Miami-Dade’s Emil Van Lugo: High Standards In Cars, Low Standards In Gasoline
September 29, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Some cops drive it like they stole it, but Emil Van Lugo stole it to drive it. No, he didn’t steal the car. He stole the gas to drive his luxury high-performance cars. Convicted this week, former Miami-Dade Police Sergeant Emil Van Lugo now faces up to five years in prison for several counts of theft and a felony organized scheme to defraud the county after Lugo stole county gasoline to fuel his personal vehicle. Sentencing will take place later this year.
As a police officer, Lugo had access to the county fuel pumps. Officers routinely use county owned fuel stations to gas up their patrol vehicles. Nothing wrong with that. Officers drive continuously throughout their workday and use quite a bit of fuel. But that’s also why, in larger jurisdictions, officers generally have access to more than one fuel station. Plus they are usually required to keep their cars fueled because you never know what might happen.
After an anonymous tip, internal affairs investigators began surveillance over Lugo’s fueling activities. He often made weekly trips to the county fuel station. Of course he was fueling his patrol car. But he made these trips on his days off. And to a remote county fueling station – not one normally used by officers but rather one routinely used by drivers from the county’s trash department. More interestingly, Lugo would arrive with large spare gas cans. You know the ones you keep in the garage to fill your lawnmower. Lugo would fill two large cans and then fuel up his patrol car.
Curiously, Lugo would carry the gas cans home and place them in his garage. Later, he would claim these extra gas cans were used to “top off” the patrol car during the week. But investigators secretly filmed Lugo filling up his wife’s metallic black custom-designed BMW Four Series with the red gas cans.
Speaking after the verdict, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said:
Sadly, Sgt. Van Lugo cared more about cheating the county out of a few dollars to fuel his stable of cars than he did about his oath to uphold the law.
Lugo and his attorney, David Edelstein, have long contended he only used the gas for his patrol car. You see, the confusion came about because he kept similar gas cans inside his garage to fuel his Ferraris and occasionally his wife’s BMW. Yes, Ferraris, plural. As a car enthusiast, Lugo owned three Ferraris at the time. Because of his love for cars, especially the high-end performance cars, Lugo reiterated he would never use that low-grade county gas in his personal vehicles:
If anyone knows anything about cars, you can only use premium gas. This is a high-performance vehicle. I’m going to ruin it if I use that kind of gasoline.
And while Lugo’s theory might have made for a good defense, it seems he didn’t count on at least part of the state’s case:
The state says records show Lugo got gas at the remote station on 50 consecutive weekends, while fueling up his cruiser during the week at the county location.
“This was planned. This was well thought out. This was a police officer methodically covering his tracks,” Livanos [the state prosecutor] said. “He’s out there (at the county fuel site) like clockwork, weekend after weekend after weekend.”
Gassing up the patrol car and two extra fuel containers on the weekends while off-duty and at a remote county fuel station, yet, also fueling the patrol car during the week. That’s a lot of gas. If the purpose of the extra cans was to “top off” the patrol car, why refuel it during the week also? Maybe he just drives a lot and uses a lot of gas. Patrolling the streets does take a lot of fuel. Why not use the gas cans during the week also. You know, avoid another trip to the station to top off the ol’ cruiser.
Well, it seems the prosecutors had yet another key piece of evidence:
Neither Lugo nor his wife used their credit cards to purchase gasoline until after he was arrested and suspended last year.
Oops. Never purchased personal gas? What about for the separate gas cans that contained the high performance fuel for personal use? Oh, maybe he just paid cash for that gas.
The defense claims they could prevail on an appeal as the judge refused to allow a Ferrari mechanic’s testimony about the fueling habits of car enthusiasts. It’s not clear what the mechanic would say about car enthusiasts in general, but it seems this car enthusiast cop didn’t necessarily share the same high standards.