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Former North Bay Village Police Chief Carlos Noriega — who was fired in April 2018 while investigating a criminal allegation against the former mayor — will be returning to the helm of the small police department in exchange for dropping his whistleblower case against the village, according to an announcement posted to Facebook by North Bay Village Mayor Brent Latham on Wednesday.
“This closes a sad and troubling chapter in North Bay Village’s history. Alongside the vice mayor and my fellow commissioners, our village administration and employees, and now Chief Noriega and our police force, I look forward to continuing to lead our city forward on an ambitious and just path,” Latham wrote in the Facebook announcement.
The department is currently run by Chief Brian Collins, who has been serving on an interim basis since Noriega’s replacement took over as village manager in July 2018.
Noriega told the Miami Herald the agreement with the village to return as chief is still “tentative” as he discusses the specifics with his attorneys. It’s also pending approval both from his attorneys and the village commission, which is set to vote on the terms of the agreement at its meeting on May 14.
“Obviously this has been a long and hard fought effort to return to NBV as their police chief,” Noriega said.
Noriega’s whistelblower complaint, filed in federal court in June 2018, alleges that former village manager Marlen Martell had been instructed to fire him by then Mayor Connie Leon-Kreps. At the time, Kreps was under investigation by Noriega’s department for possible involvement in what appeared to be an effort to blackmail a member of the village commission. Martell confirmed as much in a sworn statement.
“She [Leon-Kreps] had expressed to me that the chief was not acting properly — that he was one-sided on an issue having to do with another commissioner, and that he was trying to get her in jail, and therefore, he needed to go,” Martell said in a deposition, though she maintained she ultimately terminated him based on her own judgment.
In her deposition, Leon-Kreps denied the allegations against her. The State Attorney’s Office would later find that there was no evidence that blackmail had actually occurred.
The negotiations with Noriega about returning followed a closed meeting of commissioners on Monday afternoon when they discussed ongoing legal action against the city. Prior to the session, the commission took feedback from the community, where several people spoke in support of Noriega.
Bringing Noriega back to the village is just the latest effort by the new commission — three of the five members are newly elected — to change the direction of the scandal-plagued village. Earlier this year, the commission removed interim Village Manager Luis Velken, who attempted to circumvent rules against double dipping in Florida’s state-run pension system when he was hired by the previous commission to replace Noriega as police chief.
The new commission also recently fired Norman Powell, who was made village attorney in 2017 after a surprise middle-of-the-night motion from Leon-Kreps to fire the former village attorney. Leon-Kreps immediately endorsed Powell, who was later accused of involvement both in the firing of Noriega and in Velken’s attempt to get around the Florida Retirement System rules. Powell has repeatedly denied those allegations.