Arrested...Convicted...Elected?

Raul Martinez is facing ten years in prison for public corruption. Hialeah voters want him to be their mayor anyway. What a town!

But Pepper's place in Congress also looked good to Lehtinen's wife, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. Martinez's attorneys alleged that Lehtinen revived a stalled investigation into the mayor's land dealings, making him "a target of the investigation...in order to neutralize him as a competitor of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen for Claude Pepper's congressional seat."

Ros-Lehtinen won the seat in the fall of 1989, beating Democrat Gerald Richman.

The criminal case against Martinez was complex, and was based in large part on the testimony of two unindicted co-conspirators, Antonio Cardona and Silvio Cardoso, both former Hialeah officials. According to prosecutors, Martinez grew rich during his years in office by coercing developers into selling him chunks of property before zoning changes upped the value markedly.

In 1988 Cardoso, a councilman, pleaded guilty to illegally obtaining FBI files, and in exchange for a lighter sentence, agreed to cooperate with the government. He testified to paying Martinez more than $100,000 in three housing project deals.

Martinez admits he made mistakes, especially in trusting Cardoso, his strongest ally on a divided city council. "I needed Cardoso," says Martinez. "And when he got in trouble, he took me down."

Martinez claims he was naive. While mayor he continued to work as a real estate developer himself, supplementing his $75,000 annual mayor's salary by amassing a small fortune. He says everything was aboveboard, but he appreciates now that in the big-money, small-town negocios of Hialeah, where friendships and favors count for so much, the line between quid and quo can become blurred. A jury found Martinez guilty, he says, because they were confused -- as he was -- about the intentions and expectations of people he dealt with. "When someone comes to you, who knows what they are thinking?" he asks. "If you find a machine that reads people's minds, it would be great."

In the event he is elected, Martinez says this: "In all probability, I will not get involved in real estate again in the city of Hialeah as long as I'm a public official."

Could you have won Claude Pepper's seat in Congress?
I probably had a good shot at it. But you know, it didn't happen, it didn't happen. So what are you going to do, go in the corner and cry? You just go on.

Why didn't it happen?
I think that it was not meant to happen. You just don't cross the railroad tracks when the train is coming, challenging that, because you might get killed. But I believe in destiny. In that instance, I have my ideas, and I keep those to myself, because I can't prove it. But to dwell on the negative, on what could have been, it eats you inside, and I don't want anything eating me inside. I want to be as I was before. Period.

You have your theory about what happened. What can you say about it?
I want to get through the appeal. Then I hope I can go through records, and people who have more information than I do would be willing to come forward.

You want to do your own investigation?
Journalists have more information than they've released. I'd like to sit down with them. Basically the reason I'd like to put it together is for my two kids. The State Attorney's Office investigated me on all these things, and I was cleared. I asked for a copy of the close-out report. It's never been made public; I've never given it to the media. But I have that report in my house, and I showed it to my kids, where it exonerated me of all the things that happened afterwards.

Why not publish it?
I just wanted to give it to my family.
Why is it significant for you to show it to your children?

Because at the time, for a year and a half, there were a lot of allegations, innuendos, and once they got cleared, I just basically went to them. Actually, I didn't go to them and sit them down and say here it is, but it's there for them to read when they want to. You just wait for one day when they ask. They'll say, "Dad, is it true?" You know it's bound to happen one day, and when that time comes, you say, "Here it is."

To my knowledge the presentence investigation -- only I and my attorneys saw it. I could not even share that with my wife. But that was a hell of a glowing report. I wish I could show that to the world.

But that report was made before you got ten years. Do you think that mitigated the sentence?

Nah. The sentence was going to be handed down.
Campaigning now, do people ask specifics about the criminal charges?
Not that much. In fact, in many instances, I prompt the discussion. I like to bring out that if they have any questions about the convictions, the time, the appeal, I like to bring it to the floor because I don't have to hide it. Let's bring it out in the open.

Most of the time the people are nice enough not to discuss it. Believe me, it's something I don't like to talk about. That's something you're not proud of.

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