By Ryan Yousefi
By Chuck Strouse
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By Michael E. Miller
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Prosecutors have reached the same conclusion in case after case. Reno's office would have the public believe that politicians aren't committing crimes. They're committing "suspicious" actions.
These officials, for instance, were investigated but not prosecuted:
County Commissioner Sherman Winn. During the past nine months, Reno's office has twice investigated Winn and twice cleared him. The first investigation began after the Herald reported that Commissioner Winn's learning-disabled daughter worked for the county, as did his son-in-law, his grandson, and his granddaughter. Questions were raised because the Metro charter prohibits commissioners from becoming involved in county hiring. So what's the story with the son-in-law? Did Winn help architect Harvey Ehrlich get a county job in early 1986? Don Frederick, the Metro architect who hired Ehrlich, said no. That, along with similar denials from former County Manager Merrett Stierheim and his executive assistant, Charles Scurr, was good enough for Reno's office. "Mr. Frederick...stated that Ehrlich followed all routine procedures in obtaining county employment," according to a report by Assistant State Attorney Lawrence D. LaVecchio, "and...Frederick] was unaware that Ehrlich was related to Sherman Winn."
And the two grandchildren? Charles Pezoldt, deputy director of the Metro-Dade Parks and Recreation Department, told investigators that in 1986 he helped find the children summer jobs with the county, after receiving telephone calls from Winn's executive assistant, Kaye Kramer. During those calls, "Ms. Kramer stated that the commissioner would appreciate Dr. Pezoldt's referring the youngsters for employment," LaVecchio wrote in the report clearing Winn. But Kramer told an entirely different story. According to LaVecchio's report, she "denied ever having contacted anyone regarding summer employment for Commissioner Winn's grandchildren." Additionally, wrote LaVecchio, "Commissioner Winn has publicly stated that he does not recall ever having intervened with anyone on behalf of his grandchildren's employment." Apparently either Pezoldt or Kramer lied, but Reno's office determined no one did anything wrong.
Case closed. Winn and his assistant said it didn't happen, so it must not have.
But what about Winn's daughter Patty? Did the commissioner help get her the job in 1988? Again Pezoldt said yes. Again someone else said no. Guess who got credit for the truth? According to Reno's investigation, "there has been no competent evidence discovered indicating that any [county commission] member directed, gave orders, or requested that any particular individual be hired by any agency of county government." Even though Pezoldt told investigators that his boss made it clear Winn wanted a job for his daughter, Reno's office decided otherwise. Pezoldt's boss, Bill Bird, also spoke with investigators, who reported that he "was not approached at any time by Commissioner Winn...and that his decision to have Patty hired was the result of his having fortuitously met with her one day and his being impressed with her desire to live on her own." According to investigators, Winn's assistant, Kaye Kramer, said that Bird "approached Commissioner Winn and asked if he could assist in finding employment for Patty after learning that she had recently returned to Miami from a group home in New Jersey."
The conclusion: case closed. Everyone except the man who did the hiring said it didn't happen, so it must not have happened.
Reno's office also investigated and cleared Winn of extortion and misuse of public position. Again Winn's son-in-law, Harvey Ehrlich, was involved. In this case, prompted by an anonymous letter to Reno's office, Winn was accused of threatening business associates of a man who opposed Ehrlich in a lawsuit. Ehrlich was suing Signature Gardens, a banquet facility in Kendall, for architectural fees he said he deserved. The owner of Signature Gardens, Jerome C. Berlin, declined to pay the full fee because he was unhappy with Ehrlich's work. The negotiations between Berlin and Ehrlich were unfriendly, and according to Reno's report, Berlin received word that Winn was extremely upset about the matter. The business associates - lobbyist Eston "Dusty" Melton and lawyers Jeffrey L. Berkowitz and Lester Goldstein, all of whom frequently appear before the county commission on zoning matters - told investigators that Winn had "communicated his extreme displeasure at the position taken by the management of Signature Gardens," and they were afraid he would automatically vote against any project they were involved in because of their affiliation with Berlin. According to Reno's report, "all three urged [Berlin] to settle as expeditiously as possible to avoid any retaliation" by Winn. Although Berlin told investigators that Winn never threatened him directly, he said he settled the lawsuit at a figure higher than he thought was appropriate.
But Reno's office determined Winn had done nothing illegal. "It is of some concern that [Winn] made it a point to tell at least four attorneys known to represent clients on zoning matters...of his deep displeasure at the actions of a party with whom they were all associated," Assistant State Attorney Joseph M. Centorino wrote in a report clearing Winn. "It is obvious that this did not occur coincidentally. It is also apparent that the concerns these individuals expressed to Berlin resulted in a more favorable settlement to [Winn's] son-in-law than otherwise would have been the case. However, without other proof that [Winn] used or intended to use his public position to intimidate these individuals, there is insufficient evidence to support a criminal or ethical charge against him."