Money Well Spent

Airport parties are first-class affairs, as long as you're a political player

Richard Judy, Dade County Avia-tion Director from 1972 to 1989, says that only in the last couple of years of his tenure did commissioners become so brazen. "I fought it and fought it and fought it, and finally succumbed to it," Judy recalls. "They would put those resolutions on my agenda, as if it was the aviation department recommending these expenditures, and then they would just pass them. They never came through me."

Judy sympathizes with the position his successor, Rick Elder, must have been in. "I don't think Rick had any control over these funds," he says. "The county manager should have stood up to the commissioners on these things, but he didn't."

In fact, one of those expenditures being questioned by federal authorities originated directly from the county manager's office: a $1000 "contribution," as the report calls it, to the politically powerful Cuban American National Foundation. According to aviation department records, the request for the money began with a phone call from County Manager Joaquin Avi*o's office to the aviation department's Ana Sotorrio, who was liaison to the commission and the county manager.

Sotorrio was told the manager's office wanted to purchase tickets for a full table at a May 20, 1992, luncheon to commemorate Cuban Independence Day and the Cuban American National Foundation's tenth anniversary. But Avi*o's office wanted the airport to foot the bill: ten tickets at $100 each. Sotorrio then sent a typewritten memo to Rick Elder, her boss. Elder responded in a handwritten note beneath Sotorrio's note: "OK. I want us to have at least 4 of the seats." The number four was underlined, twice.

Some time later, at the bottom of the same memo, Sotorrio added her final comments to Elder: "Rick A The Manager's Office advises that they need four seats, so we have six."

Elder then instructed the airport's assistant director for finance to "please issue a check in the amount of $1000 payable to Cuban American National Foundation." The check was issued the next day.

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