Jaime Rodriguez was formally charged Friday for theft of personal property by a hotel employee after he allegedly failed to give bills totaling over $36 to guests at a Miccosukee Resort & Gaming bar in Florida.
The 50-year-old bartender was arrested March 20 at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic for the March 18 incident. He pleaded not guilty to the felony on Friday, the Miami Herald reported.
When the arrest was made, local police had halted apprehensions for minor crimes, the Herald said. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office so far will not drop the charges for allegedly undercharging $36.41 in drinks at the casino.
Earlier, Rodriguez told the Herald he was distracted by pandemic when he undercharged the guests at the West Miami-Dade venue.
“It was a mistake, I didn’t mean to not charge,” Rodriguez recently told the Herald. “With everything going on, with the coronavirus, I was distracted.”
Defense Attorney Calls Arrest ‘Miscarriage of Justice’
Rodriguez’s attorney, Saam Zangeneh, said he twice tried to contact a prosecutor about the charge. But the defense lawyer never heard back, the Herald said.
In my 20 years of practice, I have never seen such a miscarriage of justice,” Zangeneh told the Herald. “Even when you take the facts that they allege as true, this doesn’t rise to the threshold of probable cause for a crime.“
Rodriguez faces up to five years in prison if convicted, the Herald said. He was seen on surveillance video not charging customers, the Herald reported.
Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the state’s attorney’s office, told the Herald it would have been preferable if a prosecutor and defense attorney had spoken about the case before the case went forward.
Given that attorneys now typically are working from home, the “current pressures of remote felony case review can make this type of conferring difficult,” Griffith told the Herald. “This case will undergo further review and discussion with defense counsel in the hope of coming to an appropriate resolution.”
During the middle of last month, the Miccosukee tribal casino remained open while commercial casinos, restaurants, and other Florida venues were closed. The tribal casino is now shuttered.
“The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida places great trust in the employees they hire to assist in running their business concerns, including those at Miccosukee Resort & Gaming,” a tribal statement said. “While the Tribe does not make decisions on who eventually gets prosecuted, the Tribe does have a zero-tolerance policy for theft by employees.”
Ex-Casino Workers Plead Guilty in $5.3M Scheme
In an unrelated case, eight Miami residents pleaded guilty in February to various federal charges in an embezzlement scheme that led to the theft of $5.3 million from a Miccosukee casino.
Four of the defendants — Michel Aleu, Lester Lavin, Yohander Jorrin Melhen, and Leonardo Betancourt, all ex-employees of Miccosukee Gaming — pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal funds in excess of $1,000 from Miccosukee Gaming. They also admitted to conspiracy to commit computer fraud and money laundering conspiracy, Miami US Attorney Ariana Fajardo Orshan said.
The defendants allegedly used the money to acquire or pay for upkeep of residences, investment properties, vehicles, boats, as well as pay for vacations and put money in college savings plans.
Between 2011 and 2015, some of the defendants, who worked in the video game section at the casino, allegedly tampered with computers found in electronic gaming machines.
That led to the machines generating false credit vouchers, the US Attorney’s office said. Other defendants allegedly exchanged the vouchers for cash at ATMs located on the casino floor, at floor cashiers, or at the casino treasury, the US Attorney added.
When US District Judge Darrin P. Gayles sentences each defendant in Miami federal court in upcoming weeks, the individuals could face up to 20 years imprisonment for money laundering conspiracy.
The Herald reported the four casino employees would pretend an electronic gaming machine (EGM) needed to be repaired. Once the machine was open, the employee would connect a wire to a port on the machine’s motherboard, the Herald explained.
“The perpetrator would then attach the other end of the wire to a metal surface inside the EGM, causing the EGM to generate and record false ‘coin-in’ amounts totaling thousands of dollars,” court documents quoted by the Herald said. The machine would then generate “false credit vouchers for ‘coin in’ amounts, and (they) would present the vouchers to Miccosukee Gaming, in exchange for cash.”
Some of the ex-employees’ spouses opened numerous bank accounts and they deposited and withdrew the ill-gotten money in a manner akin to “a shell game,” the Herald said.