Policeman busted in online gambling scandal

Operator and officer combined to rip-off a client

The Miami Herald newspaper reports a shocking case of dishonesty and official authority abuse in which a police officer conspired with an online gambling site operator to rob a local man of $131 000 in winnings.

It is alleged that the policeman, his cousin and an online wagering operator set up and robbed the victim during a bogus traffic check, police said Tuesday.

When Miami-Dade police Officer John Francisco Villar Jr. (28) stopped a man driving on the Palmetto Expressway in April, he confiscated a bag stuffed with $131 000 in cash, the Miami Herald reports.

But it wasn't evidence related to any official police case – it was a robbery in which three men were involved and for which all have been arrested..

Referring to the officer’s part in the rip-off, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle said: “Essentially what he did is he became a hired muscle. These acts were pretty repugnant.''

Villar has indicated that he will fight the charges, which include felony armed robbery with a firearm, armed burglary and conspiracy to commit armed robbery.

Police revealed that local resident Marvin Duarte set out to collect his winnings from wagers on professional basketball games, visiting Leonardo Lastre, who runs a gambling operation through the website Game Day vip.com. Lastre gave him $131 000 in cash, and Duarte drove away.

Shortly thereafter, Officer Villar pulled his unmarked Ford Taurus behind Duarte's car, activated portable police lights and motioned for him to pull over.

The officer was in plain clothes, with a Miami-Dade Police Department badge hanging from his neck and a gun on his hip. Also with him was a man wearing a bulletproof vest emblazoned with the word ‘Police’ and holding a stun gun. That man was later identified as Fausto Villar (28) the officer's cousin.

After some preliminary questions, the officer identified the money bag, which was then ‘confiscated’ by Fausto Villar, whilst John Villar told Duarte that the monies were evidence and that a narcotics detector canine was en route.' A weapon was used to threaten Duarte, it is claimed, and he was ordered to remain in his vehicle.

The Faustos then drove away with the money, as Duarte noted that the Taunus’s number plates were covered.

Duarte gave chase, flagging down a Florida Highway Patrol Trooper, who stopped the unmarked ‘police’ car. At this point John Villar, who was now alone in the ‘police car’ told the trooper he was a police officer and that he had pulled the man over for reckless driving and let him off with a warning.

Subsequent investigations resulted in the arrest of Fausto Villar, but not in the recovery of the missing money.

Investigators said they linked Lastre – the online gambling site owner - to the robbery through telephone records and other evidence. He also raised suspicions when he appeared on the scene and told Duarte, ``I'm sorry this happened to you,'' before Duarte had even told him about the theft.

Lastre was the only one who knew Duarte was picking up the money, the Miami police arrest warrant states.

Investigators later discovered cell phone calls between the Villar cousins and Lastre's business, shortly before and after Duarte picked up the cash.

The day after the robbery, Lastre spoke with a private investigator Duarte knew and said: ``All my partner wants is for you guys not to prosecute and he will give all the money back.”

Lastre told the private eye that he had met with John Villar, ``who had apologized and advised that his father was dying and that he needed the money.'' Lastre said he would pay back the money - but the cash has never been located, police said.

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