By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
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
Not so, says Mila booster Victor De Yurre. To a large extent, the city relies on good faith in dealing with independent contractors like Mila, and besides, this sort of thing is not so uncommon. "I know of cases where, because of computers or something, some guy had his [Social Security] numbers switched," De Yurre offers. "When it came time to retire, the switch came out in the open because the guy was getting a lot less than what was expected. So I don't think you can blame the city for something like that."
Mila thought she could explain how her former friend's Social Security number ended up on those official city documents. "A clerk or somebody at the DDA, a black woman, came over and asked me for my number," she recalled. "It was on a piece of paper, but so was another Social Security number. The black woman must have copied down the wrong number."
As for Dorothy B. Graham, Mila claimed not to know her and had no idea how Graham's Social Security number could have gotten mixed up with her American Express card. Furthermore, Mila insisted that she had her own authentic Social Security number, though she refused to divulge it. "I'm not going to tell it to you," she said. "It is personal and is not your business."
Like any person working in the United States -- foreigner and citizen alike -- Mila needed a Social Security number in order to pay federal income tax and to make other required federal contributions, notes John Schnelman, an Internal Revenue Service spokesman who is based in Fort Lauderdale. Privacy laws prevent Schnelman from discussing Mila's specific tax situation, but he does acknowledge that the IRS requires foreign nationals to prove they are using their own Social Security number and not someone else's.
"I am always honest," Mila stressed. "I never lie to anyone." And she has always paid her taxes, she added, both here and in Italy.
Mila's creative use of Social Security numbers was rivaled by her approach to housing, specifically with regard to innovative methods for keeping rental costs low.
Court documents show that in July of last year, she simply stopped paying rent on the Coconut Grove house in which she and her grown son were living. Her landlord, William R. Cole, was not amused. He went to court and obtained a "three-day letter" that required Mila to fork over the $5400 she owed for July, August, and September, plus late fees of $180. Rather than pay, however, Mila chose to move out, though not before threatening to have city officials complicate Cole's life. "I told him, 'I'm going to speak with the City of Miami and I'm going to put you in trouble,'" Mila recounted with some glee.
Joan Andre of Coconut Grove Realty handled Mila's next house search, and she ended up finding a place in South Miami that, initially at least, appeared to be perfect. The house on SW 75th Terrace was a rambling Key West-style cottage with four bedrooms, a patio, a pool in the back, and new carpeting throughout. It was owned by a professional woman who had bought it with the intention of eventually using it as her retirement home.
Mila loved the place. She eagerly presented a rental application that listed Miami City Commissioner Victor De Yurre as a reference and stated her annual salary from the International Trade Board as being $72,000, supplemented by $37,000 in "consulting" fees -- clearly more than adequate to cover the monthly rent of $1800 -- and far more than her true income. A credit check did not reveal any problems. (At the time of the credit check, neither Andre nor the house's owner realized that Mila had provided a bogus Social Security number.) "She comes off with very good credentials," notes Andre. "She throws in the City of Miami trade commission and you really think she's someone of worth, of trust." Her son would be the only other tenant, she said, and there would be no dogs except for those rare instances when her daughter visited from Italy, pets in tow.
The landlady, Sarah Hagen, was duly impressed -- even more so by the heart-wrenching story Mila told: She was recently divorced and needed a place to restart her life. In addition, most of her money was tied up in a nasty lawsuit concerning the sale of a vehicle. "I was emotionally captured by her difficulties," recalls Hagen. "This place provided the space and conditions to allow her to start over. She even said it was reminiscent of the vineyards where she came from. She had a tremendous amount of poetic style, if you will. So I told her I would be very glad to rent it to her." More than that, Hagen agreed to forgo a security deposit and did not require prepayment of the last month's rent. Mila and her son moved in this past January.
By the time she was finally evicted, Mila had managed to skip both the June and July rental payments. When Hagen inspected the home after Mila was gone, she found widespread damage, including holes in the carpeting from burning cigarettes, liquor stains covering the walls, and urine from two Great Danes that had soaked into the hardwood floors. She estimated $18,000 in damage and lost rent. Hagen also discovered that Mila had left behind a bounty of documents: unpaid phone bills, correspondence, cancellation notices from FPL and credit card companies, and evidence that her tenant used a variety of names: Mila Cervone, Mila D'Urso, Mila Durso, and Mila Miccolis among others.