Deep Inside the Scandal

Howard Gary discusses OPERATION GREENPALM, the ambitious corruption investigation rattled by mismanagement and blown apart by astonishing leaks of secret information

Manohar Surana, who has agreed to plead guilty to unspecified charges stemming from the Unisys case, has tried to mitigate his eventual punishment by gathering evidence against Dawkins and also by setting up a separate sting involving City Manager Cesar Odio and prominent lobbyist Jorge de Cardenas. In that case, the government alleges that both Odio and de Cardenas went along with Surana's scheme to extort money from Cigna, one of the city's insurance carriers.

As part of the government's investigation, Cigna agreed to hire de Cardenas as a consultant for $12,500 per month. De Cardenas allegedly would keep $5000 for himself, give $5000 to Odio, and pass $2500 to Surana. A federal grand jury last month returned a six-count indictment against Odio and de Cardenas; both men have pleaded not guilty. After the allegations were made public, Odio resigned as city manager.

No charges have been filed against Burke, Grigsby, or Hardemon. The U.S. Attorney's Office is still presenting its case to a grand jury, and indictments are likely to come early next year, says a source close to the investigation. (Hardemon has denied the allegations against him. Grigsby could not be reached for comment.)

It is also likely that Howard Gary will be charged for his part in the Unisys case. Federal prosecutors recently provided his attorney with a letter stating that Gary's business is not a target of the investigation, but that assurance does not extend to Gary himself. He has not been granted immunity in return for his cooperation, and his only agreement with authorities is that they will take his assistance into consideration as they decide how to proceed against him.

For a U.S. Attorney's Office that, in recent years, has accumulated a spotty record on public corruption cases, Greenpalm has been a significant image booster. But a close examination of the way the investigation was conducted reveals numerous internal problems. A combination of fatal press leaks, interagency rivalries, and tactical mistakes limited the scope of the operation and forced it to conclude before authorities could assess the true depth of corruption in Dade County. For years the federal government had sought access to the real and figurative back rooms of county hall. During Operation Greenpalm they had that opportunity for a short time, but then it slipped from their grasp.

"This case just completely collapsed," says one source familiar with the investigation. "It is impossible to know for sure what could have happened, but there is a feeling that we could have gone a lot further."

Another official involved in the operation says it was plagued by personality clashes: "There were a lot of egos and a lot of turf wars at work throughout this investigation."

Adds a third source close to the investigation: "I've never seen such a bunch of egomaniacs in my entire life."

Members of the investigative team often split into competing factions -- for example, those individuals who were working the City of Miami side of the case versus those who were working the Dade County side. Coordination and cooperation were often difficult, as each group thought it knew what was best for the investigation overall.

Another aspect of Operation Greenpalm that proved to be especially disturbing was the role of the Miami Police Department and, in particular, the conduct of its chief, Donald Warshaw. When Unisys was first approached by Gary and Surana, the company reported the extortion attempt to the city's police department. Warshaw concluded it would be inappropriate for his department to investigate corruption within the city administration, so he passed the information along to the FBI. But rather than allow the investigation to proceed independently, Warshaw and his department continued to be involved. Two Miami police detectives worked with the FBI's public-corruption unit on building the cases against Dawkins, Odio, and others. Warshaw and some of his top commanders also received regular briefings and sat in on strategy sessions with federal officials as often as three times a week.

Sources familiar with the case say that Warshaw -- far from being a passive observer -- became a vocal critic of the investigation, especially when it was clear that the chief's superior, Cesar Odio, was going to become a target. "He would be in these meetings and throw temper tantrums," recalls one investigator.

In an interview last week, Warshaw minimized his role, saying he attended only a handful of meetings. "As it related to Dawkins, I raised absolutely no objections," he recalled. "The only concern on my part was that Cesar Odio was my boss." Warshaw said he wasn't trying to protect Odio, but rather that he felt he had a duty to inform the manager that the head of the city's finance and budget department was a crook. "My passion was that the guy was working as a federal informant and also being allowed to come to work every day at the City of Miami," Warshaw said.

Why was Warshaw allowed to attend those meetings? According to several federal sources, the invitation was extended to the chief by then-U.S. attorney Kendall Coffey, who reportedly wanted to maintain good relations with the local police. Over time the chief became a fixture, and no one in authority was willing to bar him from future sessions. (Coffey was out of town last week and could not be reached for comment.)

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