So Long, Mila!

Miami is going to miss you. Your vision for the city. Your political savvy. Your cosmopolitan sophistication. Your utter gall.

De Yurre, who is married, is equally gracious: "I think that Mila is just one step in many steps that need to be taken as far as bringing the European community closer to Miami. What Mila represents is the mentality to make this happen. I'm not laying claim to it, but I met Mila in '88, and since '89 we've had direct flights from Miami to Rome with Alitalia. We've also seen a tremendous Italian influence in Miami with new restaurants and magazines. She has an unbelievable talent as far as getting into places and meeting people."

Not one to let such talent slip from his grasp, De Yurre managed to take Mila with him when his tenure as DDA chairman expired. He moved over to the city's International Trade Board (ITB) and installed her in a job there. "ITB was a natural place for Mila," De Yurre explained. "I dragged her with me." (True, city regulations did require that the position be publicly advertised, and yes, several aspiring candidates were interviewed, but Mila put them all to shame.)

Being dragged around by a city commissioner has its benefits, of course. Mila singled out her spacious office as an example. Located on the eleventh floor of the Dupont Plaza Center downtown, it featured a commanding view of the Miami River, Brickell Key, and the skyscrapers of Brickell Avenue (including the Barnett Bank building, where De Yurre houses his law practice). "You know how I got this office?" she asked. "I was working in a small office on the other side of the building and it was no good, so I called up Victor and he came over here and said, 'The big room, it must be for Mila!'"

Potent connections continued to serve her well at the trade board, where the principal mission was connecting local business people with foreign companies for the benefit of all concerned. Though the work concentrated on Miami's biggest trading partners in Latin America, Europe was not ignored. And that's where Mila fit in -- opening new markets on the continent, Italy in particular.

Business trips -- a number of them with De Yurre -- took her back and forth to Milan. She spent ten days in Oslo. In Venice she stayed at the Grand Hotel; in Paris at the St. Germaine. Her room and board was usually paid by the city she was visiting. Her flights were often compliments of Alitalia Airlines. Mila's supervisor, Manny Gonzalez, marveled at her resourcefulness: "She had an unequaled ability to get us free stuff."

Getting someone else to pay for her expenses, in fact, seemed to be a motivating force in Mila's life. In 1990, for example, she accompanied University of Miami music students and professors on an exchange program to Trento, Italy. She did an excellent job handling the logistics, according to Nestor Rodriguez, who at the time was the director of special projects for UM's School of Music. While in Rome during the trip, Mila confessed to Rodriguez that she had run out of money. The two of them needed to make a quick trip to Florence, and they also wanted to visit Nice, France, to explore the possibility of another exchange program. With the understanding that she would reimburse the school, Rodriguez loaned her the travel money, about $760.

When he returned to Miami, however, Rodriguez discovered that Mila had no intention of repaying the money. Apparently she also conveyed that intention to her employer, the Downtown Development Authority, because Rodriguez's repeated letters to DDA seeking reimbursement came to nothing. "It was a very productive enterprise with the exception of that detail," Rodriguez says today. "To be honest with you, it was kind of a sensitive issue. In trying to give an appearance of good taste, we didn't really broach the subject much further. I sometimes saw her socially at concerts at UM, and we acted like it never happened." As far as Mila was concerned, it never should have been an issue. "I was helping the school out," she said recently. "They should have paid for my trip."

In 1992 Mila asked the DDA to reimburse her for the cost of renting a car for a month, according to documents on file with the agency. Commissioner De Yurre verbally authorized the reimbursement and the DDA cut her a check for $722. The person who actually had paid for the car, though, was not Mila but John Gale, a prominent Italian-American and a former circuit court judge. Gale and Mila had met socially several times. When she told him how desperately she needed the car and that she was unable to get credit in America, he agreed to pay for the rental and let her repay him. She never did. She also claimed to Gale that the city never reimbursed her.

"It's a sad story with me," Gale now says. "You try to help somebody out and they stick you like that. I last tried to get the money about eight months ago. I'm glad you found the cashed check [from the DDA to Mila], but I still don't think I'll ever see my money." (Mila asserted that she didn't need to pay back Gale because "he got so many other favors from me.")

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