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Corrupt Jacksonville police union president pleads guilty in corruption case

By staff

Jacksonville police union president was a close ally of State Attorney Angela Corey

Jacksonville, FL – Despite pleading guilty to several charges in a federal racketeering investigation, Nelson Cuba, the former president of the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), will spend no time behind bars. On Jan. 6, Cuba pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor and two third-degree felonies for his role in an illegal $300 million gambling operation. Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester sentenced Cuba to one year of house arrest and a mere four years of probation, in addition to imposing several fines.

Cuba was one of 57 public officials, business owners and attorneys arrested in March 2013 for operating an illegal network of store front casinos and ‘internet cafes’ used exclusively for gambling. The operations’ stated purpose was to generate funds for a Florida-based charity called Allied Veterans of the World. Federal investigators found that of the $300 million raised by the casinos, only $6 million – about 2% – went to the actual charity.

Cuba, along with other police officials, used police union bank accounts at BBVA Compass and Bank of America to launder $420,000 in revenue from the internet cafes that they owned and operated. While Cuba originally faced additional racketeering and money laundering charges, prosecutors dropped most of his charges before striking a plea bargain that included no jail or prison time.

The criminal injustice system lets cops off the hook

The announcement of Nelson Cuba's light sentence comes amid national outrage over two grand jury decisions to not indict white police officers for the murder of two Black men. In November, a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri chose to not indict Darren Wilson for the murder of 18-year-old African-American Michael Brown. Just days later, a New York grand jury also declined to indict white police officer Daniel Pantaleo for choking Eric Garner to death. Both injustices prompted nationwide protests against police brutality and the racist criminal injustice system.

In Jacksonville, police arrested 19 protesters on the order of Sheriff John Rutherford for obstructing traffic. Dubbed the 'Jacksonville 19' by activists and local media, the protesters slowed traffic on the Hart Bridge during rush hour traffic to demand justice for Eric Garner and Michael Brown.

Although the police sergeant on duty said that the protesters would receive written citations and verbal warnings, Rutherford ordered the police to arrest the entire demonstration. Jacksonville State Attorney Angela Corey continues to pursue charges against the Jacksonville 19.

Disgraced police union president was a close ally of Angela Corey

Although the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) calls itself a union, it actually operates to protect police from facing justice for racism, brutality and corruption. It also acts as a private organization for the police to leverage their political muscle and push racist policies through local and state government.

One of the main political objectives of the FOP in Jacksonville was putting Angela Corey in the State Attorney's office. Corey gained nationwide infamy for her botched prosecution of George Zimmerman, the racist vigilante who killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Activists in Jacksonville have called for her resignation because of her disproportionate prosecution of African Americans, particularly Black youth. In the entire state of Florida from 2006 to 2011, 52% of the male juvenile offenders tried as adults were African American, while white male juveniles comprised only 25% of those tried as adults. These inequalities alone are staggering, but in Corey's Fourth Judicial District during the same period, African American males comprised 70% of all juvenile offenders tried as adults, while white males comprised just 18%, according to an April 2014 report by Human Rights Watch.

In Jacksonville, the FOP under Nelson Cuba worked hard to put Angela Corey in the State Attorney's office. A deposition taken during a public records lawsuit that Corey filed in 2008 against then-State Attorney Harry Shorstein revealed, by their own admission, that Cuba and the FOP had decided to back Corey for the office in 2004. They offered Shorstein their endorsement in the 2004 election in exchange for his backing of Corey for State Attorney in 2008. Shorstein agreed, but broke the agreement by firing Corey shortly after he won re-election.

During the 2008 Fourth Circuit state attorney election, the Jacksonville FOP endorsed Corey and held political rallies on her behalf. Corey appeared at numerous campaign functions with Cuba and other Jacksonville FOP officials. In pure campaign donations alone, at least 10% of the $534,507.75 raised by Corey's campaign came from police officers or their families in 2008. Of the 504 donations from Jacksonville police and associated persons, about 43.1% were in amounts of $100 or more. Corey won the 2008 state attorney election with 64.38% of the vote; only about 12% of people in Jacksonville voted.

Corey also reaped substantial contributions from BBVA Compass bank, which made 15 separate donations to her campaign totaling $7469.13 starting in 2007. In federal depositions from the Allied Veterans racketeering case, prosecutors noted that Cuba primarily laundered money from his gambling ring through accounts set up at BBVA Compass, totaling $464,295.

Many community activists in Jacksonville have noted the close connection between corporate donors to Corey's campaign, like BBVA Compass, and the FOP. They say this further highlights the nature of the police as a tool of the banks and corporations to repress the people.

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