Cop, Judge, and Jury
On October 8, 2003, Ronald Addvensky received the visit every drug dealer fears. Two Hollywood police narcotics detectives, Pete Salvo and Robert Wolfkill, armed with a search warrant, raided the 57-year-old's mobile home near South Park Road in Hollywood.
The detectives found a box containing 54.5 grams of cocaine, 12 grams of marijuana, seven bottles of the prescription painkiller Hydrocodone, and $7,100 in cash inside the bedroom closet.
"OK, you got me," Addvensky, a short, skinny man with a pencil-thin mustache, told the Hollywood police officers. "You got all I got. It's all in there."
Facing a minimum sentence of three years in prison, Addvensky tried the drug-dealer's time-honored gambit for wriggling out of significant punishment: He offered to squeal on some of his colleagues. As part of a deal with the Broward State Attorney's Office, Addvensky agreed to provide Hollywood police officers with information on other drug pushers in exchange for leniency.
But Addvensky made a critical error. Among the alleged dealers he gave up was 59-year-old Richard "Dino" Ferro, a family friend of Salvo's, leading to all sorts of problems for the hapless dealer. On August 13, 2004, Addvensky filed a complaint with Hollywood's Internal Affairs, alleging that Salvo and Wolfkill did not act on his credible information.
IA's subsequent investigation seemed to corroborate that claim. According to a statement Ferro's girlfriend gave to investigators, Salvo found Ferro with an unspecified amount of OxyContin. Instead of arresting and charging Ferro, Salvo took the drugs and covered up the crime, according to the statement.
It's the latest in a series of allegations of officer misconduct that Salvo has faced during his career at the Hollywood Police Department, the third-largest law enforcement agency in Broward. Since joining the force in 1984, Salvo has been accused of sexual battery, brutality, and manslaughter (see "Strong Arm of the Law," September 30, 2004). Despite having been investigated by IA ten times since 1997, Salvo has been punished only once -- a written reprimand for improperly distributing fliers at police headquarters. In 2003, Salvo was named the department's Officer of the Year.
A New Times review of IA files revealed that Hollywood rarely sustains complaints against officers. Only nine of 76 cases reviewed were not dismissed. In fact, even when provided directly with firsthand information that Salvo may have covered up a crime to protect a family friend, IA simply declined to investigate. There's a reason for the lack of tenacity, officers have conceded in the past. In Hollywood, IA assignments rotate among senior officers, meaning that once an officer is transferred back to the force, he's suddenly working for and with people he investigated.
Addvensky's complaint dates back to a meeting on July 14, 2004. About 7 that evening, he met Salvo's partner, Wolfkill, at the parking lot of the Hollywood Public Works building on North Park Road, according to statements given to IA. In an attempt to fulfill his obligation as an informant, Addvensky told the detective that his neighbor at the mobile home park, Dino Ferro, was dealing and using illegal prescription drugs.
"I told him that he was dealing OxyContin, Xanax, and a lot of people have been meeting down there, that he's a big user," Addvensky told IA during an investigation of a complaint he filed.
"Oh, that's Salvo's friend," Addvensky remembered Wolfkill telling him. "He knows the whole family very well. They're good friends for years."
Ferro's brothers own the popular Hollywood restaurant Nick's on the Beach, where Salvo is a regular patron. Salvo is a friend of Ferro's brother, Salvatore.
A few hours after Addvensky provided the tip to Wolfkill, he watched from his mobile home as Salvo's Ford Expedition pulled up next door. Salvo and Wolfkill entered Ferro's trailer, though it's unclear if Salvo represented himself as a friend or lawman. Either way, he didn't have a search warrant.
"I've known Pete for about 10 or 12 years, but I probably haven't seen him three times in the last four or five years," Ferro told IA.
"Look, what's going on here?" Salvo asked Ferro. The detective told Ferro that Addvensky had ratted on him.
"No, it's not true," Ferro said of Addvensky's claim. And so the detectives left, Ferro said.
But Ferro's girlfriend, 36-year-old Dina Arnone, gives a radically different version of the encounter. Arnone, who was in the mobile home with Ferro when the detectives arrived, told IA investigators that Salvo and Ferro were yelling at each other. The detectives found Ferro with an unspecified number of OxyContin pills, she says. She says she witnessed Salvo take the OxyContin and $223 from Ferro's wallet, though no records obtained by IA indicate that the illegal drugs and seized money were placed into police evidence -- an apparent violation of procedure. In 2000, Pembroke Pines police charged Arnone with resisting arrest and battery on a law enforcement officer. She served two years' probation after adjudication was withheld. Her two previous run-ins with the Hollywood police, both domestic disturbance calls involving her and Ferro, were handled without arrests.
"Do you know what Detective Salvo did with the pills and money?" IA Lt. Forrest Jeffries asked Arnone.
She answered: "He said, 'I'm gonna get rid of these pills. Straighten out... Get yourself together, and I'm taking your money, so you can't buy anymore. '"
Immediately after Salvo and Wolfkill left, Arnone added, Ferro went out and bought more pills.
This wasn't the first time that Salvo used his influence as a Hollywood police officer in an attempt to protect members of the Ferro family. On July 21, 2003, Salvo and other Hollywood officers, in a joint operation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, raided the largest marijuana operation in Hollywood history. Investigators found 700 mature cannabis plants and $2.4 million in cash. Two of the four principals in the operation were Mark and Robert Bettencourt, Ferro's nephews. Mark received 33 months in prison and Robert one year and a day, thanks in part to Salvo's intercession.
Salvo claimed both were cooperative informants, though court transcripts indicate that Mark Bettencourt admitted to being stoned during a meeting at the U.S. Attorney's Office, and he later tested positive for cocaine.
As for Robert Bettencourt, Salvo urged the judge to give the proverbial slap on the wrist. He told U.S. District Judge Kenneth A. Marra: "I think any part of jail at all for this young man would be terrible, because I think he's learned his lesson."
In the most recent IA investigation, Addvensky alleged that Ferro's family got blanket protection from Salvo, citing the Bettencourts' light sentences. Salvo's partner, Wolfkill, reacted scornfully to the charge.
"That's one of the most outrageous things I've ever heard," Wolfkill told IA. "Detective Salvo suffered personally over that investigation because he knew some of the family members, and I think he handled the case very honorably and professionally, and he's dealing with that today."
On April 14, IA cleared Salvo and Wolfkill, agreeing with the officers that Addvensky had not provided credible information. However, IA officers never investigated Arnone's claim that Salvo took Ferro's OxyContin and money. Despite having Arnone's sworn statement, IA investigators -- including Lt. Jeffries and Lt. Danzell Brooks, who has since returned to regular patrol duty -- failed to follow normal police procedure and launch a separate investigation.
After repeated inquiries by New Times, IA officers questioned Salvo. According to Capt. Tony Rode, a spokesman, Salvo told police brass that he gave the illegal prescription drugs and money to Ferro's brother, Salvatore, a felon who served five years' probation for 1982 burglary and grand theft charges.
Rode said the department will not discipline Salvo or investigate further. "Certainly a narcotics detective has some leeway in what he does," Rode said.
But affording a narcotics detective such freedom with contraband is unprecedented, according to Richard Mangan, a criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University. "If you're going to take something away from somebody, you better be able to cover your tracks with some kind of arrest and documented procedure for what you did with whatever you seized," said Mangan, a former DEA agent. "If you don't, you've left yourself open to all kinds of issues. I'm surprised the State Attorney's Office isn't looking into this."
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