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The former manager of the swank Caffe Baci in Coral Gables extended his own form of credit to Mila: He allowed her to run up a very large tab, then spent nearly a year calling Mila at the DDA in an attempt to have her pay. "I lost 1000 bucks from my pocket because I was managing the restaurant and the owner trusted me," says the former manager, who is now maitre d' at a different restaurant. "I don't want to get involved any more. In fact, I'm trying to forget about it." (Like many people who have had business dealings with Mila, the former Baci manager refuses to allow his name to be published. Mila's response: "If there is a record of a bill not paid, then you can show it to me."
Given her meager salary, Mila's extreme frugality might be understandable. Like other employees of the International Trade Board, she was an independent contractor, which meant she signed yearly contracts with the city instead of working as a full-time employee with benefits. Her most recent annual contract, signed in 1994, awarded her just $36,000. "For what I have done for the City of Miami," Mila complained, "I should be a billionaire."
Fortunately, she possessed an uncommon aptitude for stretching a budget. She apparently learned long ago that one of the quickest ways to run out of money is to pay all bills in full. So she adopted a strategy that enabled her to pursue the first-class lifestyle to which she was accustomed despite the pittance she earned: Many bills she didn't pay at all. Her former employer, the DDA, still receives inquiries from dry cleaners, hotels, and other businesses attempting to collect on Mila's debts. "You want information on Mila Cervone D'Urso?" asked the DDA receptionist. "She must owe money to you guys, too."
Sometimes dodging overdue notices required extraordinary ingenuity, and Mila was always up to the challenge. For instance, she never paid the fine for the ticket she received in July 1993 for driving with an expired registration, according to records on file at the Metro-Dade Justice Building. The nonpayment led to suspension of her driver's license, which had been issued in the name of Mila Cervone. When she was pulled over this past July 1 while driving a rental car, she somehow managed to escape being arrested for driving with a suspended license. Whatever story she told the police officer (she was an Italian citizen? She had only an international driver's license?), he apparently bought it. Instead of hauling her off to jail, he gave her a simple ticket for improper lane usage. (She left Miami without paying that fine, either.) It helped, of course, that Mila provided the officer with a different address and a different rendition of her name: Mila C. Durso.
(She did her best to avoid more traffic tickets by traveling everywhere, every day, with a silver-and-blue plaque displayed in her car that read "City of Miami official city business." According to the city clerk's office, the plaques are a signal to police officers not to write tickets if the car is parked illegally. Mila placed her plaque in her rear window, where a patrol car could easily see it from the road. Written restrictions on the use of these official city plaques do not exist, but the city's administrative policy manual states that they are distributed by department heads. Mila's superior at the International Trade Board, Manny Gonzalez, would seem to have been the person authorized to give her the plaque. "I never gave her one," Gonzalez says flatly. "I don't know who gave her one or how she got one.")
Mila's practice of mixing up her name and addresses proved useful when dealing with other financial matters -- credit cards, for example. City of Miami records show that she was issued an American Express card in the name of Mila Cervone D'Urso. Credit records, however, reveal a second American Express card in the name of Mila Cervone Durso (no apostrophe) at a slightly different home address. That credit card was canceled last month after Mila failed to pay more than $5000 in charges.
Should American Express officials wish to investigate further, they could be frustrated by the Social Security number Mila used when she applied for the card that was canceled. It belonged to someone else. Two national database searches show that the number is registered to a woman named Dorothy B. Graham, who once lived in Pittsburgh.
That's not the only Social Security number Mila apparently borrowed. Documents on file with the City of Miami, the Downtown Development Authority, and the International Trade Board list a Social Security number for Mila that actually belongs to a Miami woman who once considered herself Mila's friend. "I am so upset," says the woman, who has broken off her friendship with Mila but still begged for anonymity. "I cannot believe that she is using my number. I just want to call the police and turn her in." She's also angry with the city for not scrutinizing more carefully the people it hires. "This is very bad because it is a public thing," she argues. "I think the problem is with the City of Miami for allowing this stuff."