MIAMI -- In his official job as a city of Miami police officer, Frenel Cenat worked in the property room protecting evidence used in criminal investigations.
But when he wasn’t on duty, Cenat used his badge and unmarked police-issued vehicle to stop drug-trafficking suspects in Broward County so he could steal narcotics and money from them while threatening to put them in jail, according to an FBI criminal complaint unsealed Friday.
Cenat, 40, who joined the city’s police force in 2008 and has worked in the evidence room over the past three years, was arrested on Thursday. He made his first appearance in Fort Lauderdale federal court on Friday and his arraignment was set for Dec. 1. He remains in custody at the Broward County Jail, awaiting a detention hearing on Nov. 28.
His defense attorney, Howard Schumacher, could not be immediately reached for comment.
The Miami Police Department called Cenat a “corrupt” police officer.
“The arrest of Officer Cenat is the result of a joint operation focused on identifying corrupt cops, and it’s an example of the repercussions when one of our own betrays their oath of office and tarnishes their badge,” Chief Manuel Morales said in a statement. “I stand firmly committed to transparency and ensuring the community’s trust is upheld throughout this investigation.”
The criminal complaint, based on a sting operation involving an FBI confidential source who interacted with Cenat, charged the Miami police officer with using his official position to extort criminal suspects under the Hobbs Act, theft of government funds, and attempting to possess and distribute cocaine.
According to an affidavit, Cenat met with the FBI confidential source and an associate who knew the officer last month in Broward County to arrange for him to target someone who he believed to be a drug dealer in order to steal $50,000 from him. At the recorded meeting, Cenat introduced himself as “Frenel” and showed the confidential source his unmarked police-issued vehicle, a black Ford Explorer, and sounded the lights and siren.
Cenat described how “he likes to set up the ‘play’ “— a scheme to steal drugs and money from suspects while he is off duty outside his regular jurisdiction — and his “preference to do traffic stops after receiving intelligence about a drug transaction,” according to the FBI affidavit.
Cenat said that “on duty they [ Miami police] got computers on and can track you and s--- like that ... you know what I mean ... ping your phone ... what you are doing in this area. You don’t wanna do that s--- bro while you are on duty’‘ and “if I work down there l will never f--- down there bro,” according to the affidavit.
During the undercover meeting, Cenat discussed the bills he was going to pay from his next “play,” saying: “I just need bread now.”
In early November, the confidential source and associate coordinated the “play” with Cenat through group chats on Signal, setting up a sting where two undercover FBI employees posing as drug traffickers planned to do a deal involving three kilograms of cocaine worth $52,000 at the Stadium Hotel parking lot in Miami Gardens, the affidavit says. Cenat’s role was to stop one of the FBI employees after the transaction and shake him down for the purported drug proceeds.
On the evening of Nov. 3, the “play” went according to plan. Cenat made the traffic stop and told the FBI employee posing as the driver that his name was “Officer Martez” with the “Miami Police Department, Dade County Narcotics Unit.” He told the undercover employee, who had stashed the $52,000 in $100 bills in a backpack, that he was under investigation for drug dealing.
“Cenat then gave [the FBI employee] the choice of giving him the backpack or going to jail, and as planned, [the employee] told him to take the backpack,” the affidavit says. “Cenat then left the scene with the backpack of money.”
The entire stop was recorded.
Cenat then agreed to meet with the FBI’s confidential source to give him a cut of the money at a Home Depot in Coral Springs. Cenat handed over $13,000 to the confidential source, which was recorded, too.
After that payoff, Cenat kept the remaining $39,000in cash and drove to his home in Boynton Beach.
Days later, Cenat called the confidential source to see about doing another “play,” leading to another FBI sting involving seven kilos of cocaine worth $80,000 on Thursday at a Fairfield Inn parking lot in Deerfield Beach, according to the affidavit.
This time, when he made the stop in his unmarked police car, Cenate identified himself as “Officer Martez of the Broward Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit” and told the undercover employee posing as the driver that he was under investigation for drug dealing. He told him to hand over the drugs and money, which were stashed in a duffel bag.
After the transaction, Cenat met up with the FBI’s confidential source again to make another split of the drug proceeds at a Walmart parking lot in Coral Springs. Cenat was then arrested. This time, both the seven kilos of sham cocaine and $80,000 in $100 bills were found in the duffel bag inside his police-issued vehicle.
Cenat is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Stamm, who handles corruption cases.