The Graduate

After ten years as city manager, Cesar Odio is still catching flak about his college education. Give the guy a break. Better yet, give him a diploma.

Two weeks after sending his packets, Pomar received a written response from Florida Memorial vice president Clarence L. Cryer indicating that the college's grievance committee had studied his allegations and concluded that "the accusation of fraud should be investigated by the office of the dean of academic affairs." Before the fall semester began, Carmen Marina resigned as the full-time director of the Florida Memorial College South Campus/Weekend Program. Her resignation letter mentioned no reason for her decision, and the school's top administrators said nothing publicly. Armando Pomar was named the extension's new director.

Immediately he began cleaning up what he considered to be a mess. He sliced in half the number of courses taught at the south campus because he realized there weren't enough students to fill the classrooms. "The first thing I had to do when I took over the program was I had to drop 100 students from the rolls," he recalls. "They were phantom names."

At an extension program in Homestead Pomar found evidence of what he believed were more phantom student enrollments. Just as bad, though, Pomar found that several of the real people who attended were not quite prepared for college academics. "I only went [to the Homestead campus] a couple of times," he says. "I saw the classes were empty, four or five students were sleeping. I came close to one of them and I realized he was mentally retarded." Pomar shut down the facility.

This much change was too much for the administration, according to Pomar, and soon he found himself promoted to a position on the main campus so that someone else could be hired to maintain the Hispanic extension's money flow. His replacement, Pedro Capote, was presiding over the operation when it sought out students at the Hialeah Convalescent Home. Capote was fired when that scandal hit the papers.

Pomar lasted a bit longer. He stayed at Florida Memorial until 1990, when his contract was not renewed. Currently he works in southwest Miami for a storefront agency that distributes scholarships to Hispanic students.

Rafael Cabezas, according to his resume, stayed at the college until 1985, though he did not teach any classes while Pomar directed the extension program. He did, however, figure prominently in the 30-page investigative report Pomar sent to college officials. "This is totally ridiculous," Cabezas angrily says today. "The guy is against me. He is pushing me. Why? Maybe the motivation is the Cuban Intelligence Service. We have to take care of the Cuban Intelligence Service because they are very sophisticated and I am a guy that fights too much against Cuba." (Armando Pomar categorically denies being an intelligence agent for the Cuban government.)

Cabezas has gone from Florida Memorial to an especially fruitful relationship with the City of Miami. Three of the nonprofit businesses with which he is associated -- Allapattah Community Action, Inc., the Allapattah Merchants Association, and the Allapattah Business Development Authority -- have received from the city a total of more than $2,345,000 since Odio's college commencement ceremonies in 1982. This fiscal year alone ABDA received $387,700 in community development block grants. Even though ABDA is a nonprofit organization chartered to feed and house the poor, Cabezas himself makes out all right. As the 57-year-old executive director of the authority, which receives more than 90 percent of its funding from the city, Cabezas earns $40,000 a year plus health benefits.

In the wake of Florida Memorial's convalescent-home scandal, the school was required to pay back nearly $300,000 in student financial aid. Armando Pomar has estimated that a total of approximately $500,000 may have been misspent as part of the alleged abuses he uncovered. But because neither he nor any college officials reported the allegations to authorities, an outside auditing was never conducted. As far as Pomar is concerned, however, the problem solved itself: Suspect employees resigned or were fired, and the Miami Herald exposed some of the excesses.

The Hispanic extension continues to operate at Florida Memorial, by all accounts free of the questionable activities of the past. "We have had complete turnover here," says Karl Wright, vice president for academic affairs. "We have four people in the registrar's office right now. Not one of them worked for us back then." Still, enough records exist today to raise serious questions about what occurred. One of the founders of the Hispanic extension, who demanded that his name not be published, put it this way: Any government agencies still interested in collecting some of the money in aid grants that Pomar claims was fraudulently acquired would have no problem documenting the problems. "If you can get a subpoena for the records, it's like a bombshell."

Recently the Dade State Attorney's Office had an opportunity to investigate the controversy and delve into the school's records. Remarkably, Cesar Odio himself requested the probe. "I got so sick of these rumors [about his studies at Florida Memorial] that I actually called up the State Attorney's Office myself," he says. "I asked them to look into it for me." After requesting and then retrieving a copy of Odio's transcripts, chief investigator Charles Reynolds closed the case on April 19, 1994. According to his report, he did not talk to Armando Pomar or Rafael Cabezas or Carmen Marina, nor did he attempt confirm whether all of Odio's classes were actually taught.

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