By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Carlos Alvarez is running for county mayor based on his record as director of the Miami-Dade Police Department. He hopes that, because he wore a uniform, voters will see him as more trustworthy than his opponent.
Alvarez has the support of the Police Benevolent Association, the county's largest police union, as well as the Hispanic Police Officers Association. One would expect fellow officers to champion him.
That's why it's surprising to learn there is a group of Miami-Dade police officers, retired and current, dedicated to preventing Alvarez from winning on November 2. These men say they know his management style, and claim its hallmarks are favoritism and retaliation. And while most of them initially supported Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, who lost in the primary, they are now throwing their support behind Alvarez's rival, county Commissioner Jimmy Morales.
"We all love that police department and we just hate to see what's happened to it," says Bobby Brown, who retired as a lieutenant in February of this year. "All the favoritism that's going on, all the politicizing that's going on in there. We put our hearts and souls into that department. We want to see it get better and prosper. And that's not going to happen if Alvarez is mayor."
During a recent meeting at the home of one of these cops, Brown sat on a couch next to retired commander Juan F. Fernandez and retired lieutenant Bernardo Bestardo, also past president of the Hispanic Police Officers Association. Seven other officers attending asked not to be named because they are still on the force. I spoke by telephone with another six who couldn't make the meeting, where Brown displayed a binder containing more than 200 names of officers he claimed are allied with them.
"Honestly, I think Jimmy Morales has the education, patience, and the skills to be mayor," Fernandez said, "as opposed to the thug mentality of Alvarez."
For his part, Alvarez scoffed at the criticism. He says each of the retired officers is motivated by personal animosity because he never tapped any of them to be major. "I did not promote them, and from that moment they became my biggest critics," he said. "With 5000 employees you're not going to please everyone. I don't know of anyone who headed an organization that size who is universally loved."
Alvarez retired from the police director's job in March to run for mayor. He left in his wake a department that seemed relatively free of trouble, at least by local standards. While Alvarez presided over a new public-corruption unit, the City of Miami Police Department's former chief was arrested for embezzlement and Hialeah's police chief was caught lying under oath about his son's criminal past. When Miami-Dade cops were tapped to make sure the elections of 2002 proceeded smoothly, eleven City of Miami officers were standing trial for planting evidence.
The few scandals at the MDPD that did make the news could hardly compare. For example, assistant director Frank Boni, the department's second-in-command, was caught in an alleged afternoon tryst with a secretary while on duty.
But now that Alvarez is asking for voter approval, his detractors say his record as director deserves more scrutiny. Among their many issues is the Boni case.
In 1998 an anonymous tipster told the department's internal affairs unit that Boni was having an affair at that very moment with a police secretary at a motel. The department had previously fired employees for having sex while on duty. Lt. Robert Waller was ordered to investigate. He caught Boni and the secretary leaving the motel and wrote a report stating as much. Waller's supervisor, acting-Maj. Naim Erched, tipped off Boni about the investigation, saying he feared Boni was being stalked. This allowed Boni to retroactively submit a leave slip for the hours in question. The department cleared him of any wrongdoing.
Waller wasn't so lucky. A day after the county's Independent Review Panel issued a report criticizing the department for covering up for Boni, Alvarez reassigned Waller from the prestigious internal-affairs unit to night shifts in Carol City. Two other IA investigators were also transferred. Subsequently Waller filed a grievance claiming this was retaliation for merely doing his job, and asked for whistleblower status. Waller's attorney then announced plans to depose the secretary, prompting the director to offer a settlement. Waller was allowed to choose any assignment he wanted; in addition he couldn't be moved for at least three years. "The department agrees not to take any adverse employment action against Waller for having filed his claim under the Employee Protection Ordinance," states the 2001 settlement signed by Alvarez.
Erched, who received a letter of reprimand for alerting Boni, has since been promoted to assistant director.
"I'm not going to get into specifics," Alvarez said. "That incident was thoroughly looked into. I'm sure that in the last 28 years they can bring up many incidents. I'm very comfortable with the decisions I made."
Both Alvarez and Morales deserve a thorough vetting. But the common perception is that the media have been lopsided in their critical coverage. Morales's campaign has been buffeted by bad press. The Miami Herald wrote about an independent group that raised money and funneled it back to the Morales campaign, in apparent violation of campaign-finance laws. Morales said he had no knowledge of the maneuver. The Herald followed up with a head-scratcher about a man who claimed to have filed an ethics complaint against Morales that was never received by the county's ethics commission. Meanwhile, New Times wrote about his campaign manager's dubious decision to hire a former Miami-Dade cop who had been accused of sexual harassment and was ultimately fired for having sex on the job. Herald columnist Jim DeFede argued that the hire reflected poorly on Morales's judgment.
For the sake of balance, the anti-Alvarez officers say, it should have been pointed out that a convicted felon is a key campaign volunteer for the former police director. In fact Alvarez previously told New Times that Camilo Padreda, who pleaded guilty to defrauding HUD and admitted attempting to bribe a series of public officials over the decades, is someone he's known for 25 years who has had "his ups and downs." He also happens to have been a powerful Republican fundraiser in the past. If Morales showed bad judgment hiring a disgraced cop, Alvarez has shown equally bad judgment associating with a convict.
Lucky for us, plenty of people are willing to point out both candidates' missteps.