Swallowing anonymous tip in court gets Crime Stoppers chief cited for contempt

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Ordered by a Florida judge Friday to hand over an anonymous tip that led to a cocaine possession case, the executive director of Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers instead swallowed the evidence right in the courtroom.

That resulted in a contempt citation against Richard Masten, who could get as much as two weeks in jail for disobeying the judge’s order, NBC 6 South Florida reports.

Although the paper he swallowed did not identify the tipster, Masten said he was afraid that handing the tip over to the judge would have set a dangerous precedent concerning those whom Crime Stoppers has promised to protect when they provide information anonymously on a telephone hotline. Masten said it is possible that information provided by the tipster listed on the sheet could have revealed his or her identity.

“We promise the people who give us information to solve murders, serious violent crimes in this community, that they can call with an assurance that they will remain anonymous and that nothing about them or their information would ever be compromised,” said Masten, who formerly served as police chief of Miami Shores. “The case today started creeping into that … it’s not going to happen on my watch, and I understood the consequences.”

Miami-Dade County Circuit Judge Victoria R. Brennan said Masten has until Thursday to turn over the information or turn himself in for a two-week stint in jail, the Miami Herald (sub. req.) reports. She also fined him $500.

“The court would be remiss to turn a blind eye to a flagrant refusal to honor a court order, and give more value to an individual’s opinion on what is right, than to the dictates of the laws enacted by the people of Florida,” said the judge in a written order in the contempt case.

Although television cameras were rolling, the judge was not in the courtroom when Masten ate the tip, the newspaper notes.

The anonymous tip resulted in a cocaine possession charge in 2013 against Lissette Alvarez, 45. The Hialeah woman was arrested after police in Coral Gables were tipped that she was dealing cocaine. She was arrested at a restaurant and found to have residue and a small amount of suspected cocaine in her handbag, police said.

Her lawyer, Jean Michel D’Escoubet, said he needs to know what the tip said to defend his client.

“The information against the accused within a tip is very important to the accused,” D’Escoubet said. “What I seek and what I’ve been waiting for is information within the tip, not the identity of the tipster.”

Hat tip: Orlando Sentinel.

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