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Miami detective released on $500,000 bail in New Jersey cocaine case

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Miami federal judge released a Miami-Dade Police Department internal affairs detective on $500,000 bond after he was charged with helping drug smugglers and orchestrating a murder-for-hire plot.

As part of an agreement with federal prosecutors Ralph Mata, 45, will wear an electronic tracking bracelet while released, the judge ordered during a bond hearing on Monday. Mata agreed to waive extradition and will be transferred to New Jersey, where the bulk of the investigation took place.

"He's definitely going to plead not guilty," Mata's attorney Barry Fleisher said, adding that he expects to post bail for Mata later today or tomorrow morning at the latest.

Mata, a 22-year law-enforcement veteran who allegedly called himself "The Milk Man," was arrested last week in Miami in connection with arranging for two assassins dressed in police uniforms and badges to kill two members of a rival group, according to a criminal complaint.

Mata said he would pay the assassins $150,000 per target, the complaint said. In meetings with the would-be assassins, Mata gave them a down payment of $5,000 and a box of cigars for their "willingness" to participate in the plot.

The drug dealers ultimately decided not to move forward with the plot, but Mata was paid for setting it up, the complaint said.

He also helped to transport the drug dealers' money and guns to the Dominican Republic, and was given thousands of dollars and a Rolex watch worth $10,000 for his help, the complaint said.

Mata's arrest stunned the Miami-Dade county police department.

"The allegations against Lt. Mata are beyond shocking and disturbing," the director of the Miami-Dade Police, J.D. Patterson, said in a statement on Monday, offering the full cooperation of his department.

"This matter is a source of monumental disappointment and distress to myself, our community, and the Miami-Dade Police Department family."

Mata's arrest appears linked to three New Jersey men - Juan C. Arias, Martin Nuñez-Lora and Persio Nuñez - arrested in 2012 for smuggling cocaine into the U.S. via shipping containers carrying bananas.

In January 2012 Drug Enforcement Administration agents raided Arias' northern New Jersey home, finding $400,000. Though Arias suspected members of his group stole the money, Mata used law enforcement contacts to learn the DEA seized the money and reported back to members of the organization, according to court documents.

The three men in 2013 each plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute cocaine and are awaiting sentencing. A lawyer for Arias declined to comment and lawyers for Nuñez-Lora and Nuñez couldn't be reached for comment.

Mata also faces other charges, including aiding and abetting a conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

The narcotics charges each carry a maximum penalty of life in prison.

(This story was corrected to say "conviction" instead of "arrest" in paragraph 11)

(Additional reporting by David Adams; editing by Andrew Hay)

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