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
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Jeb Bush's personal style was deliberate, intense, and so sincere that even his political foes found him affable. He didn't seek to exploit his father's name and he worked hard. "He would go to any event," recalls Metro Commissioner Mary Collins, who served as Bush's vice chairman in the local Republican Party. "If there were three Republicans in a room together, he would go." Collins recalls seeing Jeb talking to neighborhood Republican groups on Saturday mornings, with his son in tow. During the 1984 presidential election, he debated Dade high school students about the virtues of Ronald Reagan over Walter Mondale.
One of the difficulties Jeb Bush encountered, according to Collins, was that nobody wanted to disagree with the son of the vice president. "It was kind of funny," Collins says. "At Dade County committee meetings, Jeb would ask for discussion of a certain question and everybody would say, `Let's do it your way.' Everybody would defer to Jeb. It drove him crazy."
The truth was, a lot of people wanted to ingratiate themselves to Jeb Bush. One way to do that: money. And once Bush became chairman of Dade's GOP, the money began to roll in. In his first nine months at the helm, the party collected $176,000. Among the contributors was Leonel Martinez. On May 5, 1984, shortly after returning from a trip to Panama to deposit drug cash into one of his offshore accounts, Martinez made out a $200 check to the Dade County Republican Party.
Six weeks later Martinez had a close call with the law. On June 16, 1984, a Coast Guard patrol noticed that a yacht called the Seahorse was riding low in the water. When agents boarded the boat, they found 23,800 pounds of marijuana, and three men on board were arrested. The boat's ownership records showed that a Panamanian corporation had purchased the boat from Martinez. When U.S. Customs agents paid a visit to Martinez at his mansion in Cocoplum, he explained that he didn't know the people who had bought his boat, and he gave the agents a tour of his estate to prove he had nothing to hide. The agents were more impressed with the house than with the story, but although they probed further, they were unable to come up with anything that disproved Martinez's version. Frank Lino Diaz, the Miami lawyer who handled the sale of the boat - and a reputed money launderer - was later indicted and fled the country. The three men arrested on the boat were convicted but never squealed on Martinez. The investigation died.
On July 26, 1984, six weeks after the Seahorse seizure, Martinez and his wife made a second contribution to Jeb Bush's Dade County Republican Party. The amount: $2000.
At least two other unscrupulous local businessmen were making large contributions to the local Republican Party during 1984: Camilo Padreda, since convicted of fraud and more recently a star witness in the extortion trial of suspended Hialeah Mayor Raul Martinez; and Miguel Recarey, Jr., one of the most extraordinary con men of our time. On September 13, 1984, Padreda, a well-known Miami developer, donated $1000 to the Dade County GOP. The same day Recarey, head of a health maintenance organization, gave $2000.
Camilo Padreda went on to become a political and business associate of Jeb Bush, an important player in Miami GOP circles, and a crook. A former counterintelligence officer for the corrupt regime of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, Padreda fled Castro and his homeland to begin anew in Miami, where he enjoyed a spectacular rise to prominence in both business and politics.
He first met Jeb Bush and his father in 1980, during George's campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. His involvement with the local Republican Party was extensive, ranging from major fund raiser to office holder. (In 1988, after Jeb Bush stepped down as chairman, a new regime was installed, with Padreda serving as finance chairman.)
As a businessman Padreda specialized in projects that drew on loans and loan guarantees from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), often including low- or moderate-income housing. (His success as a developer led him to a term as president of the powerful Latin Builders Association.) One project, however, had nothing to do with residential construction.
With help from HUD, Padreda in 1984 began work on a nine-story office building at 5040 NW Seventh Street, just south of Miami International Airport near Blue Lagoon Lake. Despite warnings from the South Florida Regional Planning Council that the local market was glutted with unleased office space, HUD gave Padreda a $1.4 million grant for construction.
When the building was completed in May of 1986, Padreda was scrambling for tenants. He found one in Miguel Recarey, who leased two floors to house a portion of his health maintenance organization. But the market was not good and Padreda needed assistance. He turned to Jeb Bush, who became leasing agent for the building. Jeb and Padreda later told Newsday that Jeb's company, Bush Realty, earned no commissions because the firm never found a tenant for Padreda.
By the time he sought out Jeb Bush's help, Padreda was well established as a man whose professional ethics were scandalous. In sensational testimony earlier this month at the Raul Martinez trial, he revealed a seamy world of corrupt politics and fraudulent business practices throughout Dade County. He spoke from personal experience when he implicated Raul Martinez, former Miami Commissioner Demetrio Perez, and former Dade County Commissioner Jorge Valdes in various crimes, from bribery to extortion to vote selling. Federal prosecutors said last week that he has also provided information for other, ongoing local corruption investigations.