By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Although the U.S. Attorney's Office took those cases, the laws local officials broke or are currently charged with breaking are not exclusively federal statutes - the state books contain similar versions - and Reno's office could have pursued the whole bunch. Which again raises the question: Why hasn't the state prosecuted?
Because the feds did, says Reno. "If they are pursuing it," says the Dade state attorney, "it is not in the best advantage of the case for us to jump in. It creates a disadvantage for the feds." Unlike federal law, Reno explains, state statutes allow defense lawyers to question witnesses and examine evidence prior to trial, which can make it more difficult for prosecutors to handle such matters in state court. Not everyone in the South Florida legal community buys that rationale, however. "If a man is a crook," says veteran Miami defense attorney Michael Tarkoff, "and the evidence indicates that he's a crook, letting his lawyers take statements from the witnesses prior to trial doesn't change anything."
There are other reasons, too, says Diane Cossin, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's office. Resources, for example. Federal prosecutors frequently work lock step with a number of letter-laden agencies. "We have intelligence of DEA, FBI, ATF, whatever," Cossin says. "The IRS particularly. That kind of investigative agent is important - someone with a financial background which the state might not always have."
Jose Garcia-Pedrosa, the former Miami city attorney who ran for state attorney against Reno in 1984, doesn't accept such responses. He notes that the state attorney's office has its own staff of 26 investigators, and although they might not get assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration or Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents, they can request help from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, local police departments, and other state agencies, including investigators with financial expertise from the state revenue department. The feds, Garcia-Pedrosa claims, are doing Reno's job for her, and shouldn't have to. "We have still, regrettably, one of the most crowded drug-related [federal] criminal dockets in the country," he points out, "and so in areas like public corruption, where there is concurrent federal and state jurisdiction, it is puzzling to see most of the cases being brought by the federal prosecutor. I do not know why that is."
Reno is unfazed by Garcia-Pedrosa's puzzlement. She applauds the feds for prosecuting elected officials and defends her policy of letting them handle many of the cases, because federal agencies, she says, have more time to investigate such matters than her office does. "The FBI and IRS," she explains, "don't have the burden of street violence." She says her department has a good relationship with the U.S. Attorney's Office, and frequently works with them. "I don't put up trophies," she says. "We shouldn't worry about perception, or who gets credit for it. We should worry about the end result." Mary Cagle, the plain-spoken chief of Reno's public corruption unit, echoes her boss's comments, and says her office frequently hands over volumes of investigative material to the feds. Credit, she contends, "really doesn't matter. Everybody - them and us - are basically here to get the bad guys."
But when the bad guys are politicians, it adds a new dimension to prosecutions. Although Reno is adamant about keeping politics out of her office, the fact remains that she is a politician and faces election every four years - her current term expires in 1992. She depended on the good will of Gov. Reubin Askew for her appointment in 1978, and has depended upon the good will of the voters to keep her job ever since. It may not be politically wise for such a person to prosecute popular politicians, observers point out. Yet with the exception of a handful of habitual complainers who have little credibility, few people question Reno's personal integrity. Even her most tendentious critics - Garcia-Pedrosa, for instance - vouch for her veracity. In fact, one local lawyer says, "If she weren't so honest, I'd be sure there was some kind of payoff with public corruption cases."
Again the question: If she's so honest and the cases so important, where are the prosecutions?
Perhaps the answer lies in the corruption politicians are committing. Reno's files portray a county practically oozing with political chicanery. Yet Reno's office insists that it oozes on just the right side of the law.
Consider, for instance, the Barry Schreiber case. After news reports revealed his questionable trip, assistant state attorneys and investigators pored over the Metro commissioner's travel records and financial disclosure forms. They checked with airlines and credit card companies. And they concluded Schreiber hadn't broken the law.
"Dade County ultimately paid for a hotel room, airfare, conference registration, and taxicab rides in order for Commissioner Schreiber to attend a conference," Assistant State Attorney Andrew S. Hague wrote in a March 21, 1990 memorandum clearing Schreiber of legal wrongdoing. "In order to prove theft, the state has to show criminal intent. If one looks behind Mr. Schreiber's actions, it is difficult to isolate a plausible motive." Schreiber, the investigators discovered, paid nearly $200 of his own money to fly from Washington to New York - about the same as he would have paid for a direct flight from Miami to New York. "Dade County never received the benefit of that investment because Mr. Schreiber did not attend the conference," Hague wrote. "The issue is whether or not Mr. Schreiber's actions amount to a crime. As suspicious as this appears, it does not cross the threshold making it a criminal violation."