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
Two weeks ago, New Times brought you the tale of Steven Robbins versus the Maldonados, Cutler Bay neighbors locked in a bitter battle. The Hatfields and McCoys-style feud included cocked shotguns, alleged racism, and ponytails on big guys.
Well, this story isn't going to do much to resurrect Cutler Bay's reputation as cosmopolitan locale.
Glenn Fried is the owner of EnvironMental Connections, a nonprofit exotic animal business. He and his wife, Nicole Tai, keep a veritable ark caged in their lush half-acre back yard, including exotic birds, honey bears, a kangaroo, and an anteater. They take these animals to educational show-and-tells at local schools and birthday parties.
"Our neighbors have always liked what we do," Fried says, adding that his animals are well-cared for and don't pose a safety threat. "If my sloth escaped, you couldn't make it attack you."
But last winter, as he was packing up after a show at Cutler Ridge Park, Fried claims, Mayor Paul Vrooman approached and began aggressively questioning him about the business. The mayor, who also happens to be marketing director for Miami Metrozoo, declared his employer had the community's animal education needs locked up, capiche? As Vrooman sauntered away, he looked over his shoulder to voice what Fried now understands as a warning: "You don't need to do that. The mayor does that."
(Vrooman vaguely recalls seeing Fried at the fair, but denies speaking to him.)
Shortly thereafter, Fried says, he began receiving incessant visits from various code enforcers of various state and county agencies, including Animal Services, Department of Health, and Fish and Game.
Though those visitors found nothing, Cutler Bay's city code enforcer had no such problem. One day last November, Fried came home to find he had been cited eight times for infractions such as illegal electrical work, building a structure without a permit, and operating a business without a proper tax license. Total fines due: $4,450.
It's all bogus, he says. For example, large birdcages were cited for no building permit, but they're unmoored and easily portable. He's been using the same model for 26 years without a code complaint. The mayor, he says, has gone Noriega on his ass — using official power to protect his private business interests.
Responds Vrooman: "Any connection he's making between the code infractions and the fact that I write ads for Miami Metrozoo," he says, "is completely absurd." He contends neighbors called to complain.
But across-the-street neighbor Luis Abella defends Fried, saying he never even knew about the exotic animals until recently. "I think it's ridiculous how the city is wasting the taxpayers' money pursuing something like this.... All of the elected officials have gone back on everything they promised to get elected."