Vidal was also given a golf bag from Carlos Morales, the marketing director for the golf course, and John Norton, the club's pro. Once again, Vidal failed to disclose the value of the gift. "A golf bag can cost anywhere from $50 to $400," says Tim Mace, a manager at Edwin Watts Golf Shops. "It really depends on the size of the bag and the type of material the bag is made from." Vidal did not provide a description of the bag.
While it is highly unlikely the county manager was actually given a case of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild or even the most expensive golf bag available, the public really doesn't know. And therein lies the problem Vidal has created. As long as the county manager is foolish enough to take gifts from individuals doing business with Dade County, then the public has every right to assume the worst about him, the mayor he reports to, and the overall integrity of county government.
The county manager also received gifts from Charlie DeLucca, a former Muirfield partner. Vidal reported receiving "golf goods" in 1994 and a "gift basket" in 1995. No further description or value was provided.
He also listed on his disclosure form "rounds of golf" without identifying how many rounds he played. The cost for one round at the Golf Club of Miami is between $20 and $50, depending on both the season and the time of day.
During its own review of the manager's actions, the State Attorney's Office will likely use the county's conflict of interest and ethics ordinance as a guide. The first relevant passage is Section E, which deals with gifts. The law states that "it is unlawful for any person or entity to offer, give, or agree to give to [the county manager] or for the [county manager] to accept or agree to accept from another person or entity, any gift for or because of an official public action taken, or to be taken, or which could be taken," or for "a legal duty performed, or to be performed, or which could be performed."
From a layman's standpoint, an interpretation appears easy. If the only reason the county manager received a gift is that he is the county manager, and the gift is being given by a company doing business with the county, then that is wrong and the manager should be punished for accepting such gifts.
Legally, however, it isn't so simple. In general, prosecutors believe that in order to bring a charge against a person under this section they have to be able to show that the gift was received for a specific action. In other words, they would have to prove that the manager was given free rounds of golf, a case of wine, a new golf bag, assorted golf goods, and a gift basket because he recommended changes in the Golf Club of Miami's contract that financially benefited the firm. While Armando Vidal's conduct might appear sleazy, unethical, and whorish to some people, proving a direct link in a courtroom between all those fabulous gifts and the contract changes could be problematic.
The next area of interest for prosecutors might be Section G: exploitation of official position. Under this passage, administrators such as the county manager shall not "use or attempt to use his official position to secure special privileges or exemptions for himself or others."
It is worth recalling from our earlier story the comments of the former employees for the Golf Club of Miami, located at 6801 Miami Gardens Dr. "He would come out and play for free whenever he wanted," said Harry Ferguson, the former tournament director for the course.
"The first time I saw the county manager I didn't know who he was. He just came in and grabbed a bucket of range balls and helped himself to a cart," said Glenn Street, a former assistant golf pro at the course in 1995 and 1996. Vidal usually golfed with lobbyist Jorge Lopez. "Most of the time it was the two of them together," said Street. "Sometimes they would bring guests and their guests would be comped as well." And, he added, "they would basically help themselves to anything they wanted."
Whether this type of conduct meets the legal definition of exploitation will be up to prosecutors to determine. If Vidal is charged and convicted of violating either section, he could be sentenced to 30 days in jail and given a $500 fine.
Of course, Penelas is free to discipline the county manager on his own, using his own high standards of conduct. But so far the tough-talking mayor hasn't said a word publicly about his manager's golf habit or his wine collection or his assortment of golf goods.
Let's hope they don't hear about this up in New York; otherwise they might think Dade's young mayor is full of hooey.