A War Vet Convicted of Abusing His Authority Keeps Fighting After a Decade in Prison
The living room of MaryAnn Macias' Miami Beach condo is sparsely furnished, with few decorations other than photos of herself with her swarthy, barrel-chested husband, Jaime. There's one snapped soon after they moved in together. Another was taken at their wedding. A third shows them seated together in Jaime's aunt's home in Miami.
But look closely and you'll see the pictures are all old and fading. That's because Jaime, a 69-year-old decorated Army veteran and ex-cop with 25 years of experience and three master's degrees, has been in jail for nine years.
"I don't want any pictures of him in prison," says MaryAnn, a pretty, big-eyed 59-year-old. "We're gonna put all this behind us when he gets out and go back to how it was. Back then, we were really happy. Life was really, really good."
The story of Jaime Macias' imprisonment begins with an allegation of forced fellatio in a Winn-Dixie parking lot and ends with a sick old man crying out to Cuban President Raúl Castro for aid. It provides a look into the murky world of Broward County's drug court.
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The alleged victim, a then-23-year-old woman in a Broward County drug program for a cocaine problem, claimed in 2003 that Macias, who was working as a drug court supervisor, had forced her to perform oral sex. She went free after the case, but Macias was sentenced to 15 years in prison. A judge later threw out a civil suit she filed against the county. Though Macias has filed numerous appeals, he remains in prison.
"I now turn to my birth country," Macias wrote in a letter to Raúl Castro dated November 11, 2014, "as I have exhausted all avenues within the United States government to receive basic human rights and the necessary medical care I need... The U.S. denounces other countries for their alleged lack of human rights. It is hypocrisy at its utmost."
Jaime Macias came to America in 1959 at age 14. After a brief stay in Miami, the family headed for Union City, New Jersey, where the lanky teenager attended Union Hill High School before joining the Army to fight for his adopted country in Vietnam. There, on July 1, 1966, in the central-highlands province of Kontum, Macias' helicopter was forced to land in a hostile zone under enemy fire, according to a commendation he later received. Machine guns were jammed. Macias jumped out of the chopper while Viet Cong pummeled the soldiers with mortar shells. Despite the heavy fire, Macias fixed the weapons, and the helicopter escaped safely. In 1968, he was awarded a medal for heroism.
After his 18-month stint in the military, Macias joined the Union City Police Department, where he stayed for 25 years, attaining the rank of detective working juvenile crimes. He testified at his trial in 2005 that he had a spotless record, and prosecutors never brought up any issues during questioning. Union City cops verified his time there but did not provide his performance evaluations. No newspaper articles mention any issues he may have had while working there.
Macias seems to have had ambitions bigger than low-level police work. During his spare time, he earned a master's degree in psychology from Long Island University and another in sociology from Mercy College in New York City.
He was married and divorced once. Then Jaime met MaryAnn and they moved in together in 1988. They wed a decade later. It was a simple church ceremony in New Jersey with a handful of guests, MaryAnn says. "We had been living together for so long -- I didn't want a big to-do."
Around the same time, circa 1998, Jaime retired from the police force and the couple sold their New Jersey home. They moved into a four-bedroom house in Miami Beach's Biscayne Point, complete with a dock and a boat. Jaime kept busy with part-time detective work, investigating elder abuse for a private agency. MaryAnn began taking courses to earn her master's degree in education.
After tiring of semiretirement, Jaime found work as a drug-treatment counselor at the Broward County Sheriff's Office drug court program in 2001. Two years later, he racked up a third master's degree, this time in counseling with a specialization in substance abuse at Nova Southeastern University. That led to a promotion to a supervisory role managing a team of counselors.
Everything seemed to be going well for the couple.
"We really just had a regular, quiet life and kept to ourselves," MaryAnn says. "We worked and stayed at home, and on the weekends Jaime would go out on his boat."
But the assignment of a petite, baby-faced young woman to Jaime's drug court program sent that happy life off the rails in 2003. The year before, the young woman had been busted with eight grams of cocaine in Oakland Park. It was her first felony offense. And like more than 10,000 other first-time felony offenders each year in Florida, she was given the option of completing a drug court program instead of jail time. If she finished it, the coke charge would be wiped from her record. But if she failed, she could go to jail and have a felony drug conviction on her record.
Completing drug court, which requires meetings, counseling, and random drug tests, isn't easy for some. Numbers vary, but the National Association of Drug Court Professionals says between 16 and 27 percent of participants don't make it past the first two years. The young woman was on her way to becoming one of those statistics. Since age 12, she had battled addiction, which pestered her in the early part of her drug court experience. She missed several meetings and failed her first three drug tests.
