By Chuck Strouse
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While he was still mayor of Homestead, Steve Shiver used the city's Tallahassee lobbyist to help one of his friends with a petition for executive clemency that was pending before the governor and the Florida cabinet. Shiver's pal, William Chaney, had been convicted in the mid-Eighties for conspiring to import hundreds of pounds of marijuana into the United States. He served nearly eight months in federal prison.
Shiver was unsuccessful in his efforts to secure executive clemency for his lifelong friend; the petition was denied earlier this year during a February 22 meeting of the clemency board. Nevertheless Shiver's use of the city's lobbyist for personal affairs is yet another example in a growing list of questionable actions he took while serving as an elected official in Homestead. Earlier this month the city's former finance director accused Shiver of steering municipal business to Homestead-based Community Bank, even though at the time he owned thousands of dollars' worth of stock in the bank. And last weekNew Times revealed that Shiver, while a councilman and as mayor, accepted three all-expenses-paid trips from the bank.
William Chaney was one of twenty people arrested in September 1984 following a two-and-a-half-year state and federal investigation into what FBIagents described as one of the largest marijuana-smuggling operations in South Florida history. The head of the criminal enterprise was a former Homestead police officer, Stamford Champion. Prosecutors claimed the group was responsible for smuggling from Jamaica to the United States marijuana valued at more than five million dollars.
At the time of his arrest, Chaney was 25 years old. Today he claims he played only a minor role in the scheme. "I didn't really do anything that bad," he says without elaboration.
Last year, more than a decade after being released from federal prison, Chaney petitioned for executive clemency. His application form indicated that he sought clemency in order to possess a firearm, which he is prohibited from doing as a convicted felon. But Chaney points to his three children as the true motive for seeking clemency: "I was doing it to show my kids that while I screwed up early in life, I've tried to make up for it."
Chaney, who still lives in Homestead, will not discuss how Shiver became involved in his bid for clemency. "You are going to do what you are going to do," he says angrily. "You are going to slander Steve, and in the process you are going to slander me. I'm a lifelong friend of Steve. His dad is a friend of mine." He is so close to Shiver and his father, in fact, that he adds, "His father is like my father." The events surrounding his clemency bid, he argues, are not worth writing about. "I don't think anybody did anything wrong here," he protests.
Chaney's opinion notwithstanding, at some point late last year Shiver solicited the help of Robert Levy, who has been Homestead's lobbyist for the past eight years and is paid $30,000 each year to represent the city's interests at the state capitol. "He just asked me to keep my eyes on it," recounts Levy, who represents several other municipalities and a number of high-profile clients. "He asked me to monitor it before the clemency board. I really didn't do anything. I don't even know William Chaney."
But an e-mail message obtained by New Times suggests Levy may have done more than simply "monitor" events on Shiver's behalf. The e-mail was dated March 8, 2001, and was sent from Levy to Shiver, who had recently begun his new job as county manager.
"Boss -- Governor denied Chaney's clemency at 2/22 meeting," Levy wrote. "Joe Gillespie called him personally to inform him of the outcome and told him he tried to help in your behalf."
Shiver replied the following day in an e-mail to Levy: "I really don't know what else to do for Chaney."
Joe Gillespie was the clemency aide for Secretary of State Katherine Harris. As a member of the state cabinet, Harris votes on clemency petitions; it was Gillespie's job to review those requests and provide Harris with a summary and a voting recommendation.
Why would Levy seek help from Gillespie as opposed to a clemency aide for the governor or some other cabinet member? Well, it turns out that before working for Harris, Gillespie spent three years employed by Levy as his assistant. Levy insists he never asked Gillespie to do anything improper. "Clemencies are pretty cut and dry," he says. "There isn't much room to help. There was little Gillespie could do."
Gillespie concurs that he did nothing wrong. "I don't remember who called me first," he says. "It may have been Mr. Levy." He also can't recall if Levy invoked Shiver's name but adds, "I know Mr. Levy represents the City of Homestead."
Gillespie contends that all he did was answer Chaney's questions about the clemency process, something he would do for any member of the public. "My job was simply to review the cases," he says. "I can't remember for sure because there are so many cases on each agenda, but my recollection is that my ultimate recommendation to Secretary Harris was that she deny Mr. Chaney's petition."