By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The zoning vote investigation of 1987 wasn't the first time Foote had been scrutinized. A year earlier Reno's office had cleared her of filing phony financial disclosure statements, even though Foote admitted to investigators that she provided an altered tax return with the statements, which elected officials are required to file. She supplied what Reno's office termed "a plausible explanation for doing so and promptly amended her financial disclosure forms for the years in question." The plausible explanation: "She stated that she was attempting to hide her assets from her daughter's ex-husband, who would not pay child support if he knew that the assets existed."
The prosecutors found that although Foote filed false forms, "there exists no evidence that she was shielding her sources of income in order to abuse the public office or further her financial interests. Consequently, no charges will be filed." The law, apparently, be damned.
Investigators also cleared State Rep. Luis Rojas (R-Hialeah), this past March, of charges he paid WOCN radio commentator Carlos D'Mant $2000 to broadcast derogatory statements about Rojas's campaign opponent, Christina MacKenzie-Maranon, during the 1988 election. (MacKenzie-Maranon requested the investigation.) State law prohibits candidates and their supporters from giving money or gifts to members of the media in order to receive favorable treatment in elections. Reno's office found that on August 30, 1988, Rojas gave D'Mant's advertising firm two checks for $1000 each, and one check - made out to D'Mant's employer, Union Radio - for $500.
D'Mant maintained that the money was intended for the production of television ads, although he told investigators he didn't remember exactly where the ads were placed. (Investigators discovered that D'Mant paid $425 for commercials on cable's HIT-TV Channel 20.) Shortly before the election, between September 2 and September 8, 1988, D'Mant broadcast several comments about MacKenzie-Maranon, and said her father was racist and anti-Cuban. Reno's investigation showed that "there has been no adequate accounting of the $2000. It is also indisputable that the recipient [D'Mant] made negative political commentary aimed at undermining the campaign of an opponent of Mr. Rojas. Although it is doubtful that all of the money was spent on advertising, there is no evidence directly linking the money to the negative commentary."
Reno's conclusion is familiar: Except for circumstantial evidence, there's nothing to prove that Rojas broke any law. Reno's office could have, but did not, offer D'Mant immunity from prosecution if he'd testify against Rojas. D'Mant and Rojas simply denied MacKenzie-Maranon's allegations; therefore they must not have been true.
A 1988 Reno investigation cleared Virginia Gardens Mayor Roy Whitfield of sales-tax evasion, unlawful compensation, misuse of public position, and perjury/false report to law enforcement officers in connection with the purchase of a $489 Uzi automatic weapon. Reno's inquiry, prompted by an anonymous letter, showed that Whitfield, a vice-principal at Miami Springs Middle School, helped his boss, then-principal Steven Ladd, buy the gun at a discount and without having to pay sales tax, by billing the city for the gun and then having Ladd reimburse Virginia Gardens. Prosecutors eventually granted Ladd immunity in exchange for truthful testimony. While under immunity, Ladd said he "reached an understanding with Whitfield that the bill for the firearm should go to the [city]," Reno's report shows. "He continued to deny, however, that he did so with the intent to avoid paying the state sales tax," and said he finally paid the tax.
Through his lawyer, Whitfield told Reno's investigators that he "had no recollection of conversations he had with others concerning the purchase." After much discussion with his lawyers, Whitfield acknowledged that he had in fact called a gun store, Metro Public Safety Distributors, "to try and get the weapon for Ladd at a good price." He also admitted to telling Ladd that the store should bill the city for the gun if necessary. Finally he told investigators that he had lied under oath during their earlier discussions.
Reno's office decided that Ladd and Whitfield didn't intend to avoid paying the $24 sales tax, and consequently did not pursue tax-evasion charges. Investigators also cleared the two of unlawful-compensation charges because "the benefit derived from Whitfield's involvement in the gun sale went to Ladd, not to Whitfield. There is no evidence that Whitfield was compensated." Thus, no charges. Reno's office did not pursue perjury charges because the two recanted; they changed their stories to the truth, which made the lies, in the eyes of the law, okay. No charges.
And there have been other notable cases:
Former Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez. In this case, Reno's office missed what the feds got. The state attorney investigated when Martinez was accused in 1989 of dealing drugs. A polygraph examiner concluded that the informant in the case was lying about the allegations, and Reno's office did not pursue the matter. The U.S. Attorney's office, however, had other, more significant, interests. This past April, after a protracted investigation of the mayor and others in Hialeah, the feds indicted Martinez on eleven counts of extortion and seven counts of racketeering.
Silvio Cardoso, a former Hialeah councilman, now a government witness granted immunity from prosecution and testifying for the feds about extortion in Hialeah. Reno's investigation into Cardoso's involvement in the extortion plan consisted solely of a February 12, 1985 letter from her chief investigator to an FBI agent who also was investigating: "The FBI will assume responsibility for follow-up on the allegations of criminal activity involving the City of Hialeah Planning and Zoning Board," investigator Havens wrote. "We will cooperate with you in every way possible, and should any violations of state law be developed, we assure you that we will vigilantly pursue the allegations." (The letter followed a Miami Herald series of articles about corruption in Hialeah.) Of course, Reno's office makes a point not to pursue such allegations when the feds are involved.