Macias informed her that she was in danger of flunking out and could possibly face a month in jail.
In testimony, she claimed Macias then made his play: "Your counselor says you get away with a lot," she reported that Macias said. "Are you good with your mouth?" At first she thought he was asking if she was good at talking, but then -- she claimed -- she realized he meant sexual favors. "My stomach dropped. Like, I didn't know -- I was on the spot. I didn't know what to do."
The woman said Macias on October 13, 2003, told her to meet him in a Winn-Dixie parking lot a half-mile from the drug court office. During her testimony, she said she called a friend for comfort but knew she would go through with it. "It was my worst fear to go to jail. I didn't know what else to do... He gave me an opportunity to not go to jail," she said.
The woman testified she entered a white van where Jaime was waiting. He told her to perform oral sex, and she did. Then, she claimed, he asked if she would rather have had intercourse instead. She said no. He assured her she wouldn't go to jail. "I'll take care of it," he allegedly said.
A few days later, a judge scolded her for failing multiple drug tests but gave her another chance. She would wear a patch that monitors drug use. But the woman continued to fail drug tests, and after more than a year in the drug court program, she was ordered to go to an inpatient drug treatment facility. There she told a counselor about the alleged encounter with Macias, and he reported it to police.
Cops then asked the woman to call Macias. They instructed her to tell a false story about needing help to get some fees waived. They recorded the call.
"You're all paid up; you don't owe anything," Jaime allegedly said.
"But they told me I still owed some money," she responded.
"No, you're all caught up. But come by. I want to graduate you. Vanessa will be here," he said, referring to the counselor who directly handled the woman's case. "Let's work something out to get you out of here."
"But I don't want to do that again," she responded.
"That's behind us," he said. "I kept my promise."
Based on that conversation, he was charged criminally in 2004 with sexual battery by a government official.
Macias pleaded not guilty. He told the court the woman had blamed the drug-testing procedure for the failed drug tests. She wanted the patch, and he agreed to help.
"I give you my word that I will go with what the counselor [says]," he says he responded.
That was it, he says. As for the claim of oral sex in a van, Macias says it was all lies -- and there wasn't even a van. Indeed, when detectives investigated the case and looked for the van, they couldn't find it.
As for the recorded phone conversation, Macias said he just wanted to help her graduate and move on. "And then what I say is, well, leave that in the past. Because in drug addiction, it's one step at a time, so you're trying to forget the past," he explained at trial.
In regard to the statement that he "kept his promise," he told New Times in a letter that the words were just drug-counselor-speak. Counselors keep their promise to their clients to help them beat addiction.
During the three-day trial, a 19-year-old woman, also sentenced to drug court, claimed Macias had propositioned her as well. She said she turned him down and nothing else came of it. And although her testimony was short and seemingly inconsistent (she claimed she didn't know the alleged victim even though they were in the same group), it didn't help the former Jersey cop. The jury found Macias guilty of abusing his position. Judge John J. Murphy III sentenced the 59-year-old Macias to 15 years in prison.
But the case wasn't over. In 2006, the victim sued the county, alleging Macias had caused emotional damage. She accused the Broward County Sheriff's Office of negligence, but United States District Judge K. Michael Moore dismissed the case on a technicality. She never refiled.
Though Macias filed one appeal that failed, he recently completed a second that claims prosecutors withheld evidence of a motive for the woman to lie: If she testified against Macias, she would once and for all be out of the clutches of drug court and get the cocaine charge off her record. Today the courts database shows the victim has only a traffic violation. Macias alleges she received a second chance to complete a drug program because of her accusations against him.
Eleven years later, MaryAnn Macias has no doubt her husband is innocent. "If I did, I wouldn't be here," she says.
Shortly before Macias' trial in 2005, the couple had moved into a spacious Boca Raton home. But they had been there barely a year before she had to sell it to pay her husband's legal fees. She then moved into the small condo in Miami Beach where she now lives by herself. MaryAnn also says she had to quit working as a teacher in 2007 because of stress related to dealing with her husband's incarceration.
For Jaime, things are even worse in jail. He has developed neuropathy, a nerve damage condition that traces to his time in Vietnam. He also suffers from posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of his military service.
MaryAnn has written letter after letter to prison doctors, urging them to give Jaime the treatment he needs. She's worried that by the time he gets out, he'll be at least 73 years old.
"I just want to be able to enjoy the time we have left," she says, "however little that time might be."
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E-mail him at Ray.Downs@browardpalmbeach.com.
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