The Secret Flush Fund

Investigators have a question for Miriam Alonso: Where'd the money go?

Periodically over the years, Alonso's political ambitions have been derailed by demons of her own making. In 1988 she ran for county commission but was ordered off the ballot after a judge determined she had lied about where she resided. In 1993 she appeared headed for a victory in the Miami mayor's race, only to lose after widespread publicity regarding ethnically charged comments she made on Spanish-language radio. When Anglo and black voters heard her describe the position of Miami mayor as an "Hispanic seat," they rallied to the polls to defeat her, even if it meant electing the affable but ineffective Steve Clark.

Since joining the county commission in 1996 she has tried to temper her behavior, although her arrogance is still legendary. She demands to be addressed as Dr. Alonso, even though the legitimacy of her doctoral degree is highly suspect.

In 1999 she was rebuked by both the county ethics commission and federal housing officials for mixing business and politics. As a landlord Alonso regularly received money to subsidize her tenants' rental payments through the federal Section 8 program, administered by the Miami-Dade Housing Authority. As a county commissioner she directly oversaw the housing authority. The obvious conflict of interest came to light when the housing agency cut off the subsidies paid to Alonso at one apartment building that had been repeatedly cited for maintenance problems. Leonel Alonso objected and the head of the housing agency promptly restored the money.


A close examination of Alonso's 1998 campaign-finance reports reveals other entries investigators may find suspicious. Following the September 1 election, she paid MC Printing approximately $55,000 -- writing the company checks for $20,466 on September 10, $11,200 also on September 10, and $23,500 on September 12.

Those payments were in addition to $22,500 Alonso paid the company during the campaign itself, bringing the total amount reportedly spent on printing to more than $77,000. Given the large number of brochures and direct-mail pieces the campaign distributed during the 1998 election, experts say it is possible the campaign spent $77,000 on printing. But several experienced local campaign consultants note that printers customarily demand payment at the time the material is delivered, and they almost never allow political candidates to delay payment until an election has concluded. Rafael Chapman, owner of MC Printing, which is located in Alonso's Northwest Miami-Dade commission district, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Another curiosity is a series of payments totaling almost $4000 to an individual listed as Rudy Villa. (On some entries the name is spelled Rudy Vila.) The address recorded on the campaign reports for both names is the same: 1015 NW 29th Ave. That address, however, does not exist, according to Miami-Dade County property records. A records search using both Vila and Villa and first names Rudy and Rodolfo reveals no such person owning property or registered to vote in Miami-Dade County.

Alonso does employ a commission aide named Rodolfo Villanueva, who is 67 years old and is commonly referred to as Rudy. He has been with her office since 1997. In 1990 Villanueva pleaded no contest to grand theft and received five years' probation. He was arrested again in 1991 for lewd and lascivious conduct for allegedly masturbating in a Miami Beach porno theater. Villanueva did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Out of the nearly $4000 reportedly paid to "Rudy Villa," $1805 came after the election and included a $1200 payment on September 29, 1998, for what the campaign report described only as "reimbursement."

News that Miriam Alonso is being investigated comes not long after another county commissioner was removed from office for keeping two "no-show" employees on his payroll. Pedro Reboredo pleaded no contest in May to misdemeanor charges of exploiting his office. In a plea agreement with the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office, Reboredo resigned from the commission and was sentenced to six months' probation. He agreed to reimburse the Miami-Dade Police Department $25,000 for the cost of its investigation. The deal with prosecutors permits Reboredo to run for public office again in 2003.

Reboredo's plea bargain is affecting the way police are handling the Alonso investigation. According to law-enforcement sources, members of the public-corruption unit of the Miami-Dade Police Department were angered by the Reboredo deal, believing the commissioner should have been charged with a felony. But the case against Reboredo was relatively weak, and investigators were never able to show that any of the "no-show" employees' salaries ended up in Reboredo's pocket.

While other incidents have reportedly led some police officers to believe the State Attorney's Office often fails to prosecute public-corruption cases aggressively, the Reboredo episode came to epitomize their frustrations. As a result the level of trust between police investigators and prosecutors has been weakened. The Alonso investigation appears to be a case in point. Although Miami-Dade detectives have been interviewing witnesses and gathering evidence for at least six months, the State Attorney's Office was never notified of the investigation's existence. "The people working on this don't want anything sent to the State Attorney's Office," says one source.

In fact the State Attorney's Office only learned about the investigation two weeks ago, after a phone call from New Times. Initially prosecutors denied there was an investigation of Alonso regarding José and Ursula Marrero and the commissioner's 1998 campaign accounts. Late last week, however, Assistant State Attorney Joe Centorino, after meeting with police, confirmed the investigation of Alonso and her 1998 campaign. The State Attorney's Office, he says, is now involved in that probe.

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