The Strange Case of the Driveway That Never Got Built

When the president of the Latin Quarter Association wanted a new driveway, he went straight to the top. The rest is mystery.

Work crew members insist there were no free lunches, no patio, and no offer from Rojas for the workmen to use his bathroom. And at least one member of the crew doesn't see it Rojas's way at all. For one thing, says Gavino Anton, Jr., after the men had torn up the sidewalks, Prieto-Portar arrived and had a conversation with crew foreman Bennie Thompson. Then Thompson ordered Anton and the rest of the crew to begin constructing a driveway in Rojas's front yard. "I thought it was really strange and I asked why we were doing this work, because all of us know you don't work on private property unless a tree falls down or roots have to be cut or something like that," says Anton. "[Thompson] told me those were his orders from the director, and if there were any problems, we were supposed to tell our supervisor or Erno Rosa to call the director. When the boss says do it, you know, it's what you have to do. So we went to work in the man's yard."

Anton says crew member Julio Lopez tore up the grass with a small bulldozer before the men quit for the day. When they returned to the city's operations yard, crew members alerted their supervisor to the unprecedented task they'd been told to perform. Erno Rosa immediately ordered the men to stay out of the private yard. "I've been doing this for seven-and-a-half years, and people are always trying to get you to do their driveways," says Anton, "but this is the first time ever I've seen something like this. This is like an army and the orders are passed along from the top. We can't even take a square of sidewalk out without the foreman approving. And the foreman doesn't do a thing without an order from his supervisor or from Erno Rosa."

Assistant State Attorney Richard Gregorie, the former assistant U.S. attorney who built the case against ex-Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, is looking into Prieto-Portar's actions. Gregorie, who has already questioned Rojas, Rosa, work foreman Bennie Thompson, and several crew members, also wants to know why only half of a bill for $600 was paid after a Public Works crew laid brick for a sidewalk cafe at the Calle Ocho Market Place at 1390 SW Eighth St. The prosecutor says he cannot comment about an ongoing investigation.

But Gregorie is not the first to investigate the way in which Luis Prieto-Portar goes about his duties. In July 1990, during the course of an investigation into the director's assignment of one of his employees to type a manuscript on city time, Sgt. Harvey Wasserman of the Miami Police Department's Internal Affairs Section determined that "aside from possible criminal conduct [Prieto-Portar had] committed several moral and ethical violations." Wasserman was unable to determine whether the manuscript was intended for publication or if it was, as Prieto-Portar insisted, a Public Works training manual. Wasserman did find, however, that Prieto-Portar had lied when he claimed he was unaware an investigation was under way until he was actually called in to be interviewed by police. The director had in fact been alerted by the typist, who was questioned by police before they called Prieto-Portar. The director later instructed the typist not to admit tipping him off.

After Wasserman completed his investigation, Prieto-Portar acknowledged having lied about speaking to the typist, saying he did it in a "misguided" effort to protect that worker. Prieto-Portar was reprimanded by the city manager. (Wasserman also found Prieto-Portar had taken "extreme literary license" on his resume, in describing manuscripts he had authored as "presently under review" by publishing houses. They were not.)

Today, if you drive through Little Havana, past the house at 3014 SW Fifth St., you'll see a newly repaired sidewalk and a freshly laid driveway approach that slopes gracefully upward from the street toward the house. Maybe you'll see Elio Rojas's wife standing at the front door, ruefully surveying the unblemished ramp and the muddy hole that still mars her front lawn. Maybe you'll see Elio Rojas, too, pondering the muck and the mess. The president of the Latin Quarter Association still has a little problem, after all, still has some driveway building to do.

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