Burke Besieged

The Florida Elections Commission and the Florida Bar. Maybe the FBI, too. For a man who won automatic re-election, Metro Commissioner James Burke seems to have a lot of explaining to do.

Burke says the motions to compel have been unnecessary and that he's not trying to hide anything: He insists all records have been available to Sankel whenever she has wanted them and accuses the Bar's attorneys of "trying to make a name for themselves." But he certainly didn't help his petition when he and his personal attorney Jorge Sosa failed to show up for an August 29 county court hearing regarding the second motion to compel. In Burke's absence, Judge Marilyn Milian entered an order giving Burke seven days to produce everything requested by the Bar or risk forgoing his petition.

Though Judge Milian says she notified Burke's attorney by mail, fax, and phone, Sosa claims he was out of town for two weeks prior to the hearing. Burke says Sosa is preparing to file a motion to expunge the motion to compel.

Meanwhile, Bar investigators are looking into the commissioner's public and private business. According to Burke, they appear to be concentrating on his campaign reports; he confirms that they have contacted Lawrence Cochran and Denise Johnson, as well as Thomas Koujales, who sold the campaign car to Burke's daughter. The commissioner attributes the Bar's curiosity to the New Times story and to the FEC complaints raising allegations of campaign impropriety. "Before the complaint came up, [the Bar] didn't appear to have a reason to object to me to be reinstated," he says. "But now they're asking questions that are along the lines of the article and the complaint. I'm comfortable that we've done everything we're supposed to do as it relates to this elections law."

The Florida Bar's Arlene Sankel declines to comment about the matter.
Roy and Al Hardemon are wedged into a booth at the Denny's on Biscayne Boulevard and NW 36th Street, trying to make one thing clear: They don't think much of Commissioner James Burke. "He's got this county so intimidated it's pathetic," Roy snarls between sips of coffee, the extent of his midmorning meal. Brother Al, his chubby face hovering above the greasy terrain of a Grand Slam Breakfast, nods sagely. "He's so unqualified to run for the [commission] seat it's freaky! Scary freaky!"

Roy wears a shiny name tag that reads: "ROY L. HARDEMON, CANDIDATE FOR METRO COMMISSION DISTRICT 2." Al has a name tag, too: "ROY L. HARDEMON, CANDIDATE FOR METRO COMMISSION DISTRICT 2, CONSULTANT." It's safe to say the brothers are in denial. There is no longer a campaign for District 2.

On July 26, Burke won instant re-election when his only opponent dropped his challenge.

That opponent was Roy Hardemon.
An unemployed former Metro-Dade Parks Department staffer and a self-described community activist, the 32-year-old Hardemon withdrew six days after the qualification deadline. When he tried to re-enter the race the very next day, David Leahy, Metro-Dade's supervisor of elections, said it was too late. A week later a circuit court judge denied Hardemon's request for a temporary injunction that would have kept his name on the ballot, a decision that has since been upheld by the Third District Court of Appeal. Now Hardemon's attorney, Ron Cordon, has asked the Florida Supreme Court to take jurisdiction.

Even without that added intrigue, the situation had been awkward for James Burke: Roy Hardemon is the brother of Billy Hardemon, Burke's top aide. But it would soon become much worse. Early in August, Roy reported to the FBI, and to the Miami Times, that he had been forced out of the election by a threat against his family.

Now, over breakfast, Roy is recounting the bizarre account he gave the FBI:
On the night of July 25, he claims, he was driving through the intersection of NW 68th Street and 19th Avenue when a green 1994 Cadillac Northstar cut off his van, forcing him to stop. A passenger in the Cadillac allegedly strode over to the van and said, "Get out of the race or you and your family will be hurt." The man instructed him to go see his brother Billy the next morning. "He told me Billy would take care of the rest," Roy Hardemon alleges.

Hardemon says he took the man at his word. When he met his brother at Burke's office the next morning, he goes on, Billy gave him a piece of paper on which a withdrawal letter had already been typed; with Billy at his side, he delivered the letter to the elections supervisor.

Both Al and Roy Hardemon also allege that after Roy had a change of heart and took the matter of his withdrawal to court, Roy was twice offered money (an offer of one million dollars, the men say, followed by an offer of $100,000) to drop the court case. The brothers won't divulge who made the offer.

"I passed six polygraph tests at the U.S. Attorney's Office," declares Roy. "They stressed to me that if I fabricated anything at any time, I'd be arrested."

In an effort to dispel any doubts about the veracity of his brother's claims, Al tugs a deck of business cards from his bulging wallet. "See," he says, displaying two dog-eared samples. "FBI." He holds out the cards of FBI special agents Michael Bonner and Julio Ball. More rummaging yields two more cards, which bear the names of Assistant U.S. Attorney Richard Gregorie and Florida Department of Law Enforcement special agent Tom Sullivan. Al nods his head emphatically, as if possession of these documents proves the brothers' allegations are true.

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