By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
By Frank Owen
By Allie Conti
Milian has picked up support from different ends of the political spectrum. Miami-Dade police Maj. Carlos Gonzalez, formerly in charge of the department's public corruption unit who has been very critical of Rundle, donated $250 in April; and Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, board member and former president of the local ACLU, also critical of the incumbent, donated $250 in May. (Both declined comment.)
Note the role reversal going on here: The Democratic candidate is finding her support among the plutocrats, and the Republican candidate is mining the union trenches for backing.
The question now is whether voters are willing to see past each candidate's tangled ties to make an informed choice at the polls.
On October 19 Miami-Dade police detectives contacted Jacqueline Arango to ask about a $249.42 contribution she gave in April to Jimmy Morales, who is running for county mayor. Arango, a federal prosecutor, thought the episode was so suspicious that she reported it to the ACLU.
The man Morales is running against, of course, is Carlos Alvarez, the former director of the Miami-Dade Police Department. And Arango is not alone in thinking it was strange that Alvarez's former employees were asking questions about money donated to his opponent. (Other than to confirm the account, Arango declined to comment.)
Morales says several supporters have reported cops interrogating them about checks they wrote, activity he believes borders on police harassment and election tampering. "I got a lot of calls from people who are very upset by this. And I'm very troubled by it. I think it's wholly inappropriate for the Miami-Dade police to be doing this kind of investigation. The conflict of interest is obvious."
Maj. Michael Trerotola, head of the county police department's public corruption unit, confirms that his officers were indeed conducting an investigation of all candidates who accepted public financing. Contributors to Alvarez's campaign were also interviewed, he adds. "At this point the review is over and there's no indication there were any improprieties," he says. The review was prompted by the arrests of two people this past summer for falsifying campaign reports so three Hialeah council candidates and a county commission candidate, Jorge Roque, could qualify for matching public money. "We decided we better take a look at all candidates who qualified for money to make sure this was not more widespread," Trerotola says.
But Morales's camp is not satisfied. Numerous other agencies could have done such a review, and in fact, the county's Ethics Commission did a similar analysis. The timing is also suspicious, Morales says, given the proximity of the election. The first complaints about police visits came on October 17, Morales says, months after the inquiry was started. And in at least two instances the checks in question were from April.
"I understand their concerns," Trerotola says. "It was not our motivation in any way to intimidate anyone. Our position was that we felt we owed a higher obligation to the citizens of Miami-Dade County to make sure their money was not being fraudulently expended."
To further confuse and enrage Morales supporters, one of the officers involved, Ofcr. Mark Martinez, is sitting at the desk of former corruption investigator Luis Cristobal, no longer with the unit, who donated to Alvarez. Cristobal's voice mail still has his name on it, which people heard when they returned calls. Morales supporters believed he was involved in the inquiry. He is not.
"We really didn't think this would upset people," Trerotola says. "Perhaps we could have postponed this thing [until after the election]. But in the meantime you risk public funds being misspent."