When the Flak Flies, the Flack Flees

How's the search for a new Miami Beach police public information officer going? No comment!

Three weeks after withdrawing his name from consideration for the job of Miami Beach Police Department public information officer, Jack Sullivan still feels betrayed. When he first submitted his application for the newly civilianized post in September, he knew he was walking into something of a war zone: Relations between the city administration and the police department were -- and still are -- strained at best. Even so, says the retired City of Miami police major, the last thing he expected was vocal opposition from his onetime brothers in arms.

"I thought that if there were any problems, I would get a call from the Miami Beach FOP [Fraternal Order of Police], at least as a professional courtesy," says the 61-year-old Sullivan, a former Miami FOP president who for the past eleven years has worked as a security consultant and private investigator. "Obviously they didn't want to do that. I don't know what their problem was."

Police union leaders in Miami Beach say their problem has never been a secret: They were concerned about Sullivan's involvement in one of Dade County's most notorious political-corruption scandals of the past twenty years. Both Sullivan and the Miami Beach city administrator who wanted to hire him, however, insist that decade-old ghost became an issue only because of the Beach FOP's sour relationship with City Manager Jose Garcia-Pedrosa.

Gus Sanchez, a Miami Beach police detective who is also vice president of the Miami Beach FOP, says that shortly after Sullivan put in his bid for the job, he was given a copy of an old Miami Herald story describing the applicant's role in the case of Alberto San Pedro, a Hialeah developer and political power broker known as "the Great Corrupter," whose sensational trials on counts of bribery, cocaine trafficking, and conspiracy to commit murder continued well past his initial arrest in 1986.

In April of that year Sullivan retired from the Miami Police Department amid an internal investigation undertaken after he'd been seen dining and speaking with San Pedro on more than one occasion. Though the probe was dropped when he retired and Sullivan was never charged, Sanchez says the conversations with San Pedro and his associates, some of which were tape-recorded by investigators, gave him pause. (San Pedro was freed in 1989, having been incarcerated for a total of three years and nine months; prosecutors have been trying unsuccessfully to indict him on similar charges since 1991, and most recently failed in an attempt to have him deported to his native Cuba.)

"I was appalled that the city would consider this type of candidate," says the Miami Beach detective, who took his concerns up the chain of command, eventually calling Assistant City Manager Joseph Pinon, who told him that the Sullivan hiring would go through "pending a background investigation." On October 10 Sullivan was given a conditional offer of employment: Essentially, once the necessary checks were finished, the job was his.

"When [Pinon] named Jack Sullivan as a candidate for PIO, I was waiting for him to name the Miami River Cops as our civilian internal affairs investigators," sneers Ofcr. Dennis Ward, Miami Beach's FOP president. "I think it was a direct shot at weakening the whole police department."

Miami Beach Police Chief Richard Barreto says he's not surprised the union made an issue of Sullivan's application. "There are people who do not like change, period," Barreto notes. "For that reason alone, there would be people who yell and scream that Sullivan is a reason not to do this [civilianize the PIO job]." But Barreto isn't at all reluctant to attribute the heightened emotions to another cause as well: the fact that his officers have been working without a union contract since September 30.

The union took its displeasure to the television airwaves: When he was interviewed for a story on WPLG-TV (Channel 10), Sullivan said he had nothing to hide about the San Pedro case and that the Beach FOP was using him to pick a fight with the city administration.

Regarding the latter theory, he may have a point. The civilian job of Miami Beach public information officer was created in the wake of the Andrew Cunanan case, after long-time PIO Al Boza had announced to the entire world late one night in July that the infamous houseboat on Indian Creek was empty, when in fact it contained the corpse of the prime suspect in the murder of Gianni Versace. With most of the entire world still watching, Jose Garcia-Pedrosa busted Boza from his post and announced that his successor would be a civilian rather than a sworn officer.

In another move intended to free up police officers from administrative duties and get them out on the street, the city manager proposed a similar civilianization scheme for the department's internal affairs unit. Although Chief Barreto responded testily to these moves at first, he and Garcia-Pedrosa have since tried to smooth over any indications of a feud. But the union sees the actions, which turn over key jobs to nonunion personnel, as attempts to discredit the department and weaken its bargaining position in contract negotiations, and spokesmen have freely taken potshots at the manager and his top administrators, and sometimes at the chief as well.

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