Smooth Operator

Personal financial embarrassments and allegations of sexual impropriety have done nothing to spoil Derrick Miller's political fortunes in Opa-locka

"He is verbally very visible," says former Opa-locka Police Chief Bob Knapp, a frequent observer of city commission meetings. "He likes to talk, maybe too much. But he asks good questions. To me he always appears to be trying to do the right thing."

During his political rise, Miller hasn't been able to keep his own financial house in order. Actually he hasn't even been able to keep his Dunad Avenue house, which was foreclosed upon in June 2000. According to civil-court files, Miller drives a city car in part because his other vehicle, a Toyota, has been repossessed. He is obligated to pay child support to women in Pennsylvania and Mississippi.

His financial burdens have been alleviated a bit by his city position. All Opa-locka elected officials receive a bevy of perks, including a city car, a city laptop computer, and a city cellular phone. Miller has taken his perks further than most. An examination of his city credit-card usage, which is only supposed to entail purchases of small, work-related items such as office supplies, reveals taxpayer money covering charges at Miami Subs ($18.23), BrandsMart USA ($485), Winn-Dixie ($91.83), Olive Garden ($42.74), Orange Lake Country Club in Kissimmee ($149.85), Blue Note Records in North Miami ($75.51), and Residence Inns in Miller's native Pittsburgh ($1433.92). There are many other expenses charged to the city, but since only the city manager is authorized to spend public money at restaurants and for other networking purposes, most if not all of Miller's charges appear to be in violation of city policy.

Yolanda Mercado and daughter Jenny have yet to hear from the police
Steve Satterwhite
Yolanda Mercado and daughter Jenny have yet to hear from the police

In April 1999, Mayor Alvin Miller announced plans for an independent audit of city finances. He promptly received a phone call telling him to "watch his back." According to an article in the Herald, four days after the call the wheels on the mayor's truck were tampered with, causing one tire to blow out while he was driving. The commission eventually voted 4-1 in favor of the audit. Only Derrick Miller voted against.

Jenny Caba: "One time he came to my grandma's house to tell me if we needed anything to call him, that he will then give us stuff -- anything we need. He was telling me he'll buy me a car. He was telling me he can get my license fast.

"Then my grandfather died. I saw [Miller] that day when I was walking to the viewing with my friend Glenda. He asked me if we wanted a ride and he took us to the viewing. That same day he gave me $30. He didn't say nothing, he just gave it to me. I used it to buy flowers. That's when my mom found out."

Yolanda Mercado: "First we went to the police. They took me down to city hall, where I spoke to Tony, the city manager. He came over here to my house with one of his secretaries. We told everything to her, and the police made us sign some papers. The police treated me fine.

"My friends all said the same thing: Don't do nothing. You could get in trouble, you could get hurt, he could do something to your family -- don't press charges on this guy, he's too big. At that time I got scared, but I know this isn't the only time this guy has done this. My friends ask me why I'm trying to get Derrick in trouble. I said I'm not trying to get Derrick in trouble. He caused his own trouble."

Tony Robinson: "She came to me. She came to the police department first, but the police didn't know what to do with it; they were kind of nervous about it. So they brought her to me. I told the police to start a full-scale investigation and don't stop. If this son of a bitch is a child molester, then take him out. There's a few things I don't like in life: I don't like arms dealers, drug dealers, and I don't like child molesters.

"Derrick knew that sooner or later we were going to nail him. We just don't go for that sort of stupid stuff. Opa-locka has too many needs to have corrupt people making decisions."

WFOR-TV (Channel 4) broke the news first, in December 2000. Opa-locka police, the station's reporter said, were investigating whether Miller gave a girl rides in his city car, gave her money, and gave her at least a kiss.

For Miller this was the second public allegation of sexual impropriety since he was elected to the commission. In early 1999 Opa-locka commission secretary Sandra Doughlin informed the city's personnel director that Miller had been making unwanted sexual advances for six years. She never told anyone, she said, until he was elected to the city commission. "On or about December 14, 1998, I let Commissioner Miller know that the relationship has changed and that he was now one of my bosses and that his comments were making me uncomfortable," Doughlin wrote in her complaint. Miller, she said, was particularly enamored of her lips. He also wanted to suck her toes.

Although Doughlin's complaint was supposed to be handled confidentially, she learned it had been discussed with other city staffers. "I never wanted this matter to be made public," she wrote in a February 11, 1999, letter to the city commission. "However, in light of the fact that it is no longer confidential, I have no other alternative than to make you all aware of this matter."

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