By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
No one may be happier to see this year come to a close than Calvin Grigsby. In January the San Francisco-based bond dealer and businessman was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly offering bribes to former county Commissioner James Burke for a piece of Miami-Dade's lucrative bond business. Four months later that same grand jury indicted Grigsby again, this time charging him and former seaport director Carmen Lunetta with embezzling and misspending $1.5 million of public money at the Port of Miami.
Since his indictments, Grigsby has taken full advantage of his constitutional right to remain silent. Other co-defendants, such as Burke and Burke's former chief of staff Billy Hardemon, have used the media to declare their innocence and brand the government's case a racist pack of lies. Grigsby, however, has remained mute. All of that will soon change.
In a series of motions and hearings in federal court over the past two weeks, Grigsby, through his attorney, has announced that he will take the stand and be the star witness in his own defense against both indictments. This stunning development has prompted a dramatic change in the trial schedule. The trial of Grigsby, Burke, and Hardemon, in the so-called bond case was supposed to begin January 18. That trial has now been postponed until at least August.
And the "seaport case," featuring defendants Grigsby, Lunetta, and Miami businessman Neal Harrington, which wasn't supposed to commence until September, has been moved up. Jury selection is now slated to begin April 19. In effect the two cases swapped positions on the court calendar, a change that was due entirely to Grigsby's decision to testify in his own defense.
Why? Defense attorneys believe the seaport case is much weaker than the bond case, which is bolstered by an abundance of damning FBI wiretaps and videotapes. By contrast the seaport case will require jurors to follow a voluminous paper trail of contracts, billing invoices, and receipts -- a journey that is likely to be both confusing and tedious.
If the bond case had gone to trial first, defense attorneys assert, Grigsby would have been placed at a disadvantage because prosecutors would have had a chance to question him about his dealings at the seaport. That would have allowed them an advance look at Grigsby's anticipated testimony in the seaport trial and given them a chance to strengthen their case against him. In addition a conviction in the bond case could be used to discredit Grigsby's testimony in a subsequent seaport trial.
Albert Krieger, one of Grigsby's defense attorneys, argued in court that his client shouldn't have to face such obstacles because of his willingness to testify in his own defense. In a major victory for the defense, U.S. District Court Judge Edward Davis, who will hear the bond case, agreed, and in consultation with Judge Donald Middlebrooks, who is assigned the seaport case, flipped the two trials over the objections of prosecutors.
Defense attorneys hope that when he does testify, Grigsby will cut a striking figure for jurors: articulate, self-assured, handsome. In the seaport case he is expected to offer what his attorneys hope will be a credible explanation of the financial relationship between the Port of Miami and his company, Fiscal Operations, which for years has managed the port's gantry cranes.
In the bond case Grigsby's testimony will be far riskier. He is expected to take jurors on a behind-the-scenes tour of Miami-Dade County's bond business, claiming that for the last decade it has been awash in corruption and controlled by crooked politicians. The only way for him to work in Miami-Dade County, Grigsby will assert, was to play along, albeit reluctantly.
As New Times first reported several weeks ago, the defense will maintain that in the late Eighties and early Nineties, the county's bond business was dominated by former county Commissioner Joe Gersten and one of Grigsby's rivals, Howard Gary. Under this arrangement, Gersten would force other bond companies to hire Gary's firm, and in turn Gary would pay off Gersten.
Grigsby is expected to contend that he refused to go along with this arrangement and privately complained to Steve Clark, who was then the county's mayor. Clark helped set up a meeting between Grigsby and an FBI agent, and Grigsby agreed to cooperate in an investigation of Gersten and Gary.
Court records recently obtained by New Times confirm that the FBI opened an investigation in the early Nineties into whether there was a corrupt relationship between Gersten and Gary. (Gary denies it; Gersten remains a fugitive in Australia.) The documents acknowledge that "Grigsby participated [in the investigation] by providing background information and making recorded telephone conversations." But according to the court records, the investigation failed to produce "sufficient evidence" to charge either Gersten or Gary.
Grigsby will claim that this experience affected his future relations with Gary. Believing Gary was beyond the reach of the law, Grigsby will say he felt powerless in 1996 when Gary demanded to be included in a multimillion-dollar deal to refinance bonds at the county's recycling plant.
Even though Gary's protector, Gersten, was by this time no longer on the county commission, Grigsby is expected to allege that Gary threatened to use his close ties to another commissioner, Art Teele, to block the recycling plant deal from going through unless Gary was included. To counter Gary's supposed allegiance with Teele, Grigsby will say he sought the assistance and support of Commissioner Burke. Ultimately, though, Grigsby agreed to Gary's demand and included him in the recycling plant deal.