By Dave Warner
(Reuters) - A Miami-Dade Police Department internal affairs detective appeared in federal court in Newark, New Jersey, on Wednesday to face charges of aiding a drug smuggling gang, conspiring to distribute cocaine and trying to arrange a murder for hire.
The detective, Lieutenant Ralph Mata, 45, who was known as "The Milk Man," was arrested in a Miami suburb on April 8 after trying to arrange for two assassins dressed in police uniforms to kill two members of a rival gang, prosecutors said.
His lawyer said Mata, who has been suspended from his job, would contest the charges. He did not enter a plea during Wednesday's 10-minute hearing.
"His reaction was that he is not guilty of doing anything and he should not have been charged," said Jay Surgent, Mata's New Jersey attorney. "He is going to fight it to the last breath."
According to court documents, in 2011, a rival drug gang threatened to kill members of the drug organization whose members Mata knew. They consulted with Mata on ways to ward off their rivals, according to papers filed in court by federal prosecutors.
"One solution that the parties contemplated entailed planting narcotics on the individuals issuing the threats," the government's court document said. "Another idea that the parties considered was hiring assassins to kill the individuals."
Investigators said in the document that Mata and members of the drug organization met at least four times to discuss the murder plot, which was never carried out.
The case came to the attention of federal officials in New Jersey in January 2012, when Drug Enforcement Administration agents seized some $419,000 in what they said were drug proceeds left by the Florida gang in a residence in Bergen County, New Jersey.
The drug gang thought initially that the money had been stolen by another gang, despite the fact that the DEA actually left a receipt at the house, officials said.
Investigators said in the court document that Mata then used sources available to him because he was a police officer to reveal that the DEA took the money.
Mata has been freed on a $500,000 bond. He is expected to return to Florida, according to his lawyer there, Bruce Fleisher.
(Reporting by Dave Warner in Philadelphia; editing by G Crosse and Scott Malone)