FDLE’s Miami regional office ‘like ‘The Walking Dead'”

By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org 

Miami FDLE Agent Addy Villanueva, former special agent in charge. Photo: CBSMiami.com

Miami FDLE Agent Addy Villanueva, former special agent in charge. Photo: CBSMiami.com

The Miami regional office of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was a dysfunctional, hostile workplace where the special agent-in-charge, Addy Villanueva, was in the dark about turmoil between rank-and-file officers and her abrasive second-in-command, Robert Breeden.

That’s the conclusion of a six-month internal FDLE investigation that ended with Breeden being forced out and Villanueva, the first Hispanic female to serve as a special agent-in-charge, agreeing to accept a demotion. 

FloridaBulldog.org used Florida’s public records law to obtain a copy of the final report, which shows that agents attached to the FDLE’s Office of Executive Investigations interviewed 67 current and former special agents, two statewide prosecutors and others.

POTTY-MOUTH MICROMANAGER?

Forty-two agents, the two prosecutors and four other FDLE employees described Breeden as a nightmare boss: a potty-mouthed micromanager who blew his stack over office minutiae and bullied subordinates, high-ranking peers and cops from other agencies.

Breeden, in his sworn statement last September, denied the allegations that were sustained against him.

“I categorically deny mistreating or abusing anybody,” Breeden said. “It certainly has never been my motive. I have no malice toward anybody.”

Former Miami Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Breeden

Former Miami Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge Robert Breeden

Breeden, 52, did not return a message sent to his Facebook account requesting comment. On December 29, he filed a whistleblower complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations, alleging he was unjustly fired for reporting “misfeasance, malfeasance and gross misconduct” by Villanueva.

The complaint alleges Breeden told then-FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey at a July 24, 2013 meeting that Villanueva, who was getting divorced at the time, had repeatedly asked him to use his state car to give rides to her boyfriend, a Miami-Dade cop. She also used FDLE funds to buy a printer for her home and was hardly in the office, Breeden alleged.

When Villanueva learned Breeden had ratted her out to Bailey, she gathered her troops in Miami for a witch-hunt aimed at destroying his 20-year-career with the state’s top law enforcement agency, the complaint says.

Breeden’s Tallahassee attorney, Tiffany Cruz, said no one at FDLE had a bad word to say about her client until he went against Villanueva. “No one ever complained Bob was a tyrant,” Cruz said. “It was convenient timing. A majority of the people who made statements against Bob are aligned with Addy.”

BAILEY HAS ENOUGH

Nevertheless, the 113-page investigative report prepared by Inspector Keith B. Riddick was enough for Bailey. In one of his final acts as FDLE commissioner before Gov. Rick Scott forced him out last month, Bailey shook up his management team in Miami by removing Villanueva as special-agent-in-charge and forcing Breeden to retire. He is using up accrued leave time until Feb. 3, his official retirement date.

FDLE spokesman Steve Arthur said Villanueva asked to be demoted to a supervisor position.

According to the report, special agents of the FDLE’s Miami Regional Operations Center – which covers Palm Beach, Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties – had been having problems with Breeden since his days as a line supervisor seven years ago.

Special agent Leslie D’Ambrosia, who’s been with FDLE for 27 years, said her first encounter with Breeden’s unpleasant personality occurred during the Republican Governor’s Conference held in Tallahassee in November 2008.

She said Breeden screamed at her in front of a group of civilians because she did not want to answer his question in public about where they were taking one of the governors. “She feels that was the beginning of the end of their relationship,” the report states.

“TEFLON BOB”

D’Ambrosia claimed Breeden let people know he had friends in high places, especially James Madden, one of Bailey’s deputy commissioners who retired last year. “His favorite name to drop is that of Jim Madden,” she said. “There’s a perception of him being ‘Teflon Bob.”

Special agent Kristen Hoffacker recalled that Breeden aggressively poked her in the shoulder when he asked her where D’Ambrosia was during a training session for officer involved shootings last year.

“It may not have been abusive, but she felt that it was definitely inappropriate,” the report states. “She said the poke or shove was a little bit forceful and since it was during the instruction it caught her off guard.”

Special agent supervisor John Vecchio described the atmosphere in the Miami headquarters like “a family with an abusive father.”

“The father’s abuse is somewhat tolerable at first,” Vecchio said. “But when left unchecked becomes worse over the years and gets to the point where the whole family becomes dysfunctional.”

Vecchio claimed Breeden would often berate him, and that did the same with others, including D’Ambrosia.

“Is it me or is Leslie a complete bitch?” the report says Breeden once told Vecchio.

Susan Kopp, another special agent supervisor, said Breeden constantly critiqued her management style and the agents she assigned to her team. Special agent Donald Cannon, who reported to Kopp, told investigators Kopp looked like “Napoleon Bonaparte after Waterloo” following her meetings with Breeden.

Cannon said he was relieved that he worked in the FDLE Miami’s satellite office in West Palm Beach. “I go down there, it’s like ‘The Walking Dead,’” Cannon said, comparing the Miami operations center to the hit television series about a zombie apocalypse. “No one is happy. You can’t be productive when all you hear is bad things.”

Even outsiders took notice of Breeden’s mistreatment of subordinates.

Oscar Gelpi, an assistant statewide prosecutor based in Fort Lauderdale, told investigators that he was present at a residence where a search warrant was being executed on June 17, 2013. Breeden was throwing his weight around and “barking at someone about how he’s the boss,” Gelpi said.

Gelpi’s colleague, deputy statewide prosecutor Julie Hogan, was also present for the search warrant. “Everyone was on edge once Bob was there,” she said. “People find Bob very intimidating and walk around not knowing really where he stands. I get that impression all the time working with FDLE.”

BREEDEN’S SUPPORTERS

But Breeden also had supporters. Investigators interviewed 29 former and current special agents, four non-sworn FDLE employees, and two Miami-Dade prosecutors who described Breeden as a solid, no-nonsense administrator who did not mistreat co-workers.

“Typically the people that have a problems are the people who don’t produce,” said Special Agent William Saladrigas.

Villanueva, however, never caught wind of the dissension swirling around her until after Breeden complained, according to the report.

In her June 17 sworn statement, Villanueva revealed that she and Breeden expressed their distrust for each other during a meeting near the end of October 2013. Earlier that month, she had gone to Tallahassee to meet with Bailey, who told her someone in her command staff had accused her of misconduct.

Villanueva told the executive office investigators that Breeden didn’t want to accept responsibility for his mistreatment of rank-and-file officers. Breeden tried to turn it around on her by claiming that whatever was wrong was her fault, she said.

Breeden, however, told investigators “the whole thing started to unravel” after his 2013 meeting with Bailey about Villanueva.

“For 19 years I never had a problem,” Breeden said. “I’m terribly sorry that [Villanueva] has chosen to portray this the way she has.”

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