped undercover investigators posing as dopers move two coolers full of cocaine from a marina to a couple of local hotels, according to the officer’s FBI statement after his Oct. 23, 2018, arrest.
During both deliveries, the dealers opened the coolers in the hotel rooms and showed Archibald what he believed to be bricks of the illegal white powder.
“I was thinking to myself, how do I get the f*** out of this room .... this is not who I am,” Archibald told two FBI agents in a videotaped interview played for Miami federal jurors Wednesday. “I had an idea, yes, it was drugs. I knew I was in the wrong place and didn’t want to be involved.”
But Archibald, who admitted he got paid $4,000 for providing protection and transporting what were sham drugs for those Oct. 11, 2018, deliveries, was very much involved, according to his FBI statement. He also admitted to providing protection during a previous transaction on Sept. 28, 2018, according to his videotaped statement.
“You’re doing the right thing,” FBI special agent Andrew Mercurio told Archibald in the interview, expressing his appreciation for his honesty.
Archibald, 33, is standing trial with fellow officer Kelvin Harris, 53, who had been on the Miami force for more than 26 years before his arrest. Both cops, who worked in the North District Substation in Model City, are charged with conspiring to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, attempting to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug-trafficking crime.
Both Archibald and Harris were recruited into the alleged protection racket by Schonton Harris, the 51-year-old ringleader who pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and was sentenced to 15 1/2 years in prison.
Schonton Harris was initially singled out as a likely target in an FBI sting operation after Miami police internal affairs investigators confronted officer Catina Anderson, 45, about running a small-time protection racket for opioid dealers and extorting a bookie. Anderson pleaded guilty to an extortion charge in April and is awaiting sentence. She is expected to testify as the prosecution’s star witness this week.
On Wednesday, Mercurio, the FBI agent, summarized the case against Archibald and Kelvin Harris, which involved a series of sham cocaine deals designed to test whether they would cross the line. The agent zeroed in on their roles as Miami cops supporting undercover FBI investigators who posed as dope dealers in the Oct. 11, 2018, transportation of about 40 kilos of cocaine from the Crandon Park Marina on Key Biscayne to two hotels, the JW Marriott in downtown Miami and and the Courtyard Marriott in Coral Gables.
The bricks of cocaine were loaded into two coolers that Schonton Harris and Archibald carried in her gray SUV. They were not dressed in their police uniforms, but they were carrying weapons, according to Mercurio.
Kelvin Harris and Anderson, who was cooperating with the FBI in the undercover operation, provided protection in a marked police car. Harris was not wearing his police uniform but Anderson was wearing hers. Both officers were carrying firearms, Mercurio said.
“They believed that they were protecting something that was illegal and worth high dollar amounts,” Mercurio told prosecutor Jessica Obenauf during Wednesday’s trial.
After Schonton Harris and Archibald arrived at the JW Marriott, they took both coolers to a room where they met the undercover FBI investigators posing as drug dealers, he said, noting the transaction was recorded on audio and video. One of the coolers was unloaded and the bricks of cocaine were placed on the top of the bed.
After that meeting was over, Schonton Harris and Archibald left the empty cooler in the hotel room and took the other cooler with the bricks of cocaine to the Courtyard Marriott, where they met up with more undercover FBI investigators posing as dopers.
After the successful drug deals, the undercover operatives asked the four Miami police officers to join them in a celebratory dinner at the Fontainebleau resort hotel on Miami Beach. All but Archibald agreed to dine with them, though each was paid $4,000 for their supporting roles in the cocaine transactions.
In Archibald’s statement to the FBI after his arrest, he told Mercurio and another FBI agent that he could not imagine dining with the dopers.
“I didn’t want to associate myself with someone who was doing this,” Archibald said in his videotaped FBI statement played for the 12 federal jurors Wednesday. Archibald was choking up and crying at times during his statement at the FBI field office.
During cross examination of Mercurio, the defense attorney for Archibald tried to imply through his questioning that his client was entrapped by the FBI and that he was targeted for no apparent reason because he had no prior problems on the Miami police force.
“This entire [drug] cartel was a fabrication of the FBI?” defense attorney Michael Grieco asked Mercurio.
“As you put it before [in your opening statement], they were part of a ‘fantasy.’ They were agents of the government,” Mercurio responded.
Kelvin Harris’ defense attorney, Jonathan Schwartz, also tried to suggest that his client was “induced” to participate in a fabricated drug-protection racket and that Harris tried to contact the police chief as a possible whistle blower. At the time of the FBI investigation, Harris was working desk duty in the North District Substation in Model City.
But Mercurio rejected the series of accusatory questions, reminding the lawyer that his client never returned any of the money he received from the undercover dealers and never filed any reports about the illegal activity with Police Chief Jorge Colina or internal affairs detectives.
“No money was ever returned,” the FBI agent testified. “No reports were ever filed.”