Powers That Be

It's nice to have wealthy and influential friends, especially when you need loads of campaign cash

Joe Robinson, supervisor of the State Attorney's felony screening unit, which processes 30,000 cases annually, says nobody knew who Jacqueline Pino's father was, and no one brought to Rundle's attention such a routine arrest. On August 3, prosecutors dropped the charges against Jacqueline. In an explanatory "close-out" memo, Robinson wrote that the arresting officers failed three times to respond to subpoenas, forcing prosecutors to reschedule court dates and finally drop the case. "If the cops don't show up three times, we don't do anything," Robinson says. (Miami Beach police spokesman Det. Bobby Hernandez supplied records indicating that all three subpoenas arrived late, after the scheduled conferences. "We never received the subpoenas on time," he says. "It's a shame the State Attorney's Office declined our request to refile the charges.")

Did Sergio Pino have any qualms about raising money for Rundle while his daughter's case was pending? "No, I didn't have to think about anything pending because I knew it was going to be okay," he says, repeating that he believes the arrest was a mistake.

Rundle, however, should have known better - arrest or no arrest.

Katherine Fernandez Rundle: "I sent out my contributors list to the FBI, Miami-Dade police, FDLE, and the U.S. Attorney's Office"
Jonathan Postal
Katherine Fernandez Rundle: "I sent out my contributors list to the FBI, Miami-Dade police, FDLE, and the U.S. Attorney's Office"

For years law-enforcement officials have been interested in the intersection of Pino's political connections and his business interests. Rundle was well aware of this. In 2002 a task force working from her office arrested county Commissioner Miriam Alonso and charged her with three felony counts related to laundering political contributions. Police subpoenaed records from one of Pino's companies, where Alonso had an account and allegedly diverted campaign money to buy materials for her rental properties. Investigators also learned that Century Duty Free gave Alonso's chief of staff a loan to buy a home. (Pino was a key Alonso supporter, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for her election campaigns. Her case has yet to go to trial.)

In addition, sources say, federal and local investigators have been scrutinizing the county contract awarding Century Duty Free a license to operate at Miami International Airport. Pino freely admits he's been something of a magnet for law enforcement. "I've been investigated five times by the State Attorney's Office," he says. "When I meet with them, I never bring a lawyer. I never talk to Kathy about it. I have not done anything wrong. I have a very, very clean conscience. When you do business with the county, you get investigated."

Perhaps no surprise, then, that when Pino held his fundraiser for Rundle, Miami-Dade corruption cops had his office under surveillance. Law-enforcement sources won't discuss the stakeout, but say investigators saw Rundle enter, then leave with envelopes. The corruption detectives subsequently visited the Miami Beach officers who had arrested Jacqueline Pino, according to a Miami Beach Police Department source.

Miami-Dade police, now recognizing they faced a potential conflict of interest should their inquiries lead to an investigation of the State Attorney, gave their information to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

Rundle's office was alarmed to learn from me that Miami-Dade police were looking into her relationship with Pino. As a result, Rundle instructed José Arrojo, chief assistant state attorney in charge of special prosecutions, to offer assistance to Miami-Dade police and FDLE. Arrojo called Maj. Michael Trerotola, head of Miami-Dade's public corruption unit. "I said, öLook, there's an allegation communicated to us by the media .... You are welcome to come down and look at the files and talk to anyone you need to," Arrojo recounts. "His response was: öSounds to me like the officers failed to appear for a number of prefiles and there's nothing for us to look at.'" Arrojo says when he called FDLE in Tallahassee to offer assistance, he received a similar response. (Trerotola declined comment. FDLE spokeswoman Kristen Perezlouha in Tallahassee said, "We have not opened an investigation on this information.")

Says Arrojo: "It is obvious to us that this is nothing more than political muckraking three weeks before the election, and that's unfortunate." To bolster that contention, he notes Rundle's opponent, Al Milian, has boasted that Maj. Carlos Gonzalez, who until recently headed the county police department's public-corruption unit, has endorsed his candidacy and donated $250 to his campaign.

Gonzalez famously clashed with the State Attorney's Office over the handling of several corruption cases. And since Gonzalez was in charge when the corruption cops monitored Pino and talked to the Miami Beach officers, Arrojo suggests there could be political motives: "You may have a handful of partisans nosing around for the next article in a union newsletter," Arrojo says. (The PBA newsletter has relentlessly attacked Rundle.) "It seems to me somebody with a political ax to grind reached out to some cops and said, 'Do you know about this?'"

Prior to confronting Rundle about the Pino contributions, I interviewed her regarding the election and her fundraising efforts. She said she had been cautious. "I sent out my contributors list to the FBI, Miami-Dade police, FDLE, and the U.S. Attorney's Office. And I asked [corruption prosecutors] Joe Centorino and Richard Scruggs to please take a look. I did this just in case I missed someone we had a case against, or a current defendant. As far as I know no one has said anything." Rundle adds that if a defendant or target of an investigation had contributed, she'd return the money.

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