Monday, September 02, 2013

In New York Times: Miami cited for arrest of 3 mayors, Florida "a Hothouse for Corruption" ... by gimleteye

Writing on Corruption is a regular topic at Eye On Miami. Let's be serious: there is nothing romantic about what happens, here. Corruption in Florida begins with business interests who fund political fortunes and recruit allies in elected office as proxies in zoning and land use battles. It's trickle down economics 101.

As President Jimmy Carter recently told an audience in Europe; America is not a functional democracy. In Florida, political parties have atrophied. The Tea Party is a shell, with well-meaning "grass roots" incapable of sorting out whose interests it really represents. If there is courage among the political class to bust the Florida "hothouse" for corruption, I don't know where it is.

If there are Florida voters who care, now is the time to perk up.

September 1, 2013
Arrests of 3 Mayors Reinforce Florida’s Notoriety as a Hothouse for Corruption
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Even by Florida standards, the arrests of three suburban Miami mayors on corruption charges within a month were a source of dismay, if not exactly a surprise.

On Wednesday, Steven C. Bateman, 58, the mayor of Homestead, was arrested. He is accused of accepting under-the-table payments from a health care company that sought to build a clinic in town, the state attorney’s office for Miami-Dade County said. Mr. Bateman was turned in by City Council members and staff, said employees interviewed Friday at City Hall.

On Aug. 6, Manuel L. Maroño, 41, the mayor of Sweetwater and president of the Florida League of Cities, and Michael A. Pizzi, 51, the Miami Lakes mayor, were picked up along with two lobbyists. The United States attorney’s office has accused them of involvement in kickback and bribery schemes concerning federal grants.

Prosecutors said Mr. Maroño had received more than $40,000 in bribes and Mr. Pizzi $6,750. The defendants, who were targets of an F.B.I. sting operation, are charged with “conspiracy to commit extortion under color of official right” and could face 20 years in prison if convicted.

Gov. Rick Scott suspended all three mayors while the criminal cases proceed.

“We bought the trifecta,” said Carla Miller, the ethics officer for Jacksonville and a former federal prosecutor. “It’s bad when three mayors get led out in handcuffs. What’s left of the public trust gets ground into little pieces.”

Not that such situations are unusual in Florida, which led the country in convictions of public officials — 781 — between 2000 and 2010, according to Department of Justice figures.

“Florida has become the corruption capital of America,” said Dan Krassner, the executive director of a watchdog group, Integrity Florida, citing statistics going back to 1976 and the “significant number of public officials arrested this year and last.”

Florida, and especially Miami and its environs, has long had a reputation as a place where the odd and the eccentric mix with the furtive and the felonious. Last century, organized crime figures from Chicago and New York set up lucrative gambling, extortion and loan-sharking endeavors in Miami Beach and elsewhere, and beginning in the 1980s, South Florida’s economy, culture and reputation were transformed by drug trafficking.

With so much money sloshing about, it was perhaps inevitable that a parade of officials would enrich themselves illicitly at the public trough.

One was Alex Daoud, who in 1985 became the mayor of Miami Beach and six years later was indicted on 41 counts of bribery. He served 18 months in prison, and has since written a memoir.

Last year in Miami Beach, City Manager Jorge Gonzalez, who was making $273,000 a year and had been mired in a web of investigations, was forced to step down after seven of his employees were arrested in a federal corruption investigation. His six-figure pension remained intact.

The arrests of the three Miami-Dade mayors followed news in July that the Securities and Exchange Commission had charged the City of Miami and one of its former budget directors with securities fraud, only a few years after the commission reprimanded the city for similar behavior. In May, a former mayor of Hialeah, Julio Robaina, and his wife, Raiza, were charged with failing to report income from high-interest loans totaling more than $1 million that they had made under an informal system involving friends and associates. The Robainas said they were innocent.

In 2011, in the largest municipal recall election in the country, the mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Alvarez, was removed from office after he gave large pay raises to close aides and then pushed for a significant increase in property taxes.

This year, the State Legislature approved two ethics bills and six that focus on government transparency and accountability — the first time in 36 years that state lawmakers had passed ethics legislation. Mr. Krassner and others think legislators could do more. But many people seem resigned to the prevalence of officials who appear oblivious to ethical boundaries.

“They get drunk on power,” said Katy Sorenson, who served on the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners for 16 years and runs the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami, which educates elected officials about ethics and related issues.

“There’s a certain psychology to some of the people who run for office here — they don’t think they’re going down the wrong track, but there’s a slippery slope,” she added. “There’s a lack of self-awareness, an immaturity, a brazenness, of feeling like a big shot. So when they’re arrested, they’re very surprised.”

The persistence of political malfeasance — often involving the stereotypical envelopes stuffed with cash, delivered with knowing nods — perplexes those for whom public service is a noble calling.

“Maybe it’s the heat,” said Ruth Campbell, 93, a former City Council member here and the curator of the Historic Homestead Town Hall Museum.

Mrs. Campbell, who has lived in town since 1942, was sadly aware of Florida’s reputation as a haven for corruption. “We like to be distinguished,” she said, “but not like that.”

Prosecutors said Mr. Bateman, among other things, had failed to disclose that the health care company, Community Health of South Florida Inc., secretly agreed to pay him $120,000 over a year to lobby on its behalf. By the time he was arrested, he had accepted $3,625, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said.

