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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And what of the large "Miriam Alonso for Mayor" sign out front? "Oh, they came by and put all those up. They wanted to put stickers on the doors, too. But we said, 'No way.' She can't take care of her own buildings. How is she going to lead the whole city?"
Other renters, however, insist they haven't had a single problem in years. In fact, some are so devoted to los Alonso that they phoned the couple to warn that a journalist was on the premises asking questions.
This past April the City of Miami ordered the Alonsos to tear down a building at 1871 SW Seventh Street after it had devolved into a crackhouse. In August their duplex at 2535 SW Nineteenth Street appeared headed in the same direction. Neighbors say the last tenants moved out three months ago after a rent dispute. A tremendous pyre of junk A everything from child safety seats to radial tires A filled half the driveway, marring an otherwise neatly kept neighborhood. A stack of lumber sat inside the house, awaiting a work crew neighbors had yet to see.
If the Alonsos are lax in the repair department, they make up for it in collections. According to court records, the Alonsos have won some dozen evictions in two decades, four since 1992. (They have also been sued by at least one tenant.)
Paradoxically, the Alonsos have repeatedly shirked paying their own bills. Dade Water and Sewer Authority records indicate that in the last two years alone they have been late in paying up to seven of eight quarterly water bills on some properties. Service has been cut off altogether at three buildings. During the same period, they racked up more than $3500 in unpaid solid-waste fees, including $184 in penalties. The backlog accrued for nearly a year before they paid up this past May.
County property tax records show that the Alonsos have had certificates of delinquency issued a dozen times in the last four years. The periods of delinquency range from two to 33 months. Taxes for one building were paid late four years in a row. The lapses are especially notable because Florida law grants landlords nearly six months before property taxes are considered delinquent. The approach of an election has, perhaps, helped temper the Alonsos' recalcitrance. A few weeks ago they paid $3000 to clear one overdue account, leaving them with just one outstanding bill as of September 3. The amount: $3400.
For the Alonsos, who have made a habit of stiffing public bills, damning media reports have often triggered their belated payments. But in the private sector, lawsuits have been the preferred enforcement tool. County records list them as defendants in more than half a dozen foreclosure actions.
Now defunct Centrust Bank filed three lawsuits against the Alonsos in 1990, all involving a debt in excess of $50,000. Also defunct Southeast Bank filed a suit in May 1991 alleging that the Alonsos owed $50,000. The Florida United Methodist Foundation sought foreclosure on another Alonso property after the couple allegedly defaulted on a debt of $37,347. This past July Terrabank filed suit seeking repayment of an $82,500 loan. According to court documents, the Alonsos had missed their last six monthly payments. All these cases have been voluntarily settled, presumably after the Alonsos paid. (Miriam Alonso's most recent financial disclosure form, filed in July, lists eleven liabilities totalling $547,000.)
The couple's legal woes have not been limited to hefty mortgage payments. In 1987 Coma Cast Corporation sued the Alonsos after they purportedly failed to pay a $1500 roofing fee. Last year Cedars Medical Center sued for $2145 in unpaid bills for treating Leonel. Both cases were settled.
Miriam Alonso has often answered questions about her debts by dismissing them as "mistakes." A more prevalent response, particularly when she offers it to Spanish-language media, has been to accuse reporters of persecuting her. Most commonly Alonso simply ducks the press altogether.
Her attitude of avoidance appears to be shared by her husband Leonel and it doesn't seem to be limited to inquiring reporters. The recollections of Yolanda Mendoza are a case in point. Mendoza, a process server hired to deliver a subpoena to the Alonsos' home two years ago, submitted this written statement as part of her official report:
"I rang the bell several times and knocked on the window. I knew they were home, the car with the city commission plate was parked in the driveway. I started to leave. I fell down the steps. While laying on the ground I yelled for help. After awhile Mr. Alonso opened the door. I gave him the summons then asked for something to clean my leg -- it was bleeding. He said he had nothing for me and slammed the door in my face." (Mendoza later sued the Alonsos for negligence. The suit was dismissed.)
The irony of all this, as even her defenders concede, is that Miriam Alonso's hallmark as a politician is championing fiscal prudence and honesty. Should she be elected, however, Alonso will inherit a municipality many feel is on the brink of insolvency. The question may well be this: Will the anti-tax crusader sacrifice that title if the city budget demands it? Or will she fall back on the deadbeat's patented solution A slamming the door on the problem?