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
That help didn't do much for Tony Steen. In June 2006 the welder and maintenance man was shot at point-blank range while trying to stop an armed robbery in the flea market parking lot. The Opa-locka Police officer who responded to the scene botched the investigation, according to Steen — no evidence was gathered, and paperwork had to be rewritten. Steen, who says conditions haven't improved since the Campos murders, is left with a scar that stretches from his navel to his sternum. "The police they have stay in the office all the time," Steen says. "No one controls the points where you go in and out." On a recent Sunday visit, no officers were in the market's office — none had come in for the day.
"You have 800 families here," Miller says, zipping through the stalls while drinking a bottle of water. "You have little children that are literally raised here. You have customers coming here and getting separated from their children." Miller enters a meat market and points to a crib behind a large cold display unit. "Look right here! Two young women and a baby."
The women agree, in broken English, that they feel safe.
12705 NW 42nd Ave.
Opa-locka, FL 33054
Region: Miami Gardens
And Miller helped Timothy Holmes, who, the flea market manager says, worked at the market five days a week from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. as a security guard for a year or two. Some of that time Holmes was serving as a city commissioner. Ethical concerns and an injury to the politician put a stop to the arrangement, Miller says. (The commissioner did not return two phone calls seeking comment.)
Holmes helped Miller too. When the flea market manager attended an April 19 public hearing to appeal citations for having an unsafe structure, unsanitary public bathrooms, and litter at the market, "Mr. Miller got upset with the judgments," wrote Special Master Lisa Hodapp. "And he barged out of the hearing."
Miller claims he ran into Holmes outside.
"[Mr. Miller] later came back with Commissioner Holmes, who happened to be in the area," wrote Special Master Hodapp. Holmes urged the mediator to give his former boss an additional six days to pay the $1235 in fines and correct the infractions.
It's clear Miller also helps Opa-locka's city coffers. He says he has paid every fine he's aware of. "If we owe the city money for some code violation, we will take care it," he says. "More importantly, if there's a problem, we'll fix it." Miller doesn't see any conflict of interest in a sitting city commissioner — whose salary he once paid — advocating for the market before the special master.
Despite Miller's claims, there is one outstanding fine. Last year Commissioner Dottie Johnson ran for office, pledging to collect $261,000 in back licensing fees from the market. Though current records show it owes the city a balance of $262,248, Miller says he is paying off the debt at about $25,000 per year.
Finally, Miller helped embattled former Opa-locka Commissioner Terence Pinder. More than a year ago, he gave Pinder a TV set that a flea market tenant named Pierre had repaired. About two weeks ago Miller received a subpoena to stand by for a trial in Pinder's pending corruption case. The commish is charged with official misconduct, petty theft, and solicitation of a gift. "If the State Attorney's Office is building a case around broken televisions," Miller quips, "then they must really be desperate."
Miller does not help Opa-locka's crooks. He protects the flea market as if each stall were his own. Last week a band of six thugs plowed a truck into the place's fence, slamming the fortifying layer of concrete barriers. After penetrating the perimeter with bolt cutters, the bandits headed for a container full of motorcycles. Alarms went off, alerting Miller and a pair of Opa-locka cops, who laid chase. Officers arrested three of the suspects just down the road. One got away after carjacking a motorist at a nearby Mobil station. Two vanished into the night.