By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Flores is well aware of her clout. In the past, more than any other radio commentator, she has been criticized for exploiting her position by accepting money from political candidates. In addition to her duties as a talk-show host, Flores has operated a lucrative side business in which she offered advice to political candidates. Flores claimed the money candidates paid to her consulting company, Marflo Advertising, did not affect the way she treated people on the air.
Among local politicians who have been Marflo Advertising clients are County Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Natacha Seijas, and Jimmy Morales, as well as former Miami City Commissioner Humberto Hernandez. Under federal law it is illegal to pay a radio host to slant his or her coverage of a political candidate. Proving a direct quid pro quo, however, is considered extremely difficult.
Alonso's 1998 campaign finance reports show that on September 29 -- four weeks after the election -- the commissioner paid Marflo Advertising $3000 for what was described as "P.R." work. Investigators have been attempting to determine if Alonso provided Flores with any additional payments or other benefits.
The all-cash nature of last summer's condominium purchases by Alonso and Flores has piqued the curiosity of those investigating Alonso. And while the transactions may appear somewhat unusual, there have been no allegations that Alonso or Flores did anything improper. But the very fact that investigators are exploring those deals show just how wide a net they are casting in their search for evidence against the commissioner.
Questions surrounding missing PAC contributions, first reported last week by El Nuevo Herald, offer further insight into the tortured world of Miriam Alonso. In 1999 a group of citizens in Northwest Miami-Dade initiated a recall drive against Alonso because they believed she favored expanding a local landfill that many residents opposed. In response Alicio Piña formed a political action committee called Concerned Citizens of District 12. Piña now says he created the group at the request of Alonso so she could raise money to fight the recall effort.
Earlier this year the county elections department received a letter from Piña asking it to abolish the PAC. "This PAC was opened on the possibility of a recall for our Commissioner Miriam Alonso," Piña's letter states. "However no money was ever raised or bank account was ever opened. At this time, I would like to request you close this PAC, since there was never any activity due to the fact that the possible recall never took place."
Several things about Piña's letter are odd. First, it is dated September 7, 2000, but elections officials say they only received it three months ago. More important Piña's claim that "no money was ever raised" is now being contradicted by several sources.
El Nuevo Heraldnoted last week that attorney Stanley Price said he was pressured by Alonso's county commission office to donate money to the committee and that he contributed either $250 or $500. New Times also has spoken to a well-connected Miami-Dade lobbyist who says he raised between $3000 and $5000 from his clients for the PAC in 1999. According to several sources, members of Alonso's staff have told investigators they were called upon to take checks, dropped off at Alonso's commission office by various lobbyists, to a bank and deposit them into the PAC account.
Investigators now want to know what happened to that money.
One of the interesting sidelights to the Alonso investigation is the perceived role of Miami City Commissioner Tomas Regalado. José Marrero, the former Alonso employee who is cooperating with police, now works as an aide to Regalado.
Regalado's son Tommy also used to work for Alonso. He joined her staff in June 1998 and left in February 1999. New Times learned that Tommy Regalado was questioned by prosecutors last week and that he told authorities he was required to work on Alonso's 1998 re-election campaign while employed as a commission aide. The younger Regalado declined to comment, saying the State Attorney's Office advised him not to talk to the media.
Defending Alonso last week on Telemundo's WSCV-TV (Channel 51), her attorney, José Quiñon, said the investigation was in part fueled by Commissioner Regalado.
The morning after the newscast, according to Regalado, Quiñon called him to apologize. "Quiñon said he was very sorry," Regalado says. "He said the Alonsos pushed him to make those statements." Regalado replied that if he were truly sorry, he would return to the station and retract his comments. Sure enough, that's what Quiñon did. The second interview aired Friday night. "It was nice of him to do that," Regalado adds.
Quiñon acknowledged Tuesday that he had made a mistake in attacking Regalado, basing it on erroneous information.