The Teele Conspiracy

Is the Miami commissioner the target of a wicked plot? Or is he spinning a yarn so complex everyone's now dizzy?

Robert Tyler, who worked as Urban Constructors' vice president but wasn't charged in the insurance scam, left Thermilus's company and joined the CRA as operations director, a position he held from January 2000 to January 2001.

Apparently Thermilus wasn't fazed by his felony conviction. Just two years after completing probation, he was arrested in the MIA conspiracy. According to his arrest warrant, Thermilus bribed a county aviation official with a 32-inch television set in exchange for her signing off on his fraudulent invoices. Prosecutors say he also kicked back some $70,000 to Antonio Junior, a lobbyist and businessman with several county contracts who was also charged in the airport case. Junior, a former Miami-Dade Housing Finance Authority employee, has long been a confidant of county commission chairwoman Barbara Carey-Shuler.

(Neither Thermilus nor his attorney returned phone calls seeking comment.)

Steve Satterwhite

Thermilus may or may not be the key to breaking open the Teele/CRA investigation, but the more immediate question is this: Will Gov. Jeb Bush remove Teele from office, even temporarily? Unless and until that happens, no one close to the action at city hall is willing to go on record speculating about the fallout for Teele or the identity of a potential successor.

That's not to say people are sitting idle. Within hours of Teele's arrest, a number of opportunists began calling city commissioners and the mayor's office to recommend a successor. (The commission would be responsible for appointing a replacement.) "The body is still warm and the buzzards are circling," remarks one city hall insider. "We're getting bombarded with calls."

One of those buzzards is the outspoken and influential Bishop Victor T. Curry of New Birth Baptist Church and its radio station WMBM-AM (1490). Several city hall sources reported receiving calls from Curry, or on his behalf. Teele acknowledges he's heard "all kinds of rumors" about people jockeying to fill his seat, although Curry wasn't among them. "I think Victor is smart enough not to get used like that by Manny Diaz," he scoffs.

Haitian-American leaders, reportedly including Ringo Cayard and Gepsie Metellus, also have been advocating for one of their own fill the seat. Other names that have ground through the rumor mill include Rev. Richard Dunn (a previous commission appointee), Barbara Carey-Shuler aide Ronda Vangates, attorney Val Screen, school district bureaucrat Pierre Rutledge, and attorney Thomasina Williams. One limiting factor is the legal requirement that any potential appointee must have lived in Teele's District 5 for a year and be registered to vote there. That would disqualify a number of interested parties.

Ultimately the critical decision would be made by commissioners Johnny Winton, Joe Sanchez, and Angel Gonzalez, each of whom would be influenced by Mayor Diaz. Commissioner Tomas Regalado, a frequent Teele collaborator and Diaz opponent, may effectively be frozen out of the decision. In fact Regalado says he'd reappoint Teele to his own seat if he could. "I don't think four white guys -- three Cubans and an Anglo -- are capable of choosing the representative of an African-American district," he says. "To me, it's too arrogant."

Most of this speculation is occurring quietly as people wait to see whether this new bullet will bounce off Teele and only make him stronger, as has happened so many times before. In the meantime, Teele has set up damage control HQ at Soyka restaurant, where he met with New Times Sunday. He was also spotted there Monday with Ron Silver, former dean of the state Senate and currently a lobbyist who has the governor's ear.

On the issue of Teele's suspension, however, Bush's office has been mum. Teele himself, a Republican, is instructing his attorney to make the argument that the governor can't suspend him until he's been indicted, that a simple arrest is not justification enough. "Particularly," Teele says, "under the bizarre situation we have here."

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