After the mayor’s arrest, a City Council member, Judy Waldman, told reporters, “I have zero tolerance for people using their public office to make money.” Ms. Waldman, who referred to Mr. Bateman only as “that individual,” said his activities on behalf of Community Health Care of South Florida were “just the tip of the iceberg,” and encouraged prosecutors to dig deeper.

Mr. Bateman’s lawyer, Ben Kuehne, told The Associated Press that his client was “shocked” by his arrest and had “served the community for many years in an honest, dependable manner.”

At City Hall on Friday, in a frame that contained photos of city officials, Mr. Bateman’s likeness had been concealed behind a paper copy of the city’s crest. But a day earlier, a group of his supporters rallied a couple blocks away, and Mr. Bateman, out on bond, showed up, shook hands and vowed to fight the charges.


Geniusofdespair said...

What are you crazy Gimleteye? Our readership is up dramatically with all this corruption. I want more not less. Let's become the most corrupt county in Florida and people will be seeking our blog for the real story.

Anonymous said...

Ironic that corruption is featured in the Times on Labor Day. Guess it's an editorial comment on what defines "work" in Miami and Miami-Dade.

Anonymous said...

Washington Post had Bateman yesterday.

Anonymous said...

We have to look on the bright side of this. Maybe this is the beginning of the end of the political culture of corruption. The feeling that they have of being "big shots" as Sorenson characterizes it, will soon leave as more and more go to jail. But over seven hundred elected officials going to jail in a few years is staggering. It is almost like a criminal enterprise, instead of people of good-will trying to help their neighbors and communities solve problems. Our attention now has to be focused on solutions. The magnitude of the problem has been revealed and we have got to get back on track.

Anonymous said...

Term limits starting from Congress on down would be helpful. Locally, each City would have to do their parts too. 8 yrs like we have down here for our Reps. for the Senate, two six year terms are enough. Locally, it should run the same for Councils and Mayors. There are plenty of offices for career politicians to move on to, at least in Florida. Any politician who thinks their so invaluable we regular folks wouldn't know what to do without them are kidding themselves.

Anonymous said...

They sugarcoat the Miami Beach scandals, because they don't want to get sued by the city manager.

Anonymous said...

What about Steve Marin telling Marc Sarnoff what to do? Feds on that?

Anonymous said...

Interesting that the lobbyists censured by the Commission on Ethics had their thunder stolen by the Mayors. Jose Louis Castillo runs the Greenpoint Group that ran Lynda Bell and John Dubois' campaigns. He was fined for not disclosing conversations regarding quasi judicial matters with electeds in Cutler Bay. He got in trouble only because those electeds outed him in their disclosures.

So what else is he doing? Those campaigns run by him have birthed lawsuits and complaints galore against local residents and electeds.

He's a pro. It takes a pro to teach the newbies how to break the law. When will the electeds he works for get caught?

Anonymous said...

We don't have control of the federal level, but we can completely control state and local governments. Beyond that there is the seniority system of power, there is a big learning curve for national and international issues, power is diffused among many players, they are always being watched by many people, and when there are criminal intents and actions, they usually go to jail. We already have term limits at the state level, establishing them at the municipal and county levels could be a good idea.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Why wasn't North Miami Mayor Andre Pierre arrested? Could there be a more corrupt mayor on the planet?

Anonymous said...

I would think business "leaders" would be the first to try to do something about this culture of corruption - what I don't know. Because what does a story like the New York Times say to corporations thinking of relocating here? Pay to play? Hire a lobbyist? Donate to elected officials generously? It's a zero sum game and frankly, not worth it. That's why we are not attracting the kind of businesses we need to grow the quality jobs we want. Oh, and the fact that with elected officials more worried about appeasing special interests, we have a poorer and poorer quality of life. Geez, we can't even keep our libraries funded.

Anonymous said...

Miami is the Detroit of the South. Ratings agencies: beware.

Anonymous said...

781- that is a lot. It is almost 800 for the ten year period, or almost 80 elected officials per year. Maybe we are sending out the wrong message. Maybe they think it is some sort of "get rich quick scheme" off the backs of the taxpayers. With so many going to jail for bribery, kick-backs and the like, there is definitely a sense that one can get dirty money from being in elected office. We have to change the messaging. We must make public office the last place for people to consider if they want to make money. Then we will begin to attract those who really are concerned about people and the communities. Many of those arrested should have started businesses, created jobs for people, and yes, made money for themselves. They are needed not in public service, but helping to fuel this economy. Instead they are all in jail, an embarrassment to their families, their communities, and the state.

Anonymous said...

Since we have been called the "Hothouse for Corruption", we need to take drastic measures. What about an affidavit form asking vendors and corporate entities coming before the commissions and city councils to disclose if any elected or appointed official, or their representatives have requested under-the -table payments, kickbacks, bribes, extortion, illicit cash, jobs or contracts for family members, and money to lobbyists to give to them, for support for that item on the agendas? Since counties and cities are creatures of the state, the state can impose disclosure statements on all jurisdictions. If they say "yes" then those forms would immediately go to the State Attorney 's office and the FBI. It puts the issue up front so everyone knows there is no gray area.

Anonymous said...

We may also want to look at the penalties, lengthening time in jail.

Anonymous said...

That's an interesting idea. The only people who would be against it are the crooks. For the honest elected official, there would be no change at all because this is how they operate. For the business or company, it is relief because they don't have to pay payola under the table. They can focus on providing excellence. It is a win-win for everyone except the crooks.

Anonymous said...

Yes, anyone who would be against this measure would self-identify themselves as crooks, and we could begin to closely look at